December 19, 2011

A Week Of An Indian Christmas – Day #4 : Avalose Unda (Cardamom Flavoured Rice & Jaggery Laddoos) & Avalose Podi

A
valose Unda is a popular snack but also a Christmas-time favourite from Kerala, my home state. I must confess right here that I know very little about this particular preparation beyond having eaten it a few times, either while visiting some friends or when it came in the Christmas hampers our neighbours back home would send us on Christmas morning.
The more famous Christmas specials  from Kerala are the Plum Cake (which actually has no plums, despite the name) and Achappam (Rose Cookies), but the Avalose Unda has its own little space under the Kerala sun!
More frequently eaten as a “naalu mani palaharam” or “four o’clock snack” is the Avalose Podi (podi means powder, and I haven’t a clue about the Avalose part) which is converted into theAvalose Unda, a rice and jaggery ball/ laddoo which is made at various times of the year in Kerala, including Christmas.




If I belong to Kerala, how is it that I know next to nothing about this favourite in Christian homes in my state? First of all, I belong to a small community that, though very much a part of Kerala today, migrated from Tamil Nadu hundreds of years ago. Our families were not just Hindu but also of the priestly caste too so that meant that our cuisine was not at all influenced by culinary traditions of other communities around us that were non-vegetarian, including Christians.
Mentioning this may not be politically correct in today’s world, and though I do not subscribe to the thought that people are unequal based on caste, this is how our world was sometime back, and it influenced a lot of things including our food habits.
So as children, we were not exposed much to the way people ate in non-vegetarian Hindu or Hindu households unless we had very close friends in these communities. It was a very different world then, and one couldn’t really blame people for the prejudices they grew up with even in a very forward thinking state like Kerala.
I first came across Avalose Podi only when I had started working, and a colleague and good friend brought me some from home. Now Avalose Podi is made from rice powder and fresh grated coconut which are roasted with some cumin seeds till light golden.  This gives the Avalose Podi a very long shelf life (upto 6 months and sometimes longer) so you can make a huge batch of it and use it whenever needed.




Popular as a filling and nutritious evening snack, in Kerala it is usually eaten sweetened with sugar (or honey sometimes) or with banana which makes it easier to swallow.  Occasionally, it is also used to make Avalose Unda (“Unda” means ball) for festive occasions or just because the occasion demands it.
To make Avalose Unda, one needs to make the Avalose Podi first, though I understand this powder is available readymade these days. This video might be helpful, and though it is in Malayalam, I think just watching it should help.
This is a treat which is very easy to make, and one needs to note just two things. First is the the Avalose Podi requires slow and even roasting on medium heat, and that the jaggery syrup for the Avalose Unda should not be cooked beyond one-string consistency. Otherwise you might have something resembling a “Vedi Unda” (cannon ball) in consistency rather than an Avalose Unda!
You might notice that my Avalose Podi is looking exceptionally brown rather than the creamy colour it should be. This is because I used brown rice flour (Chemba puttu podi, as it is known in Kerala) to make my Avalose Podi. Traditionally, only white raw rice flour is used for this but I like the nutty taste of the brown rice flour, and I must say it makes a great Avalose Podi.
Like a lot of traditonal food cooked in Kerala, this dish is gluten-free and can easily be made vegan since the only non-vegan ingredient here is 1 tbsp of ghee.

Other Posts In This Series:


Avalose Podi (Cumin & Sesame Flavoured Roasted Rice Flour And Coconut)


Ingredients:

2 cups coarsely ground rice flour
1 cup fresh grated coconut
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp sesame seeds (optional)
1/2 tsp salt


Method:

If you would like to start from scratch and make your own rice flour, then wash and soak about 1 3/4 cups of raw rice in water for 5 hours. Drain the water, and spread the rice on a clean, dry cotton kitchen towel so that moisture is removed further (about 15 to 20 minutes). Now powder the rice in a mixer/ blender to an almost fine powder. Sieve to remove the larger pieces of rice, and run this again to desired coarseness. The rice powder should feel gritty between your fingers yet be quite fine to the eyes.
I used store-bought rice flour to make things easier for me. The grated coconut needs to be in thin shreds. If it isn’t, run the grated coconut in your mixer/ blender jar a just couple of times to shred it into smaller and almost fine flakes. Do not over process or you will have a wet paste!
In a large bowl, using your hand and fingers, rub and mix the flour and coconut together. This is so that the moistness of the coconut is released into the flour. Add the salt and mix well and keep covered for about half an hour. This time ensures that the rice flour absorbs the moisture released by the coconut. The flour will not be visibly wet, though.
Heat a wok and lightly roast, but do not brown the cumin seeds till they release an aroma. Emty out the cumin seeds into a mortar and lightly crush them. Keep aside. Similarly, lightly roast the sesame seeds till the puff up and pop (do not brown) and keep aside, but do not crush.
In the same wok, put the flour-coconut powder, and over medium heat while stirring frequently, roast until the mixture gives off an aroma and turns a very light brown. Do not let the mixture brown beyond this point. This process will take some time, upto almost half an hour, and patience is required to get it just done.
Just before the Avalose Podi is taken off the heat add the crushed cumin seeds and the sesame seeds. Stir a couple of times and then take the Avalose Podi off the heat. Use your spatula/ spoon to break any lumps that might have formed while roasting the Avalose Podi. Otherwise use your fingers to do this once it has cooled down. Otherwise just run the Avalose Podi, lumps and all, a couple of times in your mixer/ blender to give it a smoother finish.
Let it cool completely and then transfer to an airtight container. This will keep for upto 6 months! This recipe makes 3 cups of Avalose Podi.
Traditionally, Avalose Podi is served with sugar or honey, or sliced bananas which are mashed into the powder before eating it. You can also use this powder to make cardamom flavoured jaggery balls/ laddoos called Avalose Unda. Just follow the recipe below to make this Christmas treat from Kerala, which is also a great non-Christmas time snack.

For Avalose Unda:


Ingredients:

2 3/4 cups Avalose podi/ powder (from above)
1 1/3 cups powdered jaggery
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp ghee
4 to 5 cardamom pods, powdered
Remaining 1/4 cup Avalose Podi, for rolling the “Unda” in


Method:

If your jaggery  needs to be cleaned, put the powdered jaggery and water together in a bowl. Stir till the jaggery till it dissolves completely. Let it stand for about 10 minutes so the impurities settle at the bottom.  Decant the liquid for use.
Run the 1/4 cup Avalose Podi in the mixer/ blender to a smooth powder and spread it out in a plate for rolling the “Avalose Unda” while shaping the laddoos.
Put the jaggery solution in a saucepan and bring it to boil. Cook the solution, stirring occasionally, till it just reaches a “one-thread” consistency. Take care to ensure you do not cook the jaggery beyond this stage or your “unda/ laddoos” will become very hard and difficult to eat!
Take the saucepan off the heat and add the ghee and cardamom powder and mix. Add this syrup to the Avalose Podi and stir with a wooden spoon. It will appear somewhat crumbly/ lumpy but when you take a fistful and try to shape it, it will hold its shape.
Lightly grease your palms with oil/ ghee. While the mixture is still quite hot but comfortable to handle, take fistfuls of the mixture and shape into small round balls, about the size of small lemons/ limes, working quickly.
Roll the Avalose Unda in the 1/4 cup fine Avalose Podi (from the first set of steps above) and place on a plate. Repeat until the mixture is used up. Store the Avalose Unda in airtight containers.
This recipe makes about 20 Avalose Unda.

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