October 31, 2009

Muthusaram (A Traditional Savoury Snack)

Diwali, to those who celebrate it, conjures up images of lit up oil lamps at dusk and enthralling fireworks displays in the dark sky. It also means plenty and plenty of sweets! In Palakkad Iyer homes, we also make traditional savoury snacks like murukku, pokkuvadam, thengozhal, muthusaram, etc.

This Diwali, my choice of a savoury snack was muthusaram. Muthusaram (also referred to as “mullu murukku” by some) is made from a rice flour-chickpea flour dough which is pressed out through a special press (called naazhi) with a plate with star shaped holes. The dough is pressed out into hot oil by moving the press over the oil in circular clockwise motion leading to nest shaped muthusaram, and fried till a golden brown. To my mind, muthusaram resembles an intricate Rajasthani turban.

When we were children, many of these sweets and savouries were made only during festive celebrations or our school summer vacations. Summer vacations meant kids in the house, who were always hungry.
Those were the days when families meant large number of people at home unlike nuclear families of today. It also meant that appliances like mixer/ grinders, fridges and all those appliances that we take for granted today, didn’t exist in our grandmothers’ kitchens.

I remember how rice flour was powdered in my maternal grandmother’s kitchen. I must have been about 11 and back then, powdering rice to make flour took up the better part of day. My grandmother’s “Woman Friday” was a lady called Kamalam, and she usually helped out with the household chores.

First of all rice would be soaked for a couple of hours, drained of all the water, and then spread out on cotton cloth, for a couple of hours more, to dry some more.
Then a small amount of the rice would be place in the hollow of large granite mortar called an “Ural” which was placed on the floor. This was pounded using a pretty heavy wooden pestle (amost as tall a person) called an “Ulakka”.
The pounding would be done by dropping the pestle into the hollw of the mortar, with one hand, with enough force to crush the rice. As soon as the pestle hit the rice, it would be picked up with the other hand and then dropped again in a synchronized and repetitive motion, till the rice was crushed enough.

Then the powdered rice would be sieved to separate the fine flour from the coarser grain. The coarse grain would go back to be pounded or be used for dishes. As a kid, there was something very exciting about all this activity with a rhythmic muted “whoomph” of the pounding in the background. It was equally fun trying to be a part of all this without getting scolded for complicating the process with my attempts to "help"!

It is only now that I am older, and have the options of powdering my own rice flour in my mixer/ grinder in about 10 minutes or buying it readymade from the store, that I truly appreciate how much effort went into those snacks/ sweets that we demanded and enjoyed so much. I think I also now understand why they were made only during special occasions!

This recipe for muthusaram is one that my mother used, which she got from her mother. In fact, I wrote down this recipe, along with some other traditional recipes, during one of my visits to my grandmother. She found it amusing that I wanted measures in “cups and spoons”, as she used to cook by intuition rather than by measuring like most women of her generation.


2 glasses fine rice powder

1 glass chickpea flour (besan)

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed

1/4 tsp asafetida powder

salt to taste

sunflower/ rice bran oil blend for deep frying


Mix all the ingredients (except the oil) with just enough water to make a dough that is more stiff than soft. This dough will not have the elastcity of dough made with whole wheat or all purpose flour. Too much water will result in a lot of oil absorption during deep frying, which is undesirable.

Heat the oil in a deep and somewhat flat bottomed pan. In the meanwhile, lightly coat the plate (with star shaped holes) and the inside of your press with oil. Put a portion of the dough into the press.

When the oil is hot, turn the heat down to medium and press out the dough directly into the oil in a circular clockwise motion about three or four times. This ensures that the dough falls in circles, forming a sort of bird's nest shape.

Let the "muthusaram" cook for about a minute, then slowly turn it to the other side with a slotted spoom, ensuring the it keeps its shape. Fry till golden brown on both sides. Drain the "muthusaram" on paper towels.

Store in an airtight container. Before serving, break up the "muthusaram" into smaller pieces. This recipe makes enough for quite a few people to munch on with tea/ coffee.

This pot is off to Manisha for her IFR: Memories.


Prathibha said...

crispy murukku dear....

lata raja said...

Aparna I Have similar write up for my grandmom's savoury dishes for our summer vacation in drafts. True how with so many appliances around life has been made easier but we have become fussy! to pound 2 cups of rice, I feel is a big task while between patti and her maid pounded in the 'kal' around a pakka padi measure withouy fuss.

sra said...

Nice post, Aparna!

Never knew this was called muthusaram. I thought muthusaram meant pearl necklace, and when I saw this on the reader, assumed it would be something sweet. (As you can see, i didn't read 'traditional savory snack')

jayasree said...

Rightly said Aparna. Now a days, we don't wait for the festivals to make any sweet/savory. That could be another reason why the festivities are not same as the olden days.

Muthusaram is looking really crisp and tempting.

Asha @ FSK said...

Mullu murukku is my fav murukku :)).. tho never knew it was called muthusaram...

Chitra said...

Wow, super..Pass me here :)

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

I love this! I didn't know the name before. We can get it here in Canada with spiced lentils, etc. in a bag called "Punjabi Mix".
Did you use your Ultra Grind for the rice?

Raaga said...

yummy... like chakli... which I've just made once... but talk about it like I make it every second day ;-)

Herrad said...

Hi Aparna,
Thanks for this great post and delicious recipes.

Came by to say hello and wish you a good Halloween weekend.

Bergamot said...

This looks awesome...wanna have it. murukku happens to be my favourite snack...I stop calorie counting when I open the bag of murukku.

Barbara GF said...

I love the savory, spicy snacks associated with Diwali, Aparna. I will have to try these. I made shankarpali for the first time this year. They were delicious! Embrace the light. :)

vidhas said...

Lovley and crispy murukku!!

Mallugirl said...

have heard and eaten of it as mullu murku or lazy style of murku when my mom makes it...easier to do one and break it up..Never knew this was called muthusaram.
in my grandma's house, puttu podi is still made with the ural.:)

Bellini Valli said...

They look similar to churros which are familar, but these are savoury which I always prefer over sweet!!

VS said...

I like thengai paal muruku the most. Your murukku looks so soft yet crispy. I am sure it would have disappeared in few days.

Renu said...

have never tried making murukku....thx for sharing the recipe, will try it sometimes

Cakelaw said...

These look nice - a little like churros.

Nancy said...

Hi Aparna,

The muthusaram sound delicious! I just found your blog - great recipes and photos. Looking forward to reading more - I absolutely love Indian cuisine.



Lizzie said...

How neat! It reminds me of the funnels cakes that they make at fairs and festivals here in the States. Although we usually put powered sugar on top of those!

The ABCD's of Cooking said...

I totally can empathize with you about getting measurements! Just this past weekend, I was reading a recipe from my grandmother that referred to measurements in ladles and katoris! Love this recipe. My mom would make this for me on special occassions.

girlichef said...

What a lovely post! At first I thought these were sweet, because they look alot like a churro...but I love the sound of them! I would love to try these :D

Nags said...

i love the name of this snack! it sounds like a raaga :)

Aparna said...

True Latha. It used to be a lot of hard work in those days, yet I occasionally feel like I have too muc to do with all my conveniences! )

Actually, if one didn't know Sra, I think your explanation is more apt!

You have a point, Jayasree.

I never knew it was called mullu murukku till recently, Asha. :D

No Natashya. I just used my mixer/ blender which has a smaller jar!

:-D, Raaga.

Thak you for your wishes, Herrad. Hope you had a great Halloween.

B, calorie counting and crunch do not go together! :)

That's lovely, Barbara.

Puttupodi still in the traditional style? Wow!

Never thought of churros, Val and Cakelaw. Believe churros are a little thicker though.

Never heard of thengai paal murukku before, VS. Must check that out.

Thanks for your kind words, nancy.

Funnel cakes, Lizzie? Have read of them. Need to look them up, though.

You're lucky to have written recipes from your grandma, Chitra. They used to cook wit a lot of intuition and practise, of course. :)

Thank you, Heather. Do try them out as they're not too difficult to make.

Raaga? Hmmm... You're right Nags.

K.N.Devasenapathy said...

More than the taste that Muthusaram gave, the prologue was excellent.I dont know whether Aparna is a pro. writer or what. She has presented an excellent video(??). But I think that there may not be need of any airtight container as the quantity would disappear no sooner it comes out of the oil ! Excellent !