Of genetics and tamarind rice!


Just read a hilarious post on “15 things you experience when you have a South Indian friend” posted by my nephew Parshu on Facebook – clearing up popular misconceptions about South India that North Indians hold. I have one more to add to this – in my five decades so far, I have yet to meet a North Indian who doesn’t absolutely LOVE tamarind rice  (aka pulihodharai, pulinchaadam, pulihora) and am constantly being asked to make it for potluck lunches… one Punjabi lady told me that no matter what she does, her sambar ends up tasting like rajma and as for tamarind rice – this has completely flummoxed her – how do you make something so tasty without onions and garlic and… ‘tamaatar’?? The one exception to this is my sister-in-law – Shipra- who makes absolutely brilliant South Indian food despite hailing from the other end of the country – all the way to Jammu!!

There really is something about cuisine though, that is tied up with our genetic heritages – if an Italian were to be deprived of his pasta or a Bengali of his rosogulla and a South Indian of rasam and sambar and pappu, i think each of these would just shrivel up over time and… die! Dissenters to my theory are bound to be below 25 years of age and I’ll wait for you to grow older before arguing with you!

The tamar-e-hind – or date of India as the Arabs called it – grows all over the world, apparently and the USA is the second largest grower after India! Hmmm…. wonder whether anyone in America has ever thought of a tamarind- flavoured apple pie or a spaghetti with tamarind balls? urrr… One interesting fact about this fruit is that it is unique in the fruit world in having significant amounts of calcium!! Brown tamarind toothpaste for strong,white teeth… i think i’ll patent the idea!

 A few years ago, I was invited to judge a cookery contest at a school, the participants being about 13-14 years old. There were some horrendous things to taste and some halfway decent stuff but there was one kid who actually ventured to make tamarind rice. Never mind that it was semi-raw – i gave her full marks for trying to make something other than an omelet! 

Having poked much fun at my mom in these columns, I have to give her credit where it’s due – she really does make the best tamarind rice in the world! 

Here it is – Tamarind Rice – as mother makes it 🙂

  •  Tamarind – 1/2 cup – soaked in one cup water for half an hour and juice squeezed out. Do this a couple of time – to get about 1.5-2 cups tamarind water.
  • Sambar powder – 3 heaped tsp
  • Cooked rice – 4 cups ( the rice shouldn’t be very soft. As soon as it’s cooked, spread it out on a plate to dry after mixing in one spoon of sesame oil)
  • Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
  • Methi (fenugreek seeds) – 1 tsp – dry roast and powder.
  • Red chilies – 5-6
  • Asafoetida – 1 very generous pinch
  • Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
  • Chana dal – 1 tbsp
  • Urad dal – 1 tbsp
  • Groundnuts (optional but i love the textural contrast) – 3 tbsp
  • Separately roast and powder  together – 1 tbsp sesame seeds, red chilies – 2 -3 , asafoetida – 1 large pinch
  • Curry leaves – 4-5 sprigs
  • Sesame oil (only!) – 3 tbsp
  • Jaggery – 1 lemon sized lump
  • Salt – 1.5 tsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1.5 tsp – soaked and ground to a paste with 1 tsp water (OPTIONAL) and fried ginger juliennes – 2 tbsp

To garnish:

Fry cashew nuts and curry leaves till crisp and pour over the top at the very end.

To start:

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the peanuts and fry on low heat truning over occasionally till crisp. When they are almost done, add the mustard seeds and let pop. Add the chana dal, urad dal, red chilies, asafoetida and curry leaves. Fry for a few seconds. Add the sambar powder and turmeric and as soon as they sort of go “bussss” in the oil – add the tamarind water. Add the salt and jaggery and bring to a boil. Add the methi seeds powder and let it simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes till the raw smell of tamarind is gone and there’s a saliva-indusing smell! Can add a little more water if it’s drying up too soon. The final consistency should be quite thick , not quite a paste though. Switch off and let cool a bit. Mix it in with the cooked rice along with the sesame seeds powder. Don’t overhandle the rice but mix in lightly with your fingers till all the grains of rice are fully coated. 

Optional – if you want a more “Andhra” pulihaara, add the mustard paste and ginger juliennes. You could also add the ginger to the tamarind while it’s cooking. 

Let the pulihaara sit for at least an hour before serving. Make lots because it tastes waaay better the next day. 

Serve with chips or appadams for the quintessential South Indian travel meal.


2 Replies to “Of genetics and tamarind rice!”

  1. Awesome new blog! I like the new layout. Also, this tamarind rice not only sounds delicious, your photo looks yummy too!

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