Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The exacting art of making sabudana khichdi!

[Dedicated to my Periamma, who taught me how to make the 'as close to perfect as possible' sabudana khichdi. And through it, a desire to strive for excellence, at least in one dish of the vast canvas of cooking!]

Making sabudana khichdi is an exacting process as I have come to realise. One that has many variants, all of which need to fall into place for it to come into its own.

Right from the way it is soaked to how much of water it takes in, to the amount of oil used to cook it, to the number of peanuts you measure out to powder and flavor it, the steps have to be both precise as well as bended to flexibility, should the measure of exactness go awry at any point. And in this, it has my full and complete admiration. For something that requires so much of your stillness, concentration and presence, is something that is worthy of meditating upon. And I shall do just that!

I owe my love of this dish to my Aunt in Pune, who has understood every nuance and mood of this grain to master it so adeptly, and wields it to satisfy every sense of the palate. In a fit of self-confidence that can only come from the rushes of youth, I thought I could easily replicate her style and I made it at home. Over and over. And it was a washout every single time. I have lost count of how many packs of sabudana, I would have wasted in the process. And it never struck me that these failures could be turned on their head and fried as vadas. Finally, there came a day when after sampling yet another one of her perfectly churned out batches of khichdi, I deigned to come down from the high horse of my own independent study of it and asked for the secret. How do you make it Periamma, I mouthed rather coolly, when every part of me was literally begging inside, grappling to understand where the key to all my struggles lay.

Secret 1 : With the very first step she laid out, I realised my mistake. You soak the grain in just enough water to cover it. No more, no less. More makes it soggy. Less makes it hard and chewy. Also, different varieties need different hours of soaking. The ones I get in Chicago can easily do with the overnight soak. The ones in India, need just about an hour.

In this it is about balance. That perfect walk along the thin pole...with not even a balancing stick to hold on to. Either you get it right, or you don't!

Secret 2 : This needs lots of peanuts powdered to this semi coarse consistency. And also lots of oil to cook it in. So it can be the reward after a period of healthful eating. Or you can toss all such notions aside and cook it every other week.

In this, it is about excess and plentiful excess. Every time you feel it getting sticky, you add more oil without even batting an eyelid. And just when you think 20 peanuts is enough for those 2 cups, you add another 10 more into the mixie, and then another 5. Maybe just 2 more. 1 last?

Secret 3 : You need to mix in the peanut powder to the grains, before you cook it. It may work the other way too, but from all my repeated practise sessions, this works better.

In this it is about eccentricity. Why add the peanuts just a second later into the pan, when you can do it beforehand, and let the grains and the nuts become better acquainted? Why wait and delay the inevitable???!!!

Secret 4 : It needs careful monitoring over a low flame, with frequent stirring to make sure the undersides don't get sticky and clump together. And in the end, if its gets sticky anyways, let it cool in the breeze of the fan. The grains stop banding together so fiercely.

In this, it is about TLC. And micro-management. The kind where you don't take your eyes off of it even for a second, and even when you do it, it is done as a covert operation, before it develops the smarts to figure out the second's worth of neglect.

Secret 5 : A dash of lemon juice at the very end works wonders in bringing all the flavours together. As does, a big bunch of coriander greens.

In this it is about the pompadour touch. That little zing, that flair for the tart!

Suffice it to say, I have had enough intimate conversations with this process, to unearth all its secrets (or so I think! Foolish me!!!). For I have made several worthy batches of khichdi. Both the boys like it and if I space it out well in the course of a month, don't object to it in the least.

It makes for a hearty breakfast, an easy dinner option and can be a party hit, if the stars have aligned well in the charts that day! Making it each time is an act of mystery, where even the weight of my history with it will not guarantee success. It is thrilling because I never quite know what will come out at the end. Even if one step goes off the beaten track, it can become a slushy disaster or a clumpy, chewy mess.

But on the days it behaves itself and lends complicity to me in full and complete abandon and kindness....those are the days of true happiness. And today is one of those days!

9 comments:

the mad momma said... Best Blogger Tips

Okay I need more info on the peanut bit.You grind raw peanuts and mix them with the sabudana after its been soaked. If you cover the sabudana with just enough water, it all gets soaked and nothing is thrown?

*FURIOUSLY TAKING NOTES*

Sri said... Best Blogger Tips

One of my ex-colleagues introduced us to this dish and it is now an office favourite..i am not very careful about cooking but thankfully havent messed up this dish so far!

I always seem to be adding lots of peanuts though!

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

MM : Now you know the specifics.

Sri : Not careful but haven;t messed up the dish? How is that possible?? Unless you've been careful without knowing it? :) And here I was thinking I have mastered the exact science and art of it all! ;)

LT WN said... Best Blogger Tips

I am not sure if I want to attempt making the dish even with all its sticky secrets revealed.

Instead,I'll just "wait" for my friend to make a generous delivery of what seems like a dish that would caress all senses.

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

@LT WNNow I know exactly what to come home to you with!

scarlettwrites said... Best Blogger Tips

Tharini,
So lovely to see you back :)
Because I can never not comment on food posts and because I have had my own trysts with khichdi (which I love to bits like any self respecting Marathi girl would), here is my foolproof recipe.
1. I make mine in the microwave. 12 mins. No sticking, perfect khichdi everytime.
2. Soak the sabudana in a colander. It works a treat. I dont have much of a success rate with the sabudana from the Indian store, I use the ones from the supermarkets (the dessert section sago and tapioca). I normally wash it in the colander, and add about 2 tbsps of water on top. Check every 30 mins or so, if the pearls have soaked the water, run some more tap water through it. 2 hours later, you should have fluffy pearls that are ready to be mixed with salt, sugar and roasted peanut powder. The pearls at this stage must be moist, not wet.
3. The peanuts need to be roasted before powdering (we call this "kut") - I roast them in the microwave too, with the skins on, it gives it a wonderful colour.
4. Thinly sliced potatoes are a must as is the ghee-jeera tadka.
5. And yes, like you said, you need to mix these things before adding it to the ghee, jeera, green chilli tadka.

Sorry for the ramble. Food will do that to me.
Lovely to see you back and sending you hugs.
Scarlett

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

Scarlett! Hi! :)

See,k I picked up one tip from you....re: the addition of little sugar. And I always did the tadka in oil. Maybe a little ghee added for flavor. Ok. Some good tips here for the next batch.

I always added the peanuts with the skin exactly for that color, so hifi on that. Just not a big fan of using microwave.

Thanks for the inputs. :)

Priya said... Best Blogger Tips

What I do. Soak the sabudhana in water warm enough to drink for 10 mins. wash, let it sit in cold water for 10 more. remove water and sprinkle a few handfuls and let it sit overnight. I also grind a 2-3 tomatoes raw(if making for 4 adults) along with g.chilli, saute till almost chutney consistency, add roasted, ground peanuts and then the sago. A couple of tsp of ghee just before removing. Has worked in India and the US

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

Wow Priya. Interesting variation. With tomatoes that too. Never would have thought the two went together.thanks for detailing. Will try it very soon.

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