Sunday, April 2, 2017

Kuttida avalakki - a home made mix to make a delicious gojjavalakki in minutes

Long, long ago, there were two friends. As kids they grew up together, went to school together. One was called Sudhama and the other was named Krishna. They stayed in a boarding school (Gurukula) with their teacher and his family along with other students. The two of them bonded very well over the course 7 years of schooling. They were inseparable and could be spotted together in all activities in the school. Years pass, schooling comes to an end, they graduate and are both very excited to go out in to the world and start their adult lives. As it happens at every graduation, both Krishna & Sudhama are sad to be going separate ways, hug each other and promise that they will keep in touch always. And as it happens in most cases, they both become busy in their lives and the friendship, staying in touch takes a backseat.
Krishna goes back home and becomes very successful at what he does while Sudhama faces hard times and struggles to even feed his large family. Krishna's fame extends all over the kingdom and one day reaches Sudhama's little town on the other side. Sudhama's wife is worldly wise, a mother bent on making ends meet and taking care of her family. She talks to her husband and asks him if he would visit his rich friend and get something to help them get over their difficulties in life. Sudhama who is very proud tells her that he would never go begging from his friend. The wife doesn't give up easily and keeps telling the husband about how things could change if only he would do as she said and finally Sudhama relents and sets out on his journey to meet Krishna.
It is a long journey, Sudhama's wife comes up with a couple of handfuls of humble avalakki (poha) so the husband doesn't starve on his long journey. She puts it into an old cloth piece, ties up a knot and gives it to her husband. With no mode of transport to carry him quickly to his destination, Sudhama walks all the way, for many days and finally reaches Krishna's home town. It is a much bigger city, one he has never been to and is dazzlingly beautiful. Krishna being who he is, everyone knows exactly where he lives, so after finding out the address, Sudhama makes his way hesitantly towards the palace. The guard stops this dirty looking, travel weary person at the door and questions his intention. Not believing his story of knowing Krishna from childhood, the guard is suspicious though he goes in to report a visitor.
Krishna is relaxing in the afternoon sun with his wife Rukmini after a heavy lunch and orders the guard to bring the stranger in. Sudhama by this time is already scared and is thinking of the shame that awaits him as the guard pushes him into the inner chambers where Krishna is sitting. As soon as Sudhama enters, Krishna jumps out of his seat, runs towards him and embraces him in a bear hug. At that moment, there is no line between the poor & rich, successful and not-so-successful, they are both two good friends who had shared many, many memories together.
Krishna playing the host, washes the feet of his guest, makes him comfortable, gives him food to eat and when they sit down after food to catch up where they had left off years ago, Krishna asks Sudhama what he had brought for his friend as he was visiting him after many years. Sudhama is very ashamed and tries to avoid the question as he has nothing to offer. Krishna is insistent and playful and says that even if Sudhama had forgotten his friend, his wife would never send him empty handed and snatches the old thaili (cloth bag) that Sudhama is carrying. Inside it, he finds another small cloth tied into a knot. Krishna eagerly opens it up and squeals with joy when he sees the remaining couple of morsels of dried up avalakki (which was Sudhama's journey food) and greedily pops some into the mouth. His eyes close contentedly as he remarks, "Well dear friend, are you so selfish that you wanted to hide this delicious avalakki from me and eat it all by yourself"?. As he puts his hand for another morsel, Rukmini gently tells him, "hasn't there been enough already, my Lord?". Krishna, smiles and puts the thaili away and goes back to chatting with his old friend.
Sudhama has a great time with Krishna, as if they had never been away, enjoys the hospitality but never feels up to asking Krishna for help. After a couple days of stay, he bids farewell and heads back home. His heart is full having seen his old friend and he doesn't remember the poverty back home or the reason for his visit. As he approaches his home, he is shocked to see a palatial home in the place where his shack stood and even more surprised when his wife and children run towards him, well dressed and looking well fed and happy. He realizes Krishna's magic and is thankful for the friendship.
I don't know how many times I have listened to this story from nammamma and anna growing up. It was a story that had all the emotions in right proportions, there was friendship, there was surprise, there was happiness and joy. The charm never fades away and depending on your age and stage in life, you can interpret it at different levels. I am sure many of you would recognize this very popular story from the great epic. I have listened in rapture to these stories when little, read many versions of them myself as I grew up, questioned a number of times, and have gone back to re-tell them to my daughter when she was a kid. It is an endearing story of two friends and how nothing can come between a true friendship. For me, it also is a story that establishes the power of humble avalakki, eating a handful of which made Krishna shower all the riches on his poor friend. Ok, I am a little totally biased here :-).
Avalakki (also called poha or beaten rice or flattened rice) is such a versatile ingredient and makes many delicious dishes. It is also considered as something that can be consumed while you are fasting unlike regular rice. Avalakki also happens to be one of the most preferred travel companion in many south indian homes, as it stays good and is non messy to carry while on the road. One of my doddamma (mom's elder sister) always had this mix in her bag when she traveled as she had many self imposed restrictions on what she would/could eat and always fell back on her trusted avalakki mixture. I loved it so much even in its dry mix state that I would beg her to give me a couple spoons. Once the spicy, tangy, sweetish mix popped into the mouth, I would be the happiest girl in town :-).
Last week I was traveling on work and was away from home for the entire week. While I have become good at spotting vegetarian choices during lunches & dinners and have learnt to successfully stay cheerful on an overload of salads, bread and potatoes, I love to start my day off with something that reminds me of home as the delicious taste, the familiar smell helps me live off of it for the rest of the day. Today's recipe is something we as a family always carry while travelling on longer trips.

As usual, I made the mixture last weekend before heading out, packed a small ziplock bag and left some at home for BH. While I was perfectly fine eating the bf at the hotel for the first 2 days, I was craving for something other than cereals and fruits by day#3 :-). I mixed a few spoons of the avalakki mixture in a cup in the room when I got up and by the time I got ready 30mins or so later, fluffy, aromatic avalakki was ready for me to dig into. Just for fun, I took a picture of my bf on a whim and posted it on my personal fb the other day. I was thrilled to see so many friends writing in to say how this is their travel companion too. And there were many recipe requests that made me make another batch today and post it on the blog. We are not traveling this week but the mix will be eaten up more than happily for bf in the coming days :-), I have a big fan following for this recipe at home.

So what is special about this recipe? It is a dry mix that can be carried easily and made into a yummy treat just by soaking it in water for a short while. Kuttavalakki or kuttida avalakki refers to the process of pounding the avalakki and the rest of the ingredients together to make the mix. I don't use the old world gadgets anymore and nor do I hand pound the mix, rather it goes into my blender. So may be I should rename this as 'mixavalakki' or 'blendavalakki', what do you think :-)?. Whatever the name maybe, this is one delicious dish for sure, so go ahead and give it a try and take it with you on the go. Instead of soaked oats, you can enjoy soaked avalakki for a change. I list curry leaves below but I didn't have them today so you will not see them in my pictures.

What do you need to make kuttavalakki? 
Makes about 5 cups of mix
3 cups medium thick avalakki/poha/beaten rice
3/4 cup lightly packed grated dry coconut/kobbari (can be replaced with desiccated unsweetened coconut)
2 Tbsp crushed jaggery (can be replaced with brown sugar)
1 Tbsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/8 Tsp asafoetida/hing
To roast: 
2.5 Tbsp chana dal/kadle bele/split bengal gram
2 Tbsp sesame seeds (use either polished or unpolished white sesame and not black)
1 Tbsp urad dal/uddina bele/split black lentils
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1 Tsp cumin
1/2 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1.5 Tbsp (or a key lime size) tamarind
3-4 dry red chilies (I use a mix of mild Byadagi and spicy guntur varieties for a balance of color and heat)
1/4 cup oil
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tbsp chana dal
1 Tbsp urad dal
2 Tbsp peanuts (more or less as you like)
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder
1-2 dry red chilies (optional and can be omitted)
8-10 curry leaves chopped small

How do you make kuttavalakki? 
  • Pick avalakki for any dirt and keep aside
  • Pick seeds, pith and strings from tamarind and make small flat pieces. 
  • Heat a heavy bottom pan and add chana dal from the 'To roast' list. Give it a minute head start on medium-low heat and add urad dal. 
  • Roast the dals, stirring frequently until they turn light golden in color. 
  • Add all the remaining ingredients listed under 'to roast' and stirring frequently roast them until you get a nice fragrance of the spices. Take care not to burn any of them. 
  • Add hing and grated coconut (reserve a Tsp for later) into the pan, stir it once and switch off. 
  • Let the roasted ingredients cool completely. 
  • In a mixer jar, take all the roasted ingredients and grind into a fine powder. 
  • Add salt, grated jaggery and give it another run of the blender. 
  • Take this into a wide mixing bowl or plate. 
  • Add avalakki/poha to the blender (in batches if you need to) and make a coarse powder. 
  • Add this to the same mixing bowl/plate. 
  • Heat oil in a seasoning pan, add all the ingredients listed under 'seasoning' and roast on low heat (lower the heat and longer the the roasting time, the dals and peanuts retain their crunch better) until mustard starts to pop and the dals turn golden pink. Add reserved coconut gratings. 
  • Switch off and pour it over the ground mixture. 
  • Let it all cool completely before mixing in (use your fingers and hand) to make a homogeneous mixture. 
  • Once cool, you can either make it into gojjavalakki (see below) or store it for later use in a dry ziplock bag or container. 
How do you turn the mix into gojjavalakki?
  • Take 2-3 Tbsp of the dry mixture into a bowl (or a cup or glass depending on where you are). 
  • Add quarter cup of water, thumb rule is to add enough water to form a thin layer on the top surface of the mix and every grain of the mix is soaked. 
  • Do not mix and touch it for about 15mins (thicker the avalakki variety, takes longer to soak but no longer than 30mins). 
  • After the soak time, using a fork, fluff it up all around and enjoy. 
  • If you have access to some home made yogurt, add a dollop on the side or mix it up right in and enjoy. 
  • Tamarind I get here is usually very dehydrated and does not contain moisture, warming it up in the hot pan makes it softer and easier to grind. If you have wet tamarind, ensure you spread it out to make it a little dry. 
  • While grinding the spice mix, take care to not run the blender for long, pulse it if you need to and get a dry powder. Running the blender continuously makes sesame seeds give out their oil and turns the mixture wet. 
  • Amount of jaggery, salt, and tamarind is mainly to taste here. Experiment and find your balance. Remember that the dry mixture taste gets diluted once you add water, so accommodate your quantities for that. 
  • Color of your gojjavalakki depends on the chilies and turmeric used, you can see the difference in colors between my two batches in the pics above. Not a big deal unless you are very particular about the aesthetics :-)
  • The dry mixture stays well for a couple of weeks and longer if you refrigerate it. 
  • Make sure the mixer/blender jar is dry and devoid of any moisture before you make the powders. 
  • Do not use the thin variety of avalakki for this recipe, it just makes it all lumpy and mushy. 
  • Nammamma used to spread avalakki in the sun to freshen it up but since I don't make her 'huge' quantities, I use it directly from the packet.
  • I am very liberal with dry coconut as it enhances the taste :-), reduce the quantity if you wish to.
Kuttavalakki wisdom: 
  • Thicker variety of avalakki absorbs more water and takes a few minutes longer to fluff up.
  • If you make a very fine powder of poha, the final product turns soft and mushy instead of fluffy.
  • After the soak time is up, make sure you fluff it up with a fork completely (from the bottom up) so it is homogeneous. 


Indiabelur said...

Wow!! The ultimate gojjavalakki!! Loved even the back drop.... My favourite Lord Krishna Sudhama's friendship.Thanks a lot.

NamsVeni Pothas said...

nice story with great moral and wonderful tasty recipe.