Pastoral longings and undala pulusu

I don’t know what it is about starting this blog, but ever since i  began, my kitchen has seen more and more South Indian food – and my blogging has been about this – something about digging for roots?
Growing up in Hyderabad in the 60’s and 70’s, life was one long, happy sinecure, punctuated by the occasional painful exam period but more often than not, it was about playing in maidans till the light faded, “bhuttas”(roasted corncobs) hot off the charcoal fire, waiting for the “munjal” (nongu in Tamil, Tari in Hindi) guy to come on his rounds, stealing grapes from the gardens around my grandfather’s house, waking up to the unmatchable joy of the first winter chill and overarchingly – unending summer holidays.
These summer holidays were a period of great fun but somewhere, i had a hankering for the kind of holiday that all my classmates seemed to have, which was two months in their “native” villages. Now, as then, this seemed the most exotic vacation and my mom must have grown quite fed up of the endless “why don’t we have a village to go to?”!! Swimming in the village well – something that everyone seemed to do – was an unimaginable thing. After all, all the wells I’d ever seen were about 3 feet across so if you stretched out, the chances were you hung out on either side of the well!
Villages on both parents’ sides having been abandoned centuries ago, we considered ourselves “deprived” kids!
Later decades haven’t quite removed this longing for the pastoral life from my heart but I have learnt to appreciate the linguistic and culinary heritage that my multicultural, city-bred background has given me – Andhra, Kannadiga and Maharashtrian with a Tamil immersion for the last 30 years. And the last month has seen me digging more and more into my roots for old recipes. Today’s special was “undala pulusu” or “urundai kootaan” – an all time favourite.
Undala pulusu
For the “undalu” (balls)
3/4 cup tor dal + 1/4 cup chana dal – soak for two hours
3-4 red chilies
2 green chilies
Asafoetida – a large pinch
Rice flour – 1 tsp
Grated fresh coconut – 2 tbsp
Chopped curry leaves and coriander leaves – 1 tbsp
Grind everything except for the herbs to a coarse paste. Mix in the herbs.
To season
Sesame oil – 1 tbsp
Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustrd seeds. When they splutter, add the ground paste and stir for 4-5 minutes. Cool and shape into balls and steam for about ten minutes. Set aside
For pulusu
Mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp
Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida – 1 large pinch
Sesame oil – 1 tbsp
Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
Tamarind paste – 2 tsp
Jaggery – 1.5 tsp
Sambar powder – 3 tsp + Peppercorns – 7-8 + Jeera (cumin seeds) – 1/2 tsp -grind together
Rice flour – 1 tsp
Turmeric – 1 large pinch
Heat oil in a pan. Add mustard seeds. When they splutter, add urad dal, asafoetida and curry leaves. Add the ground powder, rice flour and turmeric. Immediately add 3 cups water, tamarind paste, jaggery and salt. Bring to a boil. Simmer and add steamed balls. Cook for 3-4 minustes more and switch off. Serve with hot rice, ghee and roast potato. Bet you won’t miss the village any more!