Recently I facebook-eavesdropped on Amy Sherman (http:cookingwithamy.com) and Suvir Suran (author of Masala Farm, TV guest, general Indian cooking guru, find him on http:Suvir.com). Anyhow, Suvir was instructing Amy on the finer points of making poha into a spicy salad-ish delicious thing. I’d seen poha on the shelves of Indian grocers: flat flaked rice that looked like it would be fabulous and fascinating, like something i could fall in love with, if only i could figure out what to do with it. I decided I wanted some of the action, and joined Amy in a sort of sister-blog: each of us making the dish and posting at the same time.
Suvir was on the East Coast; Amy and I were in the Bay Area. We decided to head out to an Indian grocery–in this instance, the shop right next door to Vik’s Chaat House in Berkeley. Since we were there, and it was midday, we had to have lunch first. To be perfectly honest, we planned to arrive for just this reason: Vik’s is legendary in its spicy and refreshingly affordable lusciousness. Everything is wonderful, and the daily special is….well, special. On this particular day, full of vegetables, awash in a complex spicy sauce: taro, okra, something mysterious and chewy, eggplant/aubergine…. It came on a plate with a layered whole wheat flat cake (paratha), yogurt raita, sizzlingly picante pickle/chutney, a delicate rice pilaff, and somewhere there were curried chickpeas….we also got a plate of aloo papri, and stuffed tiny puffs of crisp fried lentil cakes with a spicy curried potato mix, date chutney, and dipped it into a tangy herby aromatic water. you have to eat it in one bite or all is lost, pretty much down your chin.
I don’t have a foto of Amy and I eating. We were too in-the-moment– by the time either of us even thought of snapping our plates they were pretty much empty. BUT i do have a pic of Amy and I shopping. I’m holding up a MASSIVE jar of chutney/pickle. (famous am I for my love of pickles:Indian, Asian, American or Eastern European–you pickle it and i’ll probably love it).
Back to the poha; we wandered through the aisles at Viks in search. Poha is sold dry in cellophane or plastic bags; i might have seen large bags in burlap too. To prepare posa, simply moisten, then toss with spices and warmed gently, adding a little extra water or liquid as you toss in the pan. It takes a short time to cook into a light, fluffy carby mound somewhat like snow, but neither cold nor melting. The flat rice flakes take on the flavours of the spices you toss it into the pan with: in this case, sizzled curry leaves, mustard seeds, and cumin; dressed in lime juice and fluffed with handfuls of chopped cilantro/coriander leaves, crunchy crisp peanuts and toasted coconut. I served it as a lovely room temperature dish–almost salad-like–dish, to go alongside my annual eggplant parmesan bash for my friend Scott’s birthday. Also, I know it is a great to have a bowl in he fridge for several days running because we did, and its amazing how many times one of us was drawn to open the fridge, check out whats inside, and have a spoonful of the poha as long as we were there.
Poha–Indian Flat Rice Salad, studded with sweet potato, rice with a million textures and flavours: tart, herbal, spicy, rich, salty, everything all at the same time. And now that I know what to do with it, I don’t think i can live without it. Even now I am thining of dishes that poha would be wonderful in. Love: it was bound to happen.
Adapted from Suvir Suran, and made in cyber-conjunction with Amy Sherman
How many does it serve? it depends on how many other things you are serving. I made this amount and we ate from it for a few days; i liked it especially with a few dollops of yogurt on the side.
1/4 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 fresh curry leaves, roughtly torn
1/2 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds (Suvir calls for black; i’ve made it with both at different times; both are good!)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 smallish dried red chile, left whole for a subtle head, broken up or crushed for full-blast hot
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (a pungent resin used as a spice in Indian cooking)
1 big red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided into 2
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1/3 cup roasted peanuts
1 green serrano chile, finely chopped (with or without seeds; as you like).
2 cups poha
2 extra tablespoons water, or enough to moisten the dish
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro/fresh coriander
In a heavy ungreased frying pan toast the coconut until it is lightly browned, then remove from the pan.
Add the oil; let heat for a few moments, then add the curry leaves, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and red chile; add until the mustard seeds pop, then add the asafoetida, onions, and half the salt.
Cook until the onions are soft, then add the sweet potato and cook, stirring, until they sweet potatoes are tender and browned.
Add the toasted coconut, the peanuts and half the serrano chile. Rinse to moisten the poha, then drain of any excess water, and add to the mixture in the pan. Toss in a stir-fry kinda way until the poha plumps up and mixes with the other ingredients; drizzle in the 2 tablespoons of water, adding more as and if you need it. Cook for about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, add the lime juice, half the cilantro/fresh coriander, and as much of the rest of the salt as needed.
Just before serving, sprinkle with or toss in rest of the cilantro and fresh