Friday, May 18, 2007

RCI Andhra: A Trio Of Podis

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine has come up with a new event that is close to my heart: Regional Cuisines of India or RCI. Each month, we will be making the food of one region/ state of India. This month, the RCI event is being hosted by Latha of Masala Magic. The theme is Andhra Cuisine, i.e., the cuisine of the Southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

I am a relative newcomer to the world of Andhra food. A few years ago, I was living in Bangalore for the summer, and ended up with some friends at a Andhra restaurant called Bheema's. That evening was my memorable introduction to Andhra cuisine. We ate off verdant banana leaves; the courses kept coming, progressively ever tastier and ever more fiery, until I had tears of pain running down my cheeks. But I kept gulping down cool water and eating some more. I don't know what they put in that food, but that stuff was downright addictive.

Now, the world of food blogs has provided me with several wonderful "teachers" who are providing a glimpse into their Andhra kitchens. Two of the earliest Andhra food blogs that I came across- Mahanandi and Sailu's Food are both excellent resources for traditional Andhra recipes, written neatly and precisely, accompanied by gorgeous pictures.

From the vast domain of Andhra cuisine, I am choosing one category that I find fascinating: the various ready-to-eat spice powders or podis. From a bunch of dry items that are commonly found in the Indian pantry- dried red chillies, desiccated coconut, different dals (split lentils), a few spices- it is possible to mix together, roast and grind ingredients in special proportions to make all types of spice powders. Once you have a bottle of the dry powder sitting in your kitchen cupboard, it can add a touch of magic to so many meals. It gives the term "instant meal" a whole new meaning...mixed in with steamed rice, you get a tasty dish in seconds. It can be sprinkled on idlis and dosas for a dash of spice when one is too busy to make a fresh chutney. I have been known to sprinkle podis on buttered toast too!

The one essential kitchen equipment for making podis is a good grinder. If you own an Indian "mixer", boy, those are some powerful machines and will have a small dry grinder attachment that will reduce grains, dals and spices to dust, in mere seconds. For those of us who don't own the Indian-style mixies, the usual blenders and food processors are unable to grind hard grains and dals (and it is unwise to try, they can be damaged by doing so). What does work well is a spice grinder, often sold as a coffee bean grinder. Be sure to keep separate machines for grinding coffee beans and spices, unless you happen to like coriander-flavored coffee and coffee-flavored idli podi.

The one I have is a compact little thing from Krups and was a gift from my aunt Jayashree in Toronto. When she gave it to me 3-4 years ago, I had never made my own spice mixes before and expected that this contraption would lie in some forgotten corner of my kitchen. As it turns out, having the means to grind nuts, spices and grains has improved my cooking tremendously, and I use the spice grinder several times each week! Just goes to show you that aunts know a thing or two :) My one grouse with this machines is: the bowl does not detach, and that makes it a little difficult to clean. It is not a huge issue, since I never grind wet stuff in it. I clean it using two ways: (a) Wipe it down with a damp kitchen towel or paper towel, being careful to avoid the sharp blades, (b) Run a dry old piece of bread through the grinder. It picks up bits and pieces from all corners of the grinder. The resulting bread crumbs can be discarded and you end up with a clean grinder. The cover of the grinder does detach; it can be washed with some soap and water.

Today, I am making three podis or spice powders, all from Sailu's recipes. Each uses some basic ingredients- chana dal and urad dal provide the body and texture for the podi (not to mention a nutty base and a boost of nutrition), dried red chilies provide the kick and the heat, a touch of oil is needed to roast the ingredients and enhance their flavor and aroma, and the final essential ingredient is a bit of salt. Apart from these ingredients, different podis are enhanced with other main ingredients (nuts, sesame seeds, coconut), flavorings (garlic, tamarind) and spices (coriander seeds, cumin seeds) in different permutations and combinations. One can adjust the level of heat by adding more or less chilies. For the exact recipes and method, I am providing links to Sailu's recipes so she can teach you herself.

The first podi is dry coconut powder or Endu Kobbari Podi, made with...
Desiccated coconut, Garlic, Chana dal, Urad dal, Dried red chilies, Oil, Salt
I served this podi with plain steamed idlis. Soft idlis, topped with generous sprinkles of coconut podi, and a few drops of sesame oil made for an authentic and tasty brunch.

The second podi is sesame seed powder or Nuvullu Podi, made with...
Sesame seeds, Coriander seeds, Cumin seeds, Chana dal, Urad dal, Dried red chilies, Oil, Salt
I served this podi with some freshly steamed rice and ghee. The nutty and mild flavor of the podi with rice, it was delicious and comforting.

The third podi is curry leaf powder or Karivepaaku Podi, made with...
Curry leaves, Coriander seeds, Cumin seeds, Tamarind, Chana dal, Urad dal, Dried red chilies, Oil, Salt
I served this podi sprinkled on to my favorite instant rava dosa which is inspired by our host Latha's recipe. The difference is, this time I added brown rice flour to the dosa instead of the regular white rice flour that I normally use. I made the brown rice powder myself, by simply grinding brown rice in the spice grinder. I also omitted curry leaves from the dosa batter since I was going to serve the dosa with this powder. This podi was a taste and flavor explosion! As I made it, the aroma of curry leaves simply filled the kitchen. The combination of dosa and spicy curry leaf powder was incredible.

Thank you, Sailu, and all the other Andhra food bloggers out there for helping me learn more about your cuisine! And thanks, Latha, for hosting this event! I am eagerly waiting for the round-up!


  1. Wow, Nupur, you amaze me. What choice of recipes to chose for RCI.. Podis!

    I'm glad you relished all three traditional podis of Andhra.:)

  2. true..podis are great for all occasions! my favorite combo - add some hot idli podi to sambar and have it with idli or dosa. great pix - seems like your new camera is working well for you. - jai

  3. Love your presentation. podis are so versatile. My dad likes his upma and rotis with podi. I dont get to make them, cos my mom usually sends load full of them when we visit India. :-)

  4. Absolutely lovely pictures Nupur! I love the clean, fresh look of the white serving ware! And the podis look yumm!
    That is creative to use brown rice powder in rava dosa! Should try it sometime :-)
    Thanks for a wonderful entry!

  5. They sound too good, Nupur. You will have so many quick meal options in the following weeks.

  6. Hi Nupur , all those looks great.Great combinations.thank you for sharing all the details.Intersting to know that you used brown rice to make rava dosas. got to try them all soon.durga

  7. I cant tell you how much i miss bheema's although frequenting that place has made me gain extra pounds which Im still not able to shed , its been a year now. but Nupur, your post reminds me of home.

  8. excellent spread !!! Wonderful pictures and what a way to represent Andhra food.. great job Nupur !!

    btw i loved ur breadcrumbs idea. I know what a pain it is to clean the coffee grinder.

  9. Beautiful entry.. Those bowls are cute..

  10. Being an Andhra myself, I didn't know about Podis until I went to Engineering college. I was raised in a Gujurathi and Muslim community and I had never learnt about Andhra food until then and even learning now...

    Great podis, should try them sometime.

  11. lovely podis Nupur. I was planning to make this for RCI. pics look awesome.
    very good one.

  12. Sailaja, no, *you* amaze me! Thank you for being so generous and sharing your awesome recipes with the rest of us.

    Jai, I love you idea of podi+ sambar...I have to try that!

    Pavani, podis with upma? that idea too!

    Latha, your rava dosa recipe is well-loved in my home, we make it all the time! Thanks for hosting :)

    Mika, yeah, I am excited to have lots of delicious meals sitting in a couple of glass jars :)

    Durga, try them, you will love them!

    Revathi, glad you liked it :) !!

    Suganya, I got the bowls at Crate and Barrel...I think they were a dollar each or something :)

    Lata, do try them if you get a chance...they are delicious.

    Sharmi, would love to see your podi recipe too!

  13. Beautiful Podis Nupur. Ijust love these dry spice chutneys. Mix a little oil with them and they are the greatest accompaniments to idlis dosas uttappas etc. Photographs are gorgeous

  14. Gosh, they all sound so good - particularly that Karivepaaku Podi. I also love the idea of using brown rice in the dosa! I have a question about the Karivepaaku Podi recipe - it calls for a ball of tamarind - this is the pulp, right? Doesn't that gum up the works in the grinder? Does the podi still come out dry in the end?

  15. Nupur,
    I'm enjoying your veggie series as much as I did your Marathi food series. Lovely choice of recipes for RCI. Btw, just wanted to let you know that the link to rava dosa goes to Sailu's Karivepakku podi recipe.


  16. Anupama, so true, oil and podis...sheer delight! Thanks for stopping by :)

    Cathy, the curry leaves powder was the most aromatic! I was worried about adding pulpy tamarind into the dry grinder, but mustered up some courage and did it anyway...and it worked just fine. All the dry stuff in there mopped up the tamarind and I was left with a dry podi in the end. It was quite amazing!

    Mamatha, thank you *so* much for pointing that out...I fixed the link :)

  17. I am fascinated by podis too, and since I discovered them two yers ago, always have at least two around my kitchen (I tend to settle on sesame and coconut). 've ben meaning to make th curry leaf one for ages, and this will inspire me to do so! Yummmm....

  18. Somehow I missed this post of yours. Those pictures are amazing.

  19. I love this recipe. this is best combination for white rice and dal, idly, dosa also. if we add some ghee on it. that is awesome. thanks for sharing. best platform for learns for those who are trying to learn how to cook Indian recipes.


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