A 50 year old red-oxide floored kitchen; a huge bubbling baandli (kadai) sits on a gas stove next to a south facing window in the brightly lit corner of that kitchen. The white wall behind the stove turned somewhat brown is spattered with black-brown blotches. A middle aged saree clad lady stands facing the window vigorously stirring the contents of the kadai, her eyebrows cringing, her arms covered in a towel to avoid all the vicious spattering.
The King of South Indian Spice Mixes
This post has been languishing in the drafts for all of summer. I must have opened this post to edit at least two dozen times and closed it each time even before a few sentences trickled down. It just did not happen. A laid back recipe made of a generous handful of summer, a good measure of what is called ‘life’, a cup of lost mojo, a tablespoon of procrastination, a teaspoon of writer’s block beat the better of a pinch of my best intentions this past season. Given my liking for the dish, ideally, this should have been one of my first few posts on this blog. Nevertheless, in spite of a pot full of excuses I did manage to get the post together finally. Hope you’ll like it.
My Mom-in-law’s recipe
The year has been moving not in days or weeks but in months. I have been occupied with a few projects (non-food and non-blog related) one after the other that kept me away from the blog. For a couple of months, I was less at home and more in my little girl’s Montessori, compiling their yearbook. It is her last year there before she moves to public school later this fall. Last day at school and saying goodbye was more painful for me than for her!
Savory Cranberry relish, South Indian style
Its been three years now and I can say that Thanksgiving has become a part and parcel of our holiday tradition. The spirit of the holiday season is so strong, it simply seems worthless to resist.
The South Indian staple Spice Mix
Ideally, this should have been one of my first few blog posts considering how staple Rasam or Saaru is in our household. Though there is a world of difference between Rasam and Saaru, for all practical purposes they are taken for granted and used interchangeably. A rule of thumb to distinguish the two is that Saaru always has cooked pigeon peas or Toor dal in it wheres Rasam is as watery as can be, made with just the lentil stock. Also, Saaru is very much a Karnataka food and Rasam typically of Tamilnadu.
Saaru is the very monicker of our quintessential everyday food. On most days, there’s Anna (rice), Saaru and everything else is prepared around those two basic pillars of our South Indian meal. A simple Anna-Saaru and a beans palya (green beans stir fry with fresh grated coconut) can make me feel at home wherever I am.
This recipe is from my grand dad’s kitchen and is always a yard stick of sorts for me. During my grand mother’s days, preparation of this Saaru Podi was a sacrosanct event for which, a good day on the Hindu calendar would be chosen. There were even forbidden days like Tuesdays and Fridays and times to avoid like dusk and dawn, most of most of which is followed in my grand dad’s house even today.
Also, as they say, there is a method to the madness, apparently, there is a particular order and method to follow to get the most flavorful Saaru Podi. If you read through the recipe, notice how the ingredients are paired and roasted in a particular order? Once I followed, I realized that there is some logic to it like Dhania and Curry leaves need just about the same time to be roasted and so do fenugreek and hing. Dry roast them any longer and they’ll burn. Who knew?
Saaru is something that becomes a topic of of our long distance conversations as well. You can imagine how even when she’s far away, Amma (mom) always checks on me to know if I make Saaru on a regular basis here. She says, Saaru has all the ingredients required for a good digestive and immune system and that eating Saaru everyday is like half the battle won in preventing cough, cold and other routine digestive problems. Right, she is. Saaru Podi has its roots in Ayurveda and every single ingredient truly has a medicinal property to boast of.
In all these years of marriage, I must have made this spice mix on my own, about twice at the max. I would always get a big stash from home and never really had the need to make one myself from scratch. Besides, in my mind, Rasam podi was always associated with a mental block that it is very difficult to make or it is super time consuming or that the one I made would never be good enough like my mom’s.
None of them are true, fortunately or unfortunately. I’ve realized that myself.
Making my own Saaru Podi has been a happy trip down the satisfaction lane and I would love to travel there as often as possible.
Nothing quite packs the punch much like a freshly ground home made spice mix.
So tell me, do you buy MTR Rasam powder or would you like to make your own?
Mysore Saaru PUdi Recipe
Makes approx 300 gms
Things you’ll need:
About 2 cups Dried Red chillies (approx. 50-60) (ideally a mix of Byadagi and Guntur)
1 cup Coriander seeds / Dhania
1/4 cup Fenugreek /methi seeds
1/4 cup black peppercorn
1/4 cup cumin seeds / jeera
1-1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
2 pieces, about 1inch each, cinnamon
about 1 cup Curry leaves, loosely packed
1/4 tsp good quality asafoetida / hing (I use SSP)
1/2 tsp ghee
1 tsp oil
How it’s done:
Heat oil in a kadai or wok and roast the red chillies on low-medium heat. Use two ladles and roast by lifting the chillies from the sides until they are very hot to the touch. Let the chillies not burn or the chilli fumes will take over the kitchen. Spread on a plate and keep aside.
Add coriander seeds and curry leaves immediately into the kadai and dry roast on medium heat until curry leaves are wilted and so dry that they crumble when pinched, but still retain their green color. Remove these onto the red chillies itself so the chillies are kept warm enough to be ground.
Add ghee to the kadai followed by black peppercorns and roast on medium heat until the spluttering frequency reduces but does not stop. Remove on to the plate.
Add fenugreek seeds and hing and dry roast on medium heat until fenugreek seeds turn golden brown. Any more roasting will turn them very bitter. Remove on to the plate.
Add cumin seeds and cinnamon and dry roast on medium heat until flavorful and the spluttering frequency reduces but does not stop. Remove on to the plate.
Lastly, dry roast mustard seeds till they begin to splutter. Remove on to the plate.
Grind all the roasted ingredients on the plate in a spice grinder or any Indian mixie (dry jar) until finely powdered. Let the jar cool before opening. Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool dry place.
Use a mixture of mild and hot varieties of red chilli like Guntur(hot) and Byadagi (mild). Read more notes on this in Bisibelebath recipe
AVOID dry roasting all ingredients together as it results in uneven roasting or burning of ingredients.
If you wish to make a smaller batch, a 4:1 ratio should work well between coriander seeds and cumin, fenugreek and black pepper. Adjust proportion for the other ingredients accordingly.
Avoid dry roasting red chillies or they’ll emanate pungent, choking fumes.
If you feel the spice mix turned out to be short of red chillies or doesn’t taste hot enough, you can always adjust by roasting some extra chillies, grind to a fine powder and grind once again together with the Podi to get it all mixed well.
If you happen to make Rasam only once in a while, then consider storing it in the freezer. That way, the spice mix will retain all of its flavor without tasting like just wood husk.
SSP brand hing is available in Bangalore – Mysore areas as far as I know. LG brand is available even in the US.