Friday, July 29, 2011

Foods of my childhood: Sevai and poli

I'm always sad to leave India. Not only is it hard to say goodbye to my family, chances are it will be another year before I get to eat many of the foods I love. I'm a firm believer that terroir makes all the difference when it comes to food - so many of those dishes just don't taste the same when I attempt to recreate them in my kitchen here. Though Indian pantry staples are easy to come by in the US, some of the produce doesn't come close in taste or freshness; and some dishes are just too labor-intensive for me to attempt! The day I left, the kitchen was buzzing with activity for two such foods, sevai, homemade rice noodles, and poli,- a sweet stuffed pancake.

The dough for sevai is made by soaking parboiled rice, then grinding it to a batter. This batter is then cooked with water till a soft dough forms. This dough is then shaped into balls and steamed. The final step is to extrude the dough through an old-fashioned cast-iron press. Though this looks like a medieval torture instrument, it's fairly easy to use: just pop in a ball of hot dough into the cylinder, and twist the handle down with all your might. Et voila, fresh rice noodles, ready to eat. What makes them unique is that the noodles need no further cooking as the dough they're made from is cooked twice before extruding.They can be eaten plain, with any curry of your choice, or stir-fried with seasonings or vegetables of choice. My favorite accompaniments are sevai urulai masala (spicy potato curry) and pulisseri (coconut-yogurt gravy). The icing on the cake: plenty of fried pappadums, of course!
Polis are also a multi-step process, but the end result is well worth the effort - that is, when I'm not doing it! First, the filling is made by cooking together a mixture of cooked lentils (chana dal) and sugar, flavored with nutmeg, to a soft paste.The next step is to make the outer shell, a pastry enriched with ghee and saffron. Next, each poli is painstakingly shaped by hand, by stuffing a bit of the filling in a pastry case and rolling it out into a round. The rounds are then shallow-fried in ghee. A final sprinkling of powdered sugar and you're ready to dig in. They're delicious hot or cold!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a fun blog! So nice to meet you the other night. Yum! ~Dana (