How do I start writing about #poha (flattened rice), the ubiquitous showstopper of breakfasts or snacks in any #Indian home? I don't know whether it's the consequence of a conventional Indian upbringing or simply a personal preference that I like my breakfast hot and savoury, and poha undoubtedly ranks high in my list of most resorted hot breakfasts. This modified version of rice is light, easily digestible and filling. I sometimes eat it for lunch too, or even dinner when there's dearth of energy to cook but a desire to cling to comfort food.
Almost every home in the western, eastern, central and southern India cooks a version of flattened rice. It has many names: poha, pohay, chiwda, chire, chuda, aval, chevdo, pauaa, bajil, atukulu. And even this list of names seems incomplete for this beloved rice of India, which is soaked and softened in water and tempered with onions, spices and vegetables or sprouts and sometimes toasted off with a combination of nuts, raisins, spices and coconut pieces to be eaten as a flaky snack food. The northern states in India have also adopted it with much enthusiasm, lending the preparation their own twists.
The more I explore the history of this exquisite variety of rice, the more I realize India seems to be the only country that celebrates it with such gusto. Quoting from Madhur Jaffery's book, Vegetarian India:
Why it was that other countries with ancient histories of rice culture do not have any version of flattened rice. Some have puffed rice, another "instant" version suitable for a quick meal, but no one, to my knowledge, has the much-loved Indian poha.
There are many different ways of cooking poha. I can safely say that about hundred permutations and combinations of ingredients are easily possible to render a different variety of poha preparation. Each method is unique and influenced by the style of cooking and staple ingredients in the particular region in India. For example, in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, poha is usually cooked with potatoes, onions and peanuts. The central state of Madhya Pradesh introduces fennel seeds and sev (crunchy short noodles made of chickpea flour) in the preparation while the states of Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Kerela eat water-soaked and drained poha in yogurt or milk, topped with jaggery or sugar along with the savoury versions. Some south Indian states spice it up with more chilies and lend sourness with tamarind and tomatoes. And, I have not even covered half of the varieties of dishes that can be made from flattened rice
What about this recipe?
Although I grew up eating my mom's east Indian style of poha called chuda upma, the
Maharashtrian version of poha has become close to my heart over the years. This recipe is my favored style of making poha. It's made with onions (kanda in Marathi) and batata (potatoes in Marathi).
I swear by this recipe because it's so easy and cleaning is a breeze. The end result is a sunshine-yellow mildly tangy dish with the whiff of roasted nuts, not to forget the play of fresh coriander leaves.
You can skip the potatoes and peanuts from this recipe, or skip one of these, and the dish will still taste heavenly. I can guarantee that. You can also substitute peanuts with cashew nuts or add green peas along with the potatoes or simply add peas without the potatoes. You get an idea how you can mix and match the ingredients, right?
Soaking the poha is critical in any preparation that needs the flattened rice to be soft. This recipe also requires so. The trick is to wash the poha in a colander or vegetable strainer and let it sit as long as you go about other preparatory and cooking work for the poha. The soaked and softened poha should go into the wok as the last or last but one ingredient.
Poha in India is available in different thicknesses. I use the thick or medium-thick variety to make dishes which need the poha to be softened, like this recipe. For a flaky dry snack preparation, I recommend using thin poha. And, if you're outside India, you can find it easily in an Indian store or the Indian/Asian food isles in a grocery store or order online.
The Maharstrian style of poha is usually garnished with fresh grated coconut which I have skipped in this recipe.
1 cup thick poha (flattened rice)
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp peanuts
1 small potato diced into small pieces
1 tsp mustard seeds
8-10 curry leaves (fresh or dried)
2-3 green chilies slit
2 medium or 1 large onion chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
freshly chopped cilantro
1 lemon (1/2 to squeeze and 1/2 to serve )
Wash the poha thoroughly in a colander or vegetable strainer under running water, and let the poha rest and drain in the same colander.
In a wok or thick bottom pan on medium heat, add the peanuts and sauté to lightly roast them. Take them out of the wok and keep aside.
Add the diced potatoes to the same pan and sauté. Lower the flame and cover and cook with few splashes of water until the potatoes turn soft. It should take about 4-5 minutes. Note: I usually have a batch of parboiled potatoes that cook fast. If you don't have pre-boiled potatoes, chop the potatoes quite small. This ensures a faster cooking time.
Once the potatoes are done, raise the flame to medium and add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and slit chilies. Be careful as everything crackles. Note: Slitting and adding chilies in a tempering tends to make them less spicy while letting the right amount of heat to stay in the dish.
Add the onions and let them sweat with turmeric and a pinch of salt. The intention is not to brown them. It should take about 3-4 minutes on a medium flame. If you want to add peas or any other vegetables, now is the time.
Add the roasted peanuts and mix, and then add the soaked poha. Toss the poha gently so as no to break the grains.
Turn off the heat. Squeeze half of a lemon and season with salt. Garnish with coriander and serve with more lemon wedges.
While your poha is getting cooked, keep a hot cup of ginger chai ready. Relish this simple yet flavourful dish for breakfast or an evening snack! If you're like me, you'd probably not mind having it for lunch too on some days.
If you wish to reheat leftover poha, sprinkle water over it and cover and heat on low heat in a thick bottom pan.