Friday, October 28, 2016

Saagu - home made version of vegetable medley from the heart of Mysore region

Anyone that likes Indian food is familiar with the deep fried pooris that are popular all over the sub continent, right? Growing up, I was completely unaware of the fact that the entire universe outside of my little world was making pooris from wheat flour. Because nammamma made them with rave/sooji/semolina always :-). She rolled them small and a little thick so they puffed up completely and were crispy, flaky and delicious when hot. But she always reserved a few to roll into very thin pooris and deep fry them at the end, these would be flat and kurkure like papads and anna loved to eat them dipped in warm milk & powdered sugar :-), yumm, this was a short cut to Karnataka's much loved delicacy called "chiroti"!!  North East India (especially West Bengal) makes pooris with maida or All purpose flour and they are called Luchis. I don't know how many of you have eaten rave poori or even know poori made with rave, but this is how nammamma made them.
It is a little bit more work to make the rave pooris compared to the ones from wheat flour as rave doesn't have the same gluten advantage as wheat flour. It needs a lot more kneading to get it to a smooth dough consistency. In the old world kitchens, one of the gadgets was a long wooden pole called 'Vanake/Onke' and we had one in Mysuru kitchen. This wooden pole is smooth and used to pound the dough for poori, obbattu, etc.. Nammamma would mix the semolina with a little water into a crumbly mixture that would not resemble a dough by any comparison, put it into the stone grinder dip and start to pound it with the vonake, sprinkling water as she went to make a smooth and tight dough.
Depending on the quantity, this would take anywhere between 30-45mins and done in batches. The dough needs to rest before making the pooris. I don't have the gadgets she used in my kitchen, though I could have used the mortar and pestle, I chose to use my upper arm power and knead it with all my might for about 8 mins. So if you want to taste these delicious rave pooris, start with the fine semolina (called chiroti rave) and add water slowly as you work the dough. Remember to give it a rest of atleast an hour before proceeding to roll and deep fry them in oil. These taste delicious and you should try it atleast once.
I don't remember nammamma making pooris frequently, it almost always remained a 'special' day dish meant to treat someone on their birthday or when folks were visiting. The infrequent appearances made it all the more appealing and we would wait eagerly for the 'poori day'. Paired with the vegetable saagu, it was always something we looked forward to and it would always be a lip-smacking foodie experience. My little family loves pooris, though I make them mostly with wheat flour just avoiding the extra work involved. I pair it with chole or potato saagu/palya to go with it sometimes, we all love this saagu combination the most.

But I digress, poori is not the focus of this blog post, it is actually what accompanies the poori aka the decadent, flavorful vegetable saagu. Saagu is served all over in restuarants and darshinis in Karnataka. Set dosa-saagu is a delicious combination though it can be eaten with any dose/dosa. It makes a perfect accompaniment with rotis, phulkas and ofcourse pooris.

But there is a marked difference between the hotel served saagu and this home made version. This is a more saatvik version, there is no onion/tomato sauteed in oil, infact there is no oil at all in this recipe. How cool is that? It might as well be because it is generally savored with the oil overloaded pooris :-). The hotel versions also add saunf (fennel seeds), a spice that nammamma hardly ever used. While I like a well made hotel saagu, I prefer this home made version better. The taste is different but delicious none the less.

Pooris are always made and served right out of the oil and they are relished hot and fresh. Pooris are quick to make especially if you have a person to roll them out and one incharge of the frying. Very soon fluffy, golden, puffed up beauties would be lifted off the hot oil and placed into a serving platter. On poori days, plates would be set and everyone would sit on the floor. Atleast one big platter full of pooris had to be ready so everyone got a couple of pooris in their plate to start off. But when the family is large and full of "poori hungry" people, a time would soon come when the rate of consumption far outbeat the rate of production :-) and that is when the saagu was a life saver. While we waited for the poori to drop into the plate, we would be eating saagu without wasting time and licking the plate (I know, absolutely no table manners!) clean so every time a new poori came to the plate, another serving of saagu had to be done as well :-)
The most common vegetables are green beans, carrots, peas, potato, cauliflower and chayote squash. The criteria is two fold - the vegetables should hold their shape on cooking and should not impart any unnecessary flavor/smells in the dish. That means, those smelly stinky radish, cabbage, kohlrabi are out as are the slimy okra and eggplants :-). The amount of veggies is a personal preference, while some like more veggies and just enough gravy to connect them all, some prefer a few veggies floating in the flavorsome gravy. I like a balance, with both gravy and the bites. Nammamma never added cauliflower because it was not a vegetable she preferred to use :-). I have grown to like it and my family loves all things cauliflower, it goes well with the rest of the vegetable choices in this saagu. It doesn't change the saagu in anyway, so feel free to skip it if you don't have it handy. I didn't have it when I made it this time.
This gravy does not have the usual herbs(curry leaves & cilantro) used in the south indian cooking and there is no seasoning/tadka either. The flavoring agents are cinnamon, cloves and poppy seeds. Go ahead and try this super flavorful, creamy saagu for you next poorisession.

What do you need to make saagu?
2 cups of mixed vegetables (green beans, carrots, chayote squash, potatoes, green peas) - I used about 1/2 cup of each
1 Tsp chopped cilantro (optional for garnish)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
pinch of turmeric (optional, just to bring a little hue to the gravy)

To grind: 
1/2 cup coconut
1 inch piece of ginger
2 -1inch piece of cinnamon
4 cloves
1 Tbsp chopped onion
1 Tbsp gasagase/poppy seeds
1 Tbsp roasted gram/kadle
6 almonds (soaked in hot water and de-skinned) - This is my addition
4-5 green chilies (adjust to taste)

How do you make saagu? 
  • Clean and chop vegetables keeping the size and shape similar on all of them. 
  • Cook the vegetables in 1.5 cups of water until they are about half done but still crunchy (about 6-8 mins on med heat). 
  • Grind all ingredients listed under to grind with 1/4 cup of water to a smooth paste. 
  • Add the ground paste to the cooked vegetables along with salt and cook for about 10mins on low heat until well blended and starts to boil. 
  • Switch off the stove and add cilantro on top. Cover and let it rest.
  • Common saagu problem & correction: A good saagu has a creamy consistency and homogeneous texture. If the water is separating from the vegetables when you boil, the amount of thickening agents(coconut, roasted gram or almonds) is to be adjusted. You can grind another Tsp of roasted gram with a spoon of water and add to the gravy to thicken it. 
  • Vegetables need to have an opportunity to boil in the ground masala paste, cook them only half done before adding the paste and then continue cooking on low heat. 
  • Almonds do impart a rich taste to saagu, however take care not to over do the nuts as it tends to make the gravy texture very different from the Mysore saagu. Stick to the quantities given above for 4 servings of delicious saagu. 
  • There is no seasoning in this dish and it tastes awesome without it. 


NamsVeni Pothas said...

wow....poori-sagu!! best combination. I simply love it.

Sreemala said...

Oh! the love of Poori! I remember telling my mom that I'll marry a person who can make yummy, puffy poori ;) forget about learning to make it myself! :)
And, a poori made with sooji/rave? wow, had not heard of it! Thank you for the gyan that it could be made with that too. Can't wait to make Mysuru saagu as per your recipe given here.
(Do I see some onions behind the coconut in the pic of ingredients? -just wondering)

Nagashree Ravi said...

@Sreemala - LOL :-)Did you get your wish, with the poori making husband? Yep, I haven't seen rave poori elsewhere either, maybe it was nammamma's special. We loved it.

Nagashree Ravi said...

@sreemala, yep onions go into grinding.