There a few times during the month when I have to cook meals for one because the husband is away on work. I often use this time as an excuse not to spend much time in the kitchen. So this is when I put together meals for one that require minimal effort from me. There is no dearth of healthy and filling quick meals one can come up with and it helps that I am not very fussy about what I eat. I can happily eat a sandwich for dinner or pasta for breakfast, a breakfast dish for lunch if that’s what I feel like.
South India by and large, eats a rice based diet and rice makes itself seen whether for breakfast, lunch, dinner or in-between snacking. We eat rice as it is, and also cook with it powdered, kneaded into dough, or ground into a batter. We also eat rice as puffed rice (Pori) or beaten or flattened rice (Aval/ Poha). Beaten or flattened rice is eaten all across India in many different ways. It comes in varying thickness, from paper thin and almost translucent to slightly thicker flakes. Very versatile in terms of how it can be eaten, Aval can be eaten cooked or uncooked, hot or cold, sweet or savoury.
When eaten uncooked, it is usually soaked in a liquid of some sort – water or milk, depending on the recipe. Beaten or flattened rice flakes can also be made from white rice or brown, unpolished rice. The latter is naturally a little more nutritious and has a nuttier flavour. If it is cooked, Aval requires very little time as most dishes involving this ingredient can be put together in about 15 to 20 minutes. Some desserts like Payasam/ Kheer (rice pudding like recipes) might need a little longer.
In this particular recipe, the Aval is not really soaked as such. It absorbs enough water when being washed and a little more moisture when being cooked. Puli Aval is a dish of beaten rice flakes cooked in a little tamarind juice and then seasoned and tempered with spices. What this makes is a dish that is a little spicy and tangy with a hint of sweet topped off with peanuts.
I prefer to use red/ brown rice flakes but you can use the white variety too. The red/ brown variety might need a little more water than the white one. Just make sure you use the thicker variety because the thinner kind will end up as mush. As always with most traditional recipes, every home and family has their own time tested recipe which they will swear by. This version is what we make in my home. Some recipes also include the use of Sambar powder but mine doesn’t.
To make tamarind extract, take a small round of tamarind (about the size of a marble. Put it in about 1/4 cup warm water and rub it into the water with your fingertips. This will release the pulp. Squeeze out the liquid and throw the solids away. You can also use readymade tamarind concentrate. This is very concentrated so adjust how much you use to taste.
Puli Aval – Tangy & Spiced Beaten Rice Flakes
- 4 cups dry thick red Aval/ Poha/ beaten rice flakes
- 2 1/2 tbsps sesame oil
- 1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 gram tsp split black lentils/ urad dal
- 2 gram tbsps Bengal lentils/ urad dal
- 1/8 cup skinned peanuts
- 1/8 tsp asafoetida powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 - 3 sprigs curry leaves
- 2 green chillies, chopped
- 2 tsp thick tamarind extract
- 1 tbsp powdered jaggery
- Salt to taste
- Put the red/ brown aval/ poha/beaten rice flakes in a large bowl and pour enough water to immerse it. Use your fingers and lightly rub the flakes. Let it sit for a couple of minutes and then drain out the water. If you’re suing the white variety, it doesn’t need soaking. Rinse well a couple of times using your fingers. Drain well and keep aside. The rice flakes will puff a bit and soften from absorbing water. Keep aside.
- Heat the oil in a pan or wok. Add the mustard seeds, when they splutter, add the lentils (dals) and the peanuts stirring for about a minute or till they turn a golden brown. Now add the chopped green chillies, curry leaves, asafoetida powder, turmeric powder and stir a couple of times. Mix in the tamarind extract and powdered jaggery.
- Add the Aval/ Poha/ beaten rice flakes and salt to taste. Mix everything well together so the spices even coat the beaten rice flakes. Serve hot, as it is, or with coconut chutney or yogurt on the side.