Mysore Mithai or Haal Khova | Sweet Nostalgia

Cottage @ Lake Ouachita State Park, Arkansas

I have been away for a while now, to begin with, it was for a lovely fall vacation with friends in Arkansas. (BTW, Don’t miss the state park cottages, they are worth every penny). Then, it was to San Francisco to meet friends who are embarking on a “round the world trip” this weekend starting from Bogota, Colombia to cover the whole of South America and North Africa later. (Curious cats can track their adventures on their blog Crave to Travel). Also, very unexpectedly, a sweet co-incidence it was to meet up with the lovely ladies Sala Kannan of Veggie Belly and Prerna of Indian Simmer, thanks to a quick burst of tweeting! YAY! to Twitter.. Meeting them in flesh and blood over a lovely Thai dinner felt like a dream come true.. After that, in a much unexpected turn of events I spent the whole of Thanksgiving weekend in and out of ER nursing my injured back to normalcy until now..

With so much to share and not being able to communicate with you was difficult enough.. Thank you for your understanding unbeknownst my saga, staring at the same page of Curry Leaf all this while..

So I am back to writing this special post. No recipes this time, but I bring you “this” something very close to my heart, with a big grin and sparkly eyes..

It arrived by mail in a brown box from an unidentified address.

It couldn’t have been any kind of factory made commercial product. It looked very familiar as though something long lost from my childhood. It had been much more than a year since the two of us had met each other. They were about eight geometric packets nicely wrapped in a bling gift wrap, contents playing peek-a-boo from the insides of the rectangular cuboid carefully hand wrapped in see-through wax paper wound with delicate white cotton threads securely knotted at the top.

I smiled.

There was a familiar comfort at sight. How could I know so much about this sweet unless…. I grew up eating it?

My eyes lit up like that of a small child handed with a bar of her most favorite chocolate, only it wasn’t this time.. But I knew exactly what it was and where it came from and perhaps who had taken the pains of mailing it in a box to me. What a splendid surprise!

It was like the most unexpected box parcel that one dreams of getting, when one sees a mail van passing by, thinking wish it was me. This day, it was mine..

If you are a Mysorean, most likely you know it.

If you have grown up in Mysore or have gone to school or college in Mysore anytime between the 80s and now, you might have even guessed what it is when you read the post header.

Haal Khova, Haalu Khova, Mithai – call it by any name and this humble geometrical sweet miracle never fails to melt in your mouth the moment it lands there..

On a small indistinct street somewhere in the heart of Mysore, a pious Brahmin family churns out this sweet daily in pre-fixed number of carefully hand made batches from scratch in their own home all by themselves, using the freshest ingredients. All just home made, Ahan!

“Mithai” as they call it, is their way of life and a sweet packet of bliss for others who get to enjoy it!

By now, the skeptic in you (or at least some of you) might have a question – how can a milk sweet survive travel by mail for so many days and still land in good condition? Yes, this sweet has a decent shelf life – two weeks if it is nowhere near water.. Not bad huh?

If you plan to visit Mysore soon and simply can’t wait to get hold of this sweet, drop me a comment with your email id and I can share the details with you..

And some of you with relatives in Mysore, you know what you can do.. :)

Hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did sharing a sweet piece of nostalgia from my childhood days.

Also, don’t miss to read how calling it a “piece of paradise”, Ramya Krishnamurthy waves her verbal wand of magic in a heartwarming write-up on this humble Haal Khova on Churumuri.

Traditional Pongal Chutney

South Indian Rice and Lentils Risotto with Coconut Chutney

Being the ubiquitous food it is of South India coming a close second only to Idli and Dosa, it is not much of a surprise if in the name of ‘authentic’, one finds umpteen variations of Pongal. But for the most part, they cannot stray too far from a concoction of rice and lentils.

To me, authentic Pongal has only one definition and one taste – the way it was made in my grand dad’s house, where I grew up eating and hating every bit of it back then. Even as a kid, I would never eat Pongal when not well accompanied by a spicy chutney or some pickle. Just cumin and black pepper wasn’t spicy enough for my taste buds which remains not far from that even today and hence this post comes with a bonus chutney recipe too.
As a little girl curious in the kitchen and keen to assist and learn recipes from my aunts, I had a long list of foods I loved that I wanted to cook in my own kitchen someday when I grew up. But, my standard statement was always “Pongal will never make it to that list”.
Irony of present times is that I make Pongal more than I could imagine as a school goer. It also happens to be his favorite and if I ever ask him “what do you want for lunch or dinner?” I am sure of his answer even before he does. It will invariably be “Pongal” and I am like “duh”
Now that I am officially making a post on Pongal, need I say my liking for Pongal turned 180 degrees?
{Coconut Cilantro Chutney}
Before making Pongal the traditional way, make sure you have good quality Ghee at hand. Without Ghee for the seasoning, Pongal is not Pongal in my opinion. The creamy consistency of Pongal comes from short grain rice which has the ability to absorb liquids well to release starch and also cook faster. So whatever happens, stay away from long grain or other aromatic rices similar to Basmati if you want the traditional creaminess of the dish, unless of course that is the only rice you can lay your hands on!
Even if you take away the ‘luxury’ of Ghee, Cashew nuts and desiccated coconut, authentic Pongal is characterized by turmeric, asafoetida, cumin and black pepper. And, just because cumin is called for, do not presume so for mustard seeds as well, they are a no-no.
Pongal from my grand dad’s kitchen always has whole black pepper even till today. I, however prefer to use freshly cracked pepper as I hate to chew on a whole black pepper unknowingly. I figured, Ghee and desiccated coconut must have been added to balm away any dry heat from the black pepper, other than for the divine taste of course!
Although this is how it is made in most places, it is also not uncommon to find an Andhra version seasoned with ginger and curry leaves in addition to the basic spices. If you’ve never had a taste of this creamy rice and lentil ‘Indian Risotto‘, I bet the best place to begin is at a South Indian temple where Pongal is almost always part of the ‘Prasadam‘ distributed.

 {Pongal Ingredients; Guess the ginger look-alike in the background? It is turmeric root}
Etymologically, Pongal which means to ‘boil over’ or ‘spill over’ in Tamil, comes from Pongal, the harvest festival of South India (akin to Lohri/Lodi of the North). In rural parts, a pot of Rice and Lentils – the South Indian staple is boiled over typically on open wood fire as a thanksgiving to the Sun god for a good harvest.
At my grand dad’s house and my mom’s, on the day of this festival(Makara Sankranthi) Pongal is cooked in a traditional brass pot adorned with vermillion (kumkum) and turmeric root which is considered auspicious tied around the pot along with its shoots (hence symbolically in the picture above). On that day, Pongal or Venn Pongal is always accompanied by a sweet version ‘Shakkar Pongal’ or Chakkar Pongal cooked with jaggery, dry coconut and spices like cardamom and nutmeg.
I seldom make Pongal the same way every time.  Most often, the kind of Pongal I make everyday is never without vegetables, which could be anything that is readily available in my refrigerator from carrots to spinach to Hyacinth beans [papdi lilva / Avarekaalu (kannada)] to edamame beans to even broccoli and okraTasty Vegetable Pongal, a post that I made earlier is such a variation adapted for kids especially picky eaters like my little girl.
Best way to serve hot Pongal is on a clean banana leaf. It feels like food is so much tastier when eaten from a banana leaf.

Traditional Pongal Chutney Recipe

Printable Recipe
Things you’ll need:
For Pongal:
  • 1 cup short grain rice (I used sona masoori)
  • 1/2 cup split yellow dal / moong dal
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk ~ optional
for the tempering:
  • 1 tsp jeera/cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp whole black pepper, coarsely crushed fresh
  • 1/4 tsp hing/asafoetida (I use SSP brand powdered asafoetida)
  • 2-3 tbsp copra /desiccated coconut / grated dry coconut
  • 10-12 cashews broken into pieces
  • 4-6 tsp Ghee
For Chutney:
  • 1 cup grated coconut , fresh or frozen
  • 1-2 green chillies / Thai chillies
  • small handful cilantro
  • almond sized tamarind
  • salt
For tempering:
  • 1 tsp peanut oil (or any cooking oil)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/8 tsp asafoetida/hing
other:
  • Pressure Cooker
How it’s done:
Dry roast the yellow lentils in a thick bottomed pan over medium heat until fragrant and golden brown. Or, simply microwave for 2 mins at 30 sec – 1 minute intervals, spread out on a microwave safe plate and keep aside.
Wash rice a few times until water runs clear. Pressure cook the washed rice and roasted lentils with turmeric and four times the amount of water or 6 cups or optionally 51/2 cups water and 1/2 cup milk for 2-3 cooker whistles. Alternatively, bring water (or water and milk) to a boil in an open pot and add rice and roasted lentils. Stir intermittently to avoid boiling over. When rice and lentils seem half cooked, simmer partially covered until fully cooked. Add more water if required.
In the meanwhile, grate dry coconut and ready the seasoning ingredients for Pongal and also make chutney.
Grind together the chutney ingredients with enough water to a paste. Remove into a bowl. Pour a little water into the mixer jar and wash it off into the chutney bowl and set aside.

Once the cooker has cooled, mash the lentil-rice mixture using a whisk for a uniform runny consistency and keep aside.

For the chutney seasoning, heat oil in a heavy bottom pan or kadai over high heat. When oil is hot enough and shimmering, add mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start spluttering, reduce heat to medium, add asafoetida and quickly empty it over the chutney. Wipe the pan clean with a tissue using a pair of tongs.

Now for the Pongal seasoning, heat ghee in the same pan over medium high heat. When ghee is hot enough (add a couple of cumin seeds to check), add cumin seeds. When they start to sizzle, add cashews and fry till golden brown. Be careful not to burn them. Reduce heat to sim and add asafoetida, crushed black pepper and grated dry coconut quickly followed by the cooked lentil-rice mixture. Add salt to taste, mix well and switch off.

Serve hot with coconut chutney and/or your choice of pickle.

Shortcut method:
If you have a pressure cooker, start with the seasoning and then add roasted yellow lentils and washed rice to that and stir until rice is translucent. Add turmeric, salt and required amount of water (and milk) and close the cooker lid and whistle. Allow to whistle for 3 times before switching off. Pongal is ready when cooker cools off.
Don’ts
Do not heat Ghee at high heat similar to oil or it will burn.
Do not use Basmati or any kind of aromatic rice. Short grain rice similar to Sona masoori will do well.
Note:
If the cooked rice and lentil mix does not have the consistency of a creamy porridge, add enough warm water or warm skim milk to bring it to the right consistency.
The quantities mentioned here serve 2-3 people. To adjust quantities as per your needs, just remember to have a rice and lentil ratio of 2:1 and 3-4 times water. Eg. 1 cup rice + 1/2 cup lentil +5-6 cups water. Some prefer to use 1:1 rice-lentil ratio as well instead of 2:1. Suit yourself.
Quantity of asafoetida used is directly dependent on its potency which differs by brand. For example, SSP brand asafoetida (which I use) is strong, hence a little goes a long way while L.G hing is milder than SSP. So adjust accordingly depending on the brand of your choice.
Adjust the quantity of chutney ingredients as per your taste.

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Kaduhu Ohre

Tangy Spicy Coconut Mustard Rice

[kah do hoo, voh ray] (Tamil)
Kaduhu (also Kadugu) Ohre (ever heard of the famous Puliogre? named along the same lines) may look, if not sound like just another average South Indian one-pot-meal. Yet, when it comes to taste, it carves a niche identical to no other – few simple ingredients put together collectively transform into a dish bursting with a colorful medley of bold tastes. Coconut, a part and parcel of South Indian cuisine coupled with raw mustard is the highlight of this dish.
When my mom made this for the first time after our marriage,  it was “love-at-first-bite” for him. From then on, it seems to be riding high on his favourite foods menu. So, without a second guess, I chose to make it for his birthday, recently. Probably I give you the impression that I make it only for him, did I not mention I love it too? There you go. Sounds repetitive, ain’t it? That’s because I choose my posts carefully – meaning I mostly post dishes I love. So, don’t be surprised next time you hear the same yada yada..
I always wonder about the genesis of traditional recipes. Not so sure about this one as there seem to be versions of this dish in Karnataka (aka Kaayi Saasive Anna) as well as Tamil cuisines (aka Kadugu Saadham). In my Taatha’s (grand dad) place in Mysore, Kaduhu Ohre had the privilege of a special sunday breakfast every now and then, other than being a trademark on festivals or special occasions.
To me, thoughts of Kaduhu Ohre are invariably associated with recollections of saliva gushingly engulfing the bite just ready to be swallowed at the back of the tongue – the pleasure in the mild sting, the slight sniffle and the misty eyes, words fail to explain, a perception only possible when experienced.
The flavor of mustard when freshly ground is so distinctly different from that of the crackling whole mustards so common in a south Indian tempering – a sharp intensely pungent flavor ready to unite and become one with the hot red chillies and tangy tamarind. Cooked rice is an ideal host for a perfect rhythm of this spicy-tangy amalgam while coconut fuses all the sharp tastes together into a well-rounded outcome.
Have you tasted this kind of Coconut-Mustard rice before? What kind of dish do you relish most with the coconut-mustard combo in it? As always, I am all ears…

Kaduhu Ohre Recipe

Printable Recipe

Things you’ll need:

  • 3/4 cup raw rice (makes approx. 2 cups cooked rice)
  • Salt
To grind:
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut  (frozen grated coconut is fine too, thaw before use)
  • 2-3 tsp black mustard seeds
  • dash of hing/asafoetida
  • 8 whole red chillies
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • pulp of small lime sized tamarind
For tempering:
  • 4 tsp peanut oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • a pinch of hing/asafoetida
  • 1 tsp bengal gram
  • 1 tsp black gram
  • 3 -4 red chillies torn into 1″ pieces
  • 8-10 curry leaves
  • 1/4 cup peanuts
How it’s done:


  • Wash the rice and cook/pressure cook for soft and grainy cooked rice (should not be mushy).
  • Meanwhile, in a blender, grind the “to grind” ingredients along with a couple of spoons of water (if required) to a smooth paste.
  • When the cooker has cooled, spread the rice in a large mixing bowl to cool and sprinkle salt (for the rice only) over it.
  • For the tempering, heat oil in a medium kadai/skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot enough, add peanuts and curry leaves and let the peanuts crackle. When the peanuts turn brown and curry leaves turn crisp, strain them both on a paper napkin and keep aside.
  • To the same oil (on high heat) add mustard seeds and reduce the heat to medium-high when they start to splutter. When the spluttering comes to a halt, add hing quickly followed by split bengal gram, split black gram and torn red chillies in that order and sauté until the lentils are golden brown and chillies turn brown as well. Now add the ground paste and salt to this tempering and sauté until the sizzling stops and the paste has cooked, about 10-15 mins. To check for the done-ness, the paste should leave the sides of the skillet and come off as one lump. Switch off and keep aside.
  • Over the rice in the mixing bowl, add the tempered mustard-coconut paste, fried peanuts and curry leaves and mix well gently folding the rice from side to side so as to keep it grainy and not render it mushy.
  • Let the mixed rice sit for a bit for the spices to settle before serving. Serve warm optionally with a side of your choice of fryums or papad.
Note:
Another variation of this recipe:
Omit tamarind in the above recipe keeping everything the same. Sprinkle grated raw mango (skinned and pitted) over the cooked rice and mix well along with the remaining ingredients. This is known as “Maangai Ohre” (Mango rice) and is a typical main dish prepared on the festival of “Yugaadi” (Hindu New Year, esp in South India - aka Gudi Padwa in Marathi)
Tip:
In case of any excess or leftover coconut-mustard paste, do not fret and do not discard!
Just use the paste in the making of any of the everyday vegetable sides and see it bring a twist to a simple dish. Experiment and you might discover a new dish!

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