Sunday, February 21, 2016

Avalakki with Cilantro masala - a twist to your favorite breakfast

How many of you think breakfast is the most important meal of the day? I am sure a lot of you do. How many of you want to eat healthy and sumptuous for breakfast, again it probably is a vast majority. How many of you actually eat healthy at breakfast? I am not talking about a cup of yogurt parfait or a banana and a bar of granola or an oats porridge. Granted, these are healthy options and good for breaking your fast in the morning and feel energetic for longer in the morning. All good options for a week day 'run out of the door' mornings. What about those beautiful weekends, when you are not rushed to breeze out of the front door? When morning is not exactly (ahem) morning but almost noon, what if you are looking to hit 2 birds with a single stone? Yes, I am talking about the brunch here, and what if you are looking for a 'shuddha Desi (pure Indian)' option for a lazy brunch?

My sugar tolerance is very low which is not a medical condition by any means but rather a personal choice. This immediately rules out a lot of the common western breakfast options for me. I don't like to eat bagels every day of my life either, a bread toast reminds me of the flu season in India where for some reason (that totally escapes my rationale) white bread dipped in warm milk is considered as the perfect food for patients :-). Imagine my plight when 3 out of 5 days bread toast would be on the table during my year and half at the hostel :-(. I like something hot or atleast warm for my breakfast, it also needs to be salty and spicy (atleast not sugary).
After uppittu (/upma), avalakki or poha must be the most popular breakfast and snack item in all of India. I am no exception to this general rule, I fit the stereotype perfectly, I love poha in all its avatars. North to South, East to West, this humble ingredient shines in both savory and sweet recipes. It is a treasured offering for little Krishna every year in many homes. But it can get boring if you were to make the same recipe over and over again, thankfully the raw ingredient is such a sport for any and all kinds of experimentation. So if you are bored of the usual Western Indian kanda poha (onion with poha), batata poha (potatoes with poha) or the Southern favorites like the gojjavalakki, mosaravalakki etc and would like to taste a new flavor loaded with some good vegetables, this recipe is waiting for you.
I am a self declared herb snob (as I am a yogurt snob and fresh veggies snob, ...etc), and really pamper my herbs when I get them home. I usually do the shopping on Friday so I can spend some one on one time with my herbs as soon as I get home and give them the TLC. The freshness and the flavor it adds to any dish is just not easy to describe to someone who is not familiar with it. I am addicted to cilantro and curry leaves and use them liberally in my cooking. Growing up in India, every little kid would know to go to the street corner shop and get a cilantro bunch paying 10 paise if you were one of the families that didn't grow these every day herbs at home or needed a little extra that day. Well, I am talking about the long gone times in India and the new Reliance Fresh and such super markets do not bring you the same level of fun as going to your local grocer.

Cilantro though available in abundance and year round here, due to long journeys they make to get to the super market shelves, would already have spent a good amount of their life in the transit. They look fresh in the stores only because fresh water is sprayed on them periodically. If you do not take care of them as soon as you get them home, their future is very bleak. All that water on them keeps them looking green in the stores but you need to get them dry and remove the moisture content if you want them not to start decaying. I chop the root off while the bunch is still held together and wash the good stalks and leaves thoroughly in water to remove any trace of mud or dirt. Once done, I pick out any dry looking or mashed up leaves and spread the rest on a paper towel until all the moisture is gone. Take a large container with lid, put a dry paper towel at the bottom, spread the washed and pat dried leaves on it and cover it with another dry paper towel before closing the lid.
This way, cilantro stays fresh for a week and more if you continue to prune and pick out any leaves that show dryness or decay as the days go by.

I had a lot of cilantro smiling at me when I opened the refrigerator on Saturday, so I knew I had to use them in my brunch prep. Then the other star of this recipe is the chayote squash or 'seeme badane kaayi' as it is called in Kannada. Some people refer to it as Bengaluru Badanekayi though it has no relation or resemblance to the eggplant :-). This is a squash, so has a lot of water content in it and hence very light in calories. This is a very unassuming vegetable that can play either a stellar main role in a recipe or an equally wonderful supporting role. This is another vegetable nammamma used frequently and I loved her 'sihi palya' or sweet stir fry with loads of shredded coconut, some crunchy seasoning and a tiny bit of white sugar. Perfect side for a hot steamed rice and saaru combination :-). Well that palya will come on the blog later. I get the chayote squash frequently as I like to make not just the palya but also grate and add it to my akki rottis, yumm!!

I used chayote squash in my poha recipe instead of the ever popular potatoes. These bites hold their shape unlike the other varieties of squash and mixed with the cilantro masala, they taste delicious. Even if you are a die hard fan of the tubers, you should give this a try, I guarantee you won't miss the carbs of the potatoes but more likely you will be happy you added this vegetable to the dish to simply elevate its nutrient value.
I get a Nepali red avalakki here in the stores which I love for the taste and also the thickness. It is a tad bit healthier than the white variety, just like white rice Vs brown rice. Give it a try if you haven't. Different types of avalakki take different soaking times and usually the thick variety is used in the savory items as they get cooked for a little while and need to stay on the hot stove.
What do you need to make Cilantro Avalakki? 
3 cups of medium avalakki **
1 medium sized chayote squash
1.5 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tbsp lime/lemon juice
1/2 Tsp sugar
2 Tbsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp cumin
1 Tsp chana dal
1 Tsp urad dal
1-2 dry red chilies (optional, I used it for color and later discarded them)
To Grind: 
1.5 cups roughly chopped cilantro (use the leaves and stalks for more flavor)
1 Tsp chopped onion (optional)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
3-5 green chilies (per your spice tolerance)
2 Tbsp grated coconut

** Poha is also called flattened rice or beaten rice.
How do you make cilantro Avalakki?
  • Wash the chayote squash, remove the two ends and peel off the skin. This tends to get sticky, so as soon as you peel the veggie, wash thoroughly again. 
  • Cut it in half vertically, remove the seed in the bottom half of the vegetable. Chop the two halves into bite sized pieces. 
  • Cook the vegetable for 8-9 minutes along with 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 Tsp of salt. It should be tender but hold the shape. Drain all the water and reserve the cooked pieces. 
  • Wash avalakki in water, pick any dirt. 
  • If medium variety is used, just let the washed avalakki sit for about 5 minutes. If using thick variety follow steps in the notes. 
  • Take all ingredients listed under 'To Grind' in a blender jar and blend it to a smooth paste without using water preferably. Start by pulsing to break down the ingredients and then run the blender for 30-60 secs to get a paste. 
  • Heat a wide pan with oil, add mustard, cumin and the dals, let them roast until the mustard starts to pop and the dals turns golden. 
  • Add the ground paste and mix it in. Fry for 30-45 seconds to remove any extra moisture. 
  • Add the cooked chayote squash pieces and salt and mix well. - Here is a great stir fry if you want to stop and eat this :-)
  • Add the soaked and fluffed up avalakki and sugar to the pan and give it a good mix. 
  • If it looks very dry, sprinkle a Tbsp or two of water on top, cover and let it cook on very low heat for 2-3 mins. 
  • Open, give a stir, add the lemon juice and switch off. 
  • Serve topped with cilantro and grated coconut and some sev mixture if you are eating this in the evening or have it with a dollop of fresh yogurt if you are breaking your fast. It tastes divine either way. 
  • ** Do not use the thin or paper avalakki in this recipe, the soaking and cooking will turn it into a textureless mush. I use what is called as 'medium' avalakki here which fluffs up in under 5 minutes. Use this or the thick variety. 
  • If you use the thick variety, it will need longer soaking time. Wash and soak in water just a millimeter above the avalakki. Once it fluffs up (about 10-12mins), squeeze out handfuls and remove excess water. 
  • If you make the masala paste too watery, it takes time to evaporate the water and the extra cooking time also dilutes the nutrients. So make the paste as thick as possible with your blender. 
  • If you like peanuts, add a few when you roast the mustard and dals


Sreemala said...

Gosh! Looks like you put all my thoughts (and this morning's conversation with BH) in words about my low tolerance for loads of sugary breakfast choices here!

Had never heard of a recipe with "ground masala" for avalakki! Which is otherwise always a quick and simple breakfast to fix. A must try for sure. Thanks Nagashree for this wonderful recipe, and with seeme badanekayi too!

Nagashree Ravi said...

@Sreemala - uh oh, I never told you about the bug I left in your kitchen :-). Yep, even after all these years of looking at donuts and pancakes, I just can't bring myself to eat sugary stuff in the morning. Try this variation of avalakki, I am sure kids will love it too.

NamsVeni Pothas said...

wonderful and tasty recipe with very attractive pictures . I love avalakki

Vinodini Ramanathan said...

Hello Mam, I am the most recent visitor of your blog. This is going to be my one-stop recipe book. Looking forward to try out new recipes.