I make it when I am tired. I make it when I am bored. I make it because it is quick. I make it because it is impressive and I usually bask in pleasure having received many complements when guests have it. But mostly I make it because my family demands it. Oh! Before I forget, this dish takes me back in time! Whenever I am pounding the spices or mixing the rice a song hums at the back of my mind – ‘Kalyana samayal saadam…..‘ from ‘Maya Bazaar‘. It was one of my favourite movies as a kid and the dish puts me in a time warp.
Tamarind rice or puliyamchaadam, as we Palakkad Iyers call it is a dish native to Tamilnadu. Andhrites have their own version which I find spicier (from the generous doses of chilli) and I am not fond of the Bangalore version which has a bit of sweetening due to the addition of jaggery. The dish itself is very easy especially since most Indian shops store a ready ‘masala’ i.e., puliyogare / puliyodarai podi (powder) or paste. The preparation of the paste hardly takes any time so I prefer making it at home. This way, I am also able to decide the amount of heat and tang I like in my rice. Besides, I have a natural aversion to off-the-shelf things that stems from doubts regarding lack of hygiene, and due to addition of preservatives and food colours. I try and make most dishes from scratch. Once you make it at home, you will never buy any of the ready mixes or tetra packaged cartons.
Last month M Aunty’s daughter and my friend, Varsha was visiting her parents. A day after pongal, I think on Kanu Pongal, i.e., 16th of January, I made different varieties of rice dishes as is the practice in Tamilian homes. On Kanu Pongal, we only consume dishes made from cooked rice. Last year I shared the recipe (rather no-recipe dish) for lemon rice (elmichampazham chaadam). When I was a child, my mother would make sesame rice (ellu chaadam) and payasam as well. I prepare the dishes in two batches. Two varieties for lunch and two for dinner. As always I gave some of the coconut and tamarind rice with M Aunty. V liked it very much and wanted the recipe. She too did not like the ready paste as they were sweetened. This one is for V.
The recipe itself is in three parts. The paste, the spice powder and the last stage of mixing the rice. You can mix the spice powder towards the end while cooking the paste but I recommend that you keep them separate because this prevents the paste from sticking to the bottom of the wok. I also find it easier to mix the rice when the powder and paste are added one after the other. I prepare twice the amount of spice powder required for the dish as it can be stored and used as and when required.
Let me warn, this is not a low cal dish. The flavour and taste comes from the sesame oil used. I always use ‘Idhayam’ brand of oil as I find it more strong and flavoursome than most other brands. It is not as if you cannot lessen the oil but then the rice feels dry.
Dish: c / Puliyodarai / Tamarind Rice
Yield: Serves 4 or 5 persons
For the paste:
One large gooseberry sized ball of Tamarind (black variety), soaked in enough water for about 30 minutes
Sesame oil (Til ka tel) – 1 tbsp.
Mustard seeds (Rai) – 1/2 tsp.
Bengal Gram dal (Chana dal) – 1 tsp.
Dried Red Chillies (Sukhi lal mirch) – 3, halved
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Groundnuts or Cashewnuts – 2 to 3 tbsps. (depends on how much you like them!)
Asafoetida (Hing) powder – 1/8 tsp.
Salt to taste
For the Spice Powder:
Dried Red Chillies – 2 (depending on your taste)
Coriander seeds – 1 heaped tbsp.
Black gram lentils (Urad dal) – 1 tsp.
Bengal gram lentils (Chana dal) – 1 tsp.
Fenugreek (Methi dana) seeds – 1/8 tsp.
Curry leaves – 1 small sprig or 4-5 leaves
Cooked so that every grain is single, firm but cooked – 3 cups (As for fried rice)
(Fluff the rice and spread it on a plate to cool. Drizzle a tbsp. of oil while cooking to keep the grains separate. Also drizzle 1 tsp. of oil after spreading the rice over the plate. Any not-very-starchy rice variety is fine such as kolam, basmati or ambemohar)
Additional oil an salt if needed. 3 tbsps of oil at the most, if you would like.
Heat a non-reactive pan adding a tsp. of oil. Add the chillies, roast till they change colour. Turn over into your spice grinder or mixie. Now roast each ingredient for the spice powder separately – coriander till aromatic, and grams till brown. The fenugreek seeds do not need much roasting. You can add them and the curry leaves half way after adding the grams. Over roasted fenugreek seeds impart bitterness. Cool and grind to a fine powder.
Extract tamarind pulp as thickly as possible. The yield should be about 1/2 cup. I use a variety that is pasty and very tangy.
Heat oil in the same pan after wiping it out with a tissue. Season with mustard seeds.
When they splutter add the gram dal, followed by cashewnuts or ground nuts, followed by curry leaves and chillies. Roast on low heat till the cashews or ground nuts change colour and the chillies are blackened. You want the aroma here. The heat will come from the spice powder. They also make the rice look pretty!
Now add the tamarind extract. Cook stirring all the while till the paste comes together, about 10 minutes on medium heat. Do not leave the wok unattended. The paste will stick to the bottom if not stirred. Add salt to taste.
Remove from fire and set aside.
In the same wok, tip the rice and the spice powder. Mix everything lightly and carefully, not breaking the rice. Adjust salt to taste. If needed add oil, a tsp. at a time. Do not mix while pan is on fire.
Serve with chips, pappadams or any fritters of your choice.