Monday, November 11, 2013

Nallikayi chitranna (seasoned gooseberry rice) - a Karthika maasa special

Most traditional Hindu homes have a Tulsi (Holy Basil) plant in the front yard. The 12th day in the Lunar calendar after the Deepavali new moon is celebrated as Tulasi Habba where the Holy basil is worshipped. As the festivities start dwindling down towards the end of the year, this day is used up to invite friends, sing and distribute food and fruits among other things. The uniqueness of this day is all the invitees get to sit outdoors (in the chilly November weather :-)) infront of the Tulasi katte (plant is housed inside a brick structure which stands for generations in ancestral homes). Dark evenings made bright with glowing lamps or Deepas, little kids instructed to protect the wavering lamps from the chilly wind, smell of poha cooked/mixed with jaggery and a mandatory (sort of) inviting kosambari with cucumbers or carrots, such a nice and cozy way to celebrate end of the year (almost) and bring cheer to the cold climate.

For me, highlight of Tulsi habba was the cardamom flavored poha-jaggery mix and the promise of something very yummy the next day. The anticipation starts building up from the day before when we get a freshly cut branch of gooseberries. These berries would start showing a little before Deepavali and people pick them up for pickles and other preserves. While the berries are available in abundance during the month, the prices would surreptitiously go up the day before Tulsi habba. Amma would pick some of the really nice and big gooseberries out, scrape a little piece off the top and bottom with a sharp knife. The top cut is used to hold a wick dipped in ghee while the bottom cut makes the roly poly gooseberry stand firm. The wick would be lighted and used as part of the pooja. The branch with all remaining berries would be placed in the Tulsi katte next to the Tulsi plant. The day after, all the gooseberries would be collected from that branch and made into a delicious, tangy chitranna which is what I would be waiting for :-). 
These gooseberries are called bettada nallikaayi in Kannada to differentiate them from another related variety and are light green in color, about the size of a key lime, not too sour in taste and are usually found in the wild. The other variety of gooseberries are smaller, have a beautiful yellow color when ripe and are tangy in taste. These are called Kiru nallikaayi in Kannada (Kiru~small, nallikayi~gooseberry) and can be grown in the back yard. When they are very young, they taste bland to bitter but as they become ripe, the tang sets in, They make a perfect snack when dipped in a mixture of red chili powder, salt and a pinch of sugar and also make the most notorious cause (according to my mom) for the incessant coughing among us kids during those months :-). As kids, we knew how to create an uncomplicated web of simple barter to sustain and get the best of the snacks, home work help in exchange for a handful of those tangy berries was considered a fair trade as was an exchange of some of the popular snack items :-). I always got my share of the berries every year given my reputation for being the class nerd and also aided greatly by the fact that my mom made some of the very popular snacks.

There was a small shop inside my high school campus run by this very able lady we all called Taati and her store carried small eats such as spicy roasted peanuts, coconut burfis, small oranges or these gooseberries (whichever was in season) among other things. She would lightly boil these berries in salted water (so it absorbs the salt) and sprinkle chili powder. I don't think there ever was a girl in the school that resisted the mouth watering berries in brine. Young girls in pleated, ironed skirts, with flying pigtails, socked feet dangling down the steps while the shoes lay orphaned on the floor somewhere in the vicinity, holding paper cones becoming a wet mess slowly from the juice of the berries.. those play ground stairs must have seen generation after generation of girls squealing with joy enjoying their little treats in life. You would start by slowly licking the outer layer before biting into the luscious berries, keep a few bites on the tongue, close your eyes and enjoy the burst of salt and spice. Can life get any more uncomplicated than this? I didn't think so..
Did you ask what was special about the Nallikayi rice? I agree that it is a close cousin of lemon rice, you use gooseberries instead of lemon juice. But if you haven't tasted it, give it  try, it tastes very different from lemon rice, gooseberries leave a lingering after taste on the tongue and mixed with the right amount of green chilies, salt and crunchy seasoning, this makes a very good lunch box menu. You can make a large batch of gooseberries mixture (called chutney) and store it for future use. You have to take care not to have the gooseberries come in contact with water and preserve them in dry, air tight containers. Use wooden spoons to scoop it out. This makes an instant nallikayi anna, just mix it with cooked rice, add seasoning and you are ready to go.

I got a packet of frozen gooseberries last week and made this rice. As Tulsi habba is a couple of days away, it is just in time too. If you can get fresh ones, go for it and grab a couple for me too :-).

What do you need to make Nallikayi (Gooseberry) rice?
2 cups uncooked rice (sona masoori variety preferred, you can other long grained, non sticky rice also)
1 Tblsp chopped cilantro
To grind:
2 cups chopped gooseberries - about 25-30
1 cup grated coconut
3-4 green chilies
1/4 Tsp asafetida **use less if you have a good wet asafetida like the SSP brand
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder
1.5 Tsp salt
Seasoning (very close to the chitranna seasoning here or here):
2 Tblsp oil - divided use
1 Tsp mustard
1.5 Tsp chana dal
1 Tsp urad dal
2 Tblsp peanuts
4-6 curry leaves
1-2 green chilies
1 dry red chili broken into pieces
How do you make Nallikayi rice?
  • Cook rice so that the gains are soft but separate.
  • Spread it in a plate and let cool.
  • If you are using fresh gooseberries (LUCKY you :-)), wash and pat dry them thoroughly, using a sharp knife cut them open and discard the seeds.
  • If you using frozen gooseberries (YAY, LUCKY you :-)), thaw them and pat them with a dry kitchen napkin to absorb the moisture content.
  • Take the prepared gooseberries along with the ingredients listed under 'To grind' and make a coarse paste by pulsing the blender several times. Try not to use water unless it is absolutely needed. As the berries break down, the juices will help run the blender. We are looking for a crumbly mixture (no pieces of gooseberries though). - This is the chutney and if you are like me, go ahead and taste a few spoonfuls.
  • Heat 1 Tblsp oil, add the ground mixture and sauté for 3-4 minutes until the mixture loses some of the moisture and also the rawness from the chilies. Put this on top of the cooked rice.
  • Heat the remaining oil for the seasoning, start with mustard followed by the dals and peanuts. Once the mustard starts to splutter add the chilies & curry leaves. Let it roast until the dals & peanuts turn crunchy.
  • Switch off and pour the seasoning on the rice.
  • Once the rice is cool, mix everything together with light fingers, do a taste test for salt and adjust as needed.
  • Cover and set aside for 30 minutes to let the juices mix in.
  • Serve with papads on the side.
  • Usually for variety rice items rice:water ratio is 1:2, but this depends on the quality of rice. Adding a couple of drops of oil while cooking rice helps to make fluffly, non sticky rice.
  • Choose light green colored, firm gooseberries without dents or black spots on them for best taste.
  • You can use basmati rice but I generally avoid it in this recipe as the smell of basmati rice can overwhelm the rest of the spices.


NamsVeni Pothas said...

wow..Nellikaaya or usirikaaya in Telugu. very special in this Kartikamasamu Vanabhojanaalu. nice rice recipe with Nellikaaya. we make pickles also with nellikaaya. really mouth watering. Tulasi Habba is on 14th of this month.

Swathi Iyer said...

This delicious rice nagashree, as it is made with Gooseberry. Thanks for introducing about importance of Karthika masam in Kannada.

LG said...

aaww..this is nice! I have never tried chitranna with nellikayi, interesting recipe. I will definitely try this.

srinath said...

Hello Nagashree.. Yes, I agree. This is one of my favorite too..
Do you really need 1/4 tsp of Asafoetida? Thought that would make it bitter.
(May be you have a powder variety in US which does not have so much punch in it).

I really like all your recipes and the way you introduce them. The details (like licking the outer layer of spiced gooseberry and enjoying the taste with closed eyes) really bring back the old memories of school days. I didn't know one can tell so much stories around food.

Thanks for all your posts.


Kannada Cuisine said...

It has been ages that i ate Nalikayi..i wish i could grab that bowl for myself

Nagashree said...

Thanks all for your feedback,

Srinath avare - Thank you for your continued support and feedback. I didn't know I had so many food related stories until I started blogging though I always thought life revolved around good food and people enjoying them :-)

You are right on about my asafetida usage, the powdered hing I get here is very mild and I do tend to go over board with it trying to create that unforgettable smell of my mom's kitchen, will make adjustments going forward and let my readers know the brand I use, hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

I tried this yesterday - loved it. Thanks!

BTW, I enjoy reading your blog!

Anonymous said...

Nice blog, nellikayi chitranna is new to me, will try it. - Tanu, Bangalore