Comfort in a plate : Poha

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Five years ago, I published my last post. A lot has changed in these years. I have grown older [and hopefully wiser]. I have moved countries. Had another baby who is now four years old! However, the one thing that has remained constant through these big life changes, has been my love for Food and Photography.

When I decided to start blogging again, I found myself looking through some of my old posts and repeatedly asking myself this question, “What took you so long?”

I don’t have an answer to that . . .

Let’s just say, a lot has happened during this time and it hasn’t been easy to cope with. I turned 40 and started looking at my life in a very different light. Four years ago, I became a mother all over again. I moved from my comfortable home in Singapore to the suburbs of New Jersey. With feelings of deep sadness and a desire to embrace change, I made the big move across continents together with my family. Friends who were a part of me through my 20s and 30s, were gone overnight.

I had always heard change was hard, but this hard . . .?

From being a social animal who thrived on meeting people to someone who spends weeks at a stretch without any face to face contact with another adult (other than my husband), let’s just say that the transition has been far from easy. I am grateful to the friends I have made during these two years as well as my long distance friends and family, without whom I couldn’t have survived.

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One Friday morning after finishing my morning chores, I was at home browsing through the glorious public lives of everyone (other than myself) on social media and I heard a knock on my door! I do not recall exactly but it could have easily been the first time my door knocked all week. It was my sweet neighbour, with a bowl of food in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. I was hungry! How could she have known? Perhaps the rumbling of my tummy was loud enough for her to hear or could it be that my need for some comfort food automatically wired out a telepathic message across our common walls? “Comfort food needed. A cup of Tea would be nice!”

She had made a bowl of Poha and a cup of Chai!

I was overwhelmed and full of gratitude. The first lesson I learnt almost immediately after moving here was that Food was God. And anyone who got you Food was an Angel!

As soon as she left, I made a dash in to the kitchen for a spoon. As I sat down with the warm bowl in my hand, I removed the foil that preserved the warmth and the aroma of that poha just made me ever so grateful for the food and love I had received. It is important that I mention that until this point in my life, I had never had any liking for poha. 

Something inside me changed permanently as I had my first spoonful.

Never before had I eaten Poha so moist and flavourful. I enjoyed the complexity of flavors that were gently balanced between the sweet, savory, spicy and tangy! It had a soft texture and yet it wasn’t dry.

I was converted!

I had to try and replicate the texture and flavour that I had just witnessed! Over the weeks that followed, I tried to replicate what I had experienced and I think I may have finally nailed it.

So, here’s the recipe!

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Recipe of Poha

For a Printable version of the recipe, click here.

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

  • Thick Brown rice Poha (Flattened brown rice, found in Asian stores) : 1 Cup. Wash with 2-3 changes of water and Soak  in water for 5 mins. Transfer to a soup strainer to strain the poha and let it rest in the soup strainer.
  • Potatoes: 1 Cup, small diced. I used 1 medium sized red potato
  • Carrot: 1/2 Cup of finely chopped carrots (I used 1 carrot and chopped it fine using a chopper)
  • Frozen peas: 1/2 Cup. Cover the peas with enough water. Add a pinch of salt and microwave for 2 mins. Strain & keep aside.
  • Onion: 1 Cup, finely chopped
  • Ginger: 1 Tbsp, finely chopped
  • Oil: 1 Tbsp (I used avocado oil. You can use grapeseed oil or your regular cooking oil).
  • Mustard seeds: 2 tsp
  • Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
  • Curry leaves: 10-15
  • Asafetida: Generous pinch or two (if you like more)
  • Indian or Thai green chillies: 3, chopped roughly
  • Sugar: 1 tsp
  • Turmeric Powder: 1/2 tsp
  • Ghee: 1 tsp (optional)
  • Salt: to taste
  • Pepper: 1/2 tsp
  • Lime: a couple of wedges
  • Cilantro (Coriander leaves): 1/4 cup, roughly chopped
  • Roasted peanuts (I prefer the asian variety which is smaller in size): Dry roasted, skin removed and lightly crushed.

Method:

  1. Heat a medium sized wok or heavy bottom pan. Add oil. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and wait for them to crackle. Once they start crackling, reduce heat and the add cumin seeds making sure they do not burn and let it cook for about 30 seconds.
  2. Next add the onion, ginger, asafetida, green chillies and sugar. Continue to cook this on medium-low heat until the onions have turned soft and translucent (about 3-4 mins).img_2066
  3. At this point, add the small diced potatoes along with some salt. Cover and cook them for 4-5 mins on medium-low heat. Add the peas and cook for another 3-4 mins until the peas and potatoes are cooked through.
  4. Add the finely chopped carrots, turmeric and freshly ground black pepper powder and cook for a few more mins until the carrots are not raw any longer. The carrots are so finely chopped that this should not take more than 2-3 mins on medium heat.img_2067
  5. Add the poha, some more salt (taste and adjust according to your preference) and add about 2-3 tbsp of water sprinkled all over. This is an important step to keep the poha moist without making it mushy. Mix well, cover and simmer for a few mins until the flavors have married together. Once the poha, vegetables and spices seem to have come together, turn off the heat. Do not overcook as the poha will become dry.img_2068
  6. With the heat turned off, add the ghee and freshly chopped cilantro. Mix well.
  7. To plate the poha, serve it with a squeeze of lime topped with some crushed peanuts and some more cilantro if you like!

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A Bengali Brunch: Koraishootir kochuri [Pooris stuffed with a spicy peas masala]

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R and I had been dating for many years before we got married. Our conversations used to revolve around our families, our lives together, our cultural differences, amongst many other things which young dating couples from different cultural backgrounds talk about.

R’s family is from West Bengal, a state in the Eastern part of India that is often known for its politics, literary history, culture, a daily diet that MUST include fish, and people who are extremely fond of sweets! My family, on the other hand, comes from the neighbouring state of Bihar, a state that is often the subject of conversation for its politics, lawlessness and poverty. The harsh reality is that we live in a world of stereotypes. The only silver lining is that we also live in a world where travel has become a lot easier and internet ensures there is enough information for people who seek out for it. This is definitely helping people to see beyond these stereotypes.

Before I got married, I was only worried about how I was going to deal with the sweet palate of the Bengali family and relatives because I definitely didn’t have one. It would be rude to refuse a sweet offered so lovingly and generously. Fortunately, it wasn’t really as difficult as I had made it out to be. Word spread about my love for fish and my lack of appetite for sweets.  The rest is history. I have been fortunate to have some of the best food in many Bengali homes. No restaurant can match up to that taste, variety and depth of flavour that is created in these home kitchens.

My Mother-in-Law is one of the best cooks I know. I owe a lot of my understanding of Bengali food to her. There are also a couple of other relatives and friends who have wholeheartedly welcomed me in their kitchen and given me the opportunity to watch, ask questions and learn. That learning over the years has given me the confidence to cook a lot of traditional Bengali food at home.

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Today, I am sharing my recipe of a traditional Bengali Brunch – ‘Koraishootir Kochuri’ or Pooris stuffed with a spicy peas masala. Do not confuse them with “Kachori” from North India. The two are quite different in texture, appearance and taste.

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Koraishootir kochuri is a popular homemade breakfast especially in the winter months when peas are in season. I didn’t have to wait for winters as I used frozen peas which are fortunately available year round! 😉 Koraishootir Kochuri is almost always served with some Indian pickles (aachhaar / achaar) and a spicy semi-dry dish made with potatoes called aaloo dom in Bengali or aaloo dum in Hindi. I promise to share a recipe of aaloo dom / aaloo dum very soon!

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The filling used here is a spicy mixture of peas dominantly flavoured by asafetida. Asafetida or hing, is a very strong and pungent spice. It is used quite extensively in a lot of Indian vegetarian dishes, especially for cooking where no onions or garlic are used. Most commonly available in a powder form, when fried for a few seconds in oil, it releases a very pleasant aroma and enhances the flavour of a dish immediately. A little goes a long way is apt for this spice. It is also an essential ingredient for flavoring many Indian pickles / achaar / aachaar.

Traditionally, Maida or refined flour is used to make this dish. I prefer to use wholewheat flour instead.

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To print this recipe, click here.

Koraishootir Kochuri or Pooris with a spicy Peas Masala filling:

Yield: About 18-20 pcs
These are quite heavy as they are thicker than the usual pooris and they have filling inside.

Things I needed:

A Paraath or a huge plate which is common in most Indian homes. It is used to knead dough.
A deep bottomed kadhai or Indian style wok or a deep pot for deep frying.
A Chakla
A rolling pin

For more information on the essential utensils for an Indian kitchen, you should check out the blog written by my friend, Nisha. She blogs at Spusht and has done a brilliant job of making an inventory for any one new to Indian cooking. Check this and many other interesting recipes and ideas on her blog, Spusht.

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Ingredients for the Dough:

Wholewheat flour: 2 cups [I used Aashirvaad Wholewheat aata]
Ghee: 1 tbsp
Carom seeds or Ajwain: ½ tsp
Warm water: ¾ cup
Salt: a pinch or to taste
Oil for deep frying

In a paraath or a big flat deep plate used in most Indian homes for kneading dough, add the flour, carom seeds (ajwain) and salt. Using your hands mix all the dry ingredients so that they are uniformly spread. Now add ghee (at room temperature) to the flour and rub it in between your palms. Repeatedly rub the flour and ghee mixture in this manner for 3-4 minutes to have the smell and flavour of ghee spread across the flour.

Next, make a well and add 1/3 cup water in the middle. Knead the dough mixing the flour with the water, adding water a little at a time. You may not need to use all the water but Add another 1/3 cup warm water and continue kneading. If the dough is sticky, just add a little flour and knead it again until smooth. We are looking for a dough which is not too firm but not very soft either – somewhere in between!

Ingredients for the Peas filling:

Frozen peas: 2 cups
Regular vegetable oil: 2 tsp
Cumin seeds: ½ tsp
Grated ginger: 1 tsp
Asafetida powder (hing): approx. 1/8 tsp
Roasted cumin powder: ½ tsp
Garam Masala: ½ tsp
Aamchoor (Dry Mango) powder: ½ tsp
Salt to taste

Boil the peas in just enough water to wet the peas with a pinch of salt until they are soft. (About 5 mins).

Using a food processor, make a coarse paste of the peas.

Heat 2 tsp of oil in a small kadhai / wok / skillet. Add cumin seeds, reduce heat and let it change colour without burning or turning black. Add grated ginger. You have to be careful to not let the cumin seeds burn otherwise it can add a bitter taste. Reduce heat or remove the pan from heat if needed. Add the asafetida and stir for a couple of seconds. Add the coarse peas paste, chilli powder and salt to taste.

Increase heat to medium, and continue to stir in order to reduce the moisture content of this mixture. When the mixture is almost dry (about 5 mins), add the roasted cumin powder, garam masala powder and aamchoor powder. Taste and adjust the taste to your liking. Continue frying for another 2 minutes and remove from heat.
Spread mixture on a plate to allow it to cool completely. This step is important to help you roll the pooris and make sure the filling doesn’t come out when rolling.

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Assembling it all together:

Now divide the dough into about equal size pieces. You should be able to make around 18 – 20 pcs. These are rolled thicker than the usual pooris so each portion must be a little bigger than your usual Poori dough. To give you an idea, each pc weighed in between 20-25 gms.

Make a smooth ball with each pc of dough. Using your fingers and in a sort of pinching motion, press from the centre turning it around, creating a well to stuff the filling. Make sure you don’t spread it too thin as this needs to be rolled flat and the stuffing should not come out.

Stuff around 1 tbsp of the prepared filling as shown in the picture. Seal it well. Take out a tbsp of the oil in a small bowl. Put a few drops of oil on the surface of the rolling surface (Chakla) to ensure it doesn’t stick when rolling. We do not use flour to roll these as dry flour will burn very quickly [A tip I learned from my Mother-in-law].

Roll these into small but thick pooris about 10-12 cm in diameter, taking care not to let the filling come out. If the filling comes out, these will not fluff up as we want it to. This takes a little practice so don’t be disappointed if you miss a few. Keep trying:)

Test the oil by adding a tiny pinch of dough, it should sizzle immediately and float up in the oil. Remove the test piece or you’ll have a burnt piece of dough floating about.

Gently slide down the rolled koraishootir kochuri in to hot oil to deep fry them. With the back of the spatula, gently press these kochuris to help them fluff up. Once fluffed up, immediately turn them over so that both sides get cooked. Fry one piece at a time. You could roll a few and keep on standby while the oil is heating, but make sure you do not stack them. Instead, spread them on a plate separate from one another.

Keep adjusting the heat. If the oil becomes too hot, there are 2 things you can do:
– reduce the heat or remove from heat to gradually cool down the oil to bring to desired temperature.
– Add more oil. This will help to reduce the temperature of the oil.

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