Sabudhana Khichdi (Tapioca Pearls Cooked With Potatoes, Peanuts & Coconut)
A Khichdi is a mildly spiced Indian preparation, usually of rice or sometimes broken wheat and lentils cooked into a thick pudding-like consistency. A Khichdi is usually high in simple carbohydrates, and lower in protein and fats than in other foods making it easily digestible and good for those recovering from illnesses or breaking religious fasts.
Sabudhana, also known as Tapioca pearls in India, is extracted from the root of the Tapioca (or Cassava). Tapioca Pearls are also referred to as Sago but it is not the same as Sago though it looks like Sabudhana, is extracted from the stem pith of the Sago Palm. This makes Sabudhana/ Tapioca Pearls gluten-free.
In most recipes Sago can be substituted with Tapioca Pearls and vice versa. Sabudhana comes as smaller sized and bigger sized pearls and both need to be soaked in water ( the time will vary according to size) to re-hydrate and soften them before cooking.
Back home, Sabudhana is known as Javvarishi (or Chovvari) and we rarely used in anything except making vadam/ karuvadam (sundried rice fritters similar to pappads). I have seen people make payasam/ kheer (Indian milk based pudding) with Sabudhana but this is not something I like because Sabudhana has a “thickening” property due to its high starch content and I don’t like the texture of this milk based pudding.
Sabudhana is however a very popular ingredient in certain dishes cooked in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. This is especially so in dishes cooked to break religious fasts observed by Hindus here which require abstaining from grain during the periods of these fasts. This also means that these dishes are cooked without onion and garlic. However, the Sabudhana Khichdi is not just a “fasting” day food but is also an extremely popular breakfast dish as well as a street food, especially in Maharashtra.
Sabudhana Khichdi, unlike other types of Khichdi is not cooked with lentils. It is instead an Indian style stir-fried dish which though easy enough to make owes its success (or failure) to how well the Sabudhana is soaked and hydrated, and a lot of people, including myself, have problems with getting this right.
I’m happy tohave conquered that challenge now. The finicky nature of the Sabudhana itself means that if you soak it for too long, it disintegrates into a mushy starchy mess. Soak it for less time and it remains hard and chewy.
If you get the texture of the soaked Sabudhana right then your Khichdi will be fluffy in texture with each pearl separate when cooked; otherwise it results in ungainly looking clumps!
I cannot think of anything in English that comes close to describing this dish but think of the Sabudhana Khichdi as a sort of pulao/ pilaf, or maybe like couscous in texture but mildly spiced with green chillies, crushed peanuts and coconut. It’s a dish that can be eaten on its own or served with sweetend yogurt or a green or coconut chutney on the side.
I discovered and fell in love with Sabudhana Khichdi and Sabudhana Vada/ Fritters a long time ago as a teenager, when visiting my cousin years back in Mumbai when it was still Bombay. His wife would cook up the most awesome food (she was also an accomplished painter, and did some of the most awesome embroidery I’ve seen), and her Sabudhana Khichdi and Vadas are the best I’ve ever eaten to date. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t particularly interested in food in those days beyond eating it, and she is no longer around to give me her recipe.
My first few attempts at cooking this Khichdi weren’t exactly the best. However the discovery that it the secret of this whole Khichdi business was in mastering the soaking and draining technique, got me back on track.
You will find that in most dishes where Sabudhana is used, the nutritional value in increased and balanced out by adding proteins and fats to the extent where they are still light and easily digested, as no matter what, these still remain foods cooked especially for breaking religious fasts.
With a little planning ahead (soaking the Sabudhana), it’s a breakfast that’s light, filling and takes very little time to make which is great for busy mornings. This also makes for a good evening after school snack for children, and for adults too on days when you want something a little substantial with your evening tea/ coffee.
- Wash the Sabudhana and then put it in a bowl. Add enough water to just submerge it. Cover and let it soak for about 2 to 3 hours. Remember that Sabudhana can differ in size and batch so the soaking time may differ. And if you get Sago Pearls, then it would take a little longer to hydrate.
- Once the Sabudhana is properly hydrated, it should turn from white to translucent, fluff up to almost twice its size, and you should be able to squish it well if you press a pearl between your thumb and forefinger.
- Once the Sabudhan is hydrated, wash it once again, to remove small broken bits and then let it drain for about an hour.
- Heat the oil in a non-stick pan or wok, and add the mustard seeds. When they pop, turn down the heat and add the cumin seeds and asfetida. Stir a couple of times and add the chopped ginger, green chillies and curry leaves. Again stir a couple of times and add the turmeric powder. Stir and add the Sabudhana/ Tapioca Pearls, and keep stirring well so that the Sabudhana doesn’t clump or stick to the bottom or sides of the pan.
- Add the potatoes and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Then add the powdered groundnuts/ peanuts and stir so it’s all mixed well together. Take the pan off the heat, and add the coconut. Stir well. Now add the lime juice, mix and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve warm.
- This should serve 3. Serve plain as it is, or topped with sev/ bhjia (deep-fried chickpea flour vermicelli) for a crunch. You may also serve it with sweetened yogurt or a green or coconut chutney.
As I mentioned before, if you get the soaking of the Sabudhana/ Tapioca Pearls right, then most of your worries are over with this dish. The trick is to make sure they’re fully hydrated but haven’t turned mushy. They should be almost twice in size if hydrated properly and will turn translucent from white.
The occasional pearl might still stay white and if you can squish it, then its alright.
Every brand of Sabudhana differs from the next unfortunately so the soaking time can vary, so you have go with your intuition, largely.
The best way to proceed is to put the Sabudhana in a flatter bowl rather than a deep one. Then cover it with enough water so that the Sabudhana is just submerged. I personally find overnight soaking tends to turn it too soft/ mushy. So what I do is to soak the Sabudhana for about 2 to 3 hours, turning it well with a spoon in between, so that it hydrates uniformly.
Then I wash out the soaked Sabudhna so that the small broken bits are removed and then keep it to drain for about an hour. Then I make my Khichdi. If you want to make this for breakfast, you can do the soaking and draining the previous evening/ night, and then refrigerate it. Do not let it sit in the fridge for longer than overnight.
Do not powder the groundnuts/ peanuts too fine. The fine particles will make the Khichdi sticky. Coarsely ground (or pounded) groundnuts/ peanuts is the way to go.
Ground nuts/ peanuts are an intrinsic part of this dish. You may leave out the potatoes and coconut, if you wish. I personally prefer the version without potatoes, and like lots of groundnuts/ peanuts in my Sabudhana Khichdi.
Do not re-heat the Khichdi once you have added the lemon juice.