When it comes to food, celebrating invariably means something sweet. When I think back to all the Christmas goodies we have been fortunate to receive from our friends and neighbours in the past, it strikes me that the almost all the items were sweet. The only one food item that I remember being savoury is the “Chakli”. So since is only so much sweet one can take and after 4 “sweet” Christmas posts, I think it is about time we had something savoury and a bit spicy, like Chakli.
Chaklis are deep-fried rice and lentil munchies which are made by pressing out the dough through a press. Actually, you could think of them as pressed savoury spiral cookies! There are baked versions but the real Chakli is always a fried munchie. It is one of these perfect tea/ coffee time snacks when what you want is savoury and crunch, so long as you’re not counting calories. Chaklis are also prepared in many households as festive fare during Diwali and other celebrations.
Along the Western coast of India, especially in Maharashtra (Mumbai, Pune), Goa and Karnataka (Mangalore, Bangalore), it is also made in Christian homes for Christmas. In the South Indian states of Kerala and Tamilnadu, Chaklis are known as “Murukku”. And in my community, we call this Chakli “Mullu Murukku”, where “mullu” means thorns and refers to the slight projections on the Chakli that give it texture. We also make another version (different recipe with very little butter)of this called “Kai Murukku” where the “Kai” means hand and refers to the fact that it is moulded into rope-like spirals by hand.
There are literally thousands of different recipes for making Chaklis with minor variations in the ingredient list. This version is popular known as butter Chakli because, apart from being deep-fried, a large amount of butter goes into making the dough! Mine has less butter than many recipes but if you want the typically light, crisp and crunchy texture, then you need that butter. It’s not really surprising that traditionally, a lot of this sort of festive fare got made and distributed only during festivals perhaps once or twice in year, for this particular reason.
When we go back to memories of our childhood, my husband and I have the same memories of our aunts/ grandmothers telling our cousins and us that we could have these treats only after we had our lunch, or at least a small meal of “Thayir Chaadam/ Curd Rice” (a very South Indian meal of rice and yogurt)
There were two reasons for this. First, lunch in our homes is always finished with a bit of rice and yogurt, and yogurt has this unbelievable property of minimising the discomfort of bingeing on fried food which we kids had a tendency to do. The second reason was that after a meal of rice, we would be reasonably full and so wouldn’t overdo snacking.
But then, unlike these days, as young children we listened to our elders most of the time without arguing because that was how it was, and it worked well for us children and for the adults who were responsible for us.
There are Chakli recipes which use all-purpose flour, but this recipe uses rice flour and black gram lentil (urad dal) flour in the manner of savoury snacks from South India. This makes these Chaklis gluten-free. Since rice doesn’t have gluten, the lentil flour provides the binding as well as lending the Chaklis a nutty flavour and some crispness. The dough is usually formed by adding water to the flours, but I read somewhere that milk makes Chaklis crisper and tastier so I used milk to bind my dough, but you could stick to water if you prefer.
A Week Of An Indian Christmas – Day #5 : Chakli (Savoury Rice And Lentil Spirals)
- 3 cups rice flour
- 1/3 cup powdered black gram lentils (urad dal)
- 1/2 cup butter , soft , at room temperature
- 2 tsps cumin seeds ,
- 2 tsps white sesame seeds
- 3/4 tsp red chilli powder
- 1/4 tsp asafoetida (optional)
- to taste Salt
- Milk (or water) for binding dough
- Sieve the rice flour, lentil flour, chilli powder, asafetida and salt together and add the butter. Using your fingers mix everything together until the mixture looks crumbly, somewhat like when you're making pastry.
- Lightly toast the cumin seeds and just crush/ pound them a couple of times to break them. Do not powder. Also lightly toast the sesame seeds. Add the crushed cumin and sesame seeds to the flour-butter mixture and mix. Add enough milk (or water) and knead to make a dough that is soft, smooth and pliable without being sticky.
- If your dough is too dry, when you press it out it will not come out smooth but break into pieces so you will not be able to form the spirals. If your dough is too moist, then the Chaklis will absorb excess oil while being fried and become greasy.
- Use a "naazhi" or an Indian dough press, and use the plate/ disc used for making Muthusaram or Mullumrukku. Lightly grease the inside of the cylinder of the dough press and slip the plate/ disc inside. Pinch off a piece of the dough, shape it into a cylinder and push it into the press. Keep the rest of the dough covered to prevent it from drying out.
- Close the press and pipe/ press out the dough onto parchment paper, foil or a thin cotton towel, moving in concentric circles to form small spirals, tucking the ends neatly. You can make them as small or as big as you want but the usual Chakli size is about 3 to 5 concentric circles. This is a good video to watch to get an idea about how to shape the Chaklis, if you are new to this.
- Heat the oil in a wok until it is reasonably hot but not smoking hot. If your oil is too hot, the Chaklis will brown too quickly without cooking inside. If the oil isnu2019t hot enough, the Chaklis will become greasy. Drop a small piece of dough into the oil when you feel it is quite hot. If it bubbles and rises to the surface your oil is the right temperature.
- Slowly lift up the parchment/ foil/ cloth and turn the Chakli onto your palm and carefully slide it into the oil. You can fry about 5 or 6 in a batch, over medium heat. Let them rise up and fry for a couple of minutes before agitating them. Keep turning them on both sides frequently to cook them evenly and slowly. When they are golden brown, take them out of the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining dough and use it up.
- Let them cool completely when they will firm up and become crunchy. Store them in an airtight container and serve with tea or coffee. This recipe makes a reasonably large batch, and the numbers would depend on the size of your Chaklis.