Tamil cuisine is rich in delicious prepared rice varieties, including tomato rice, lemon rice, brinjal (or eggplant) rice, sesame seed rice and coconut rice, to name just a few. But one of my hands-down favorites is tamarind rice, or puliyodarai.
My mom-in-law, who’s passed on, used to make the best tamarind rice I ever ate. No wonder then that Desi often craves some tamarind rice with home-made potato chips, just like his mom used to make it.
I usually sneak in healthier ingredients and procedures, like baking potato chips instead of deep-frying them, but this time he had a craving for the deep-fried variety, along with the puliodarai and some sarkarai pongal. So to keep dinner from getting too unhealthy, I used some brown rice for the puliyodarai, instead of white rice which it is typically and traditionally made with. It tasted delicious, and I thought I’d share the recipe with you, along with my recipe for easy and delicious home-made potato chips.
I make my brown rice in a convenient little rice cooker, because microwaving never seems to get it to the right consistency. If you don’t have a rice cooker, try this stovetop-oven method which works very well and which keeps the rice grains nice and separate (you can skip the cumin seeds from the recipe).
Brown rice, for those still hesitant to try it, is delicious with a nutty flavor that makes it more complex and flavorful than white rice. Of course it takes longer to cook, but it’s not at all difficult once you’ve learned how– in fact, all you need to know is how to boil water. Literally.
Plus there’s the huge catch with white rice that makes brown a much better option: white rice is stripped clean of the healthy bran that adds not only fiber but tons of nutrients to rice, including magnesium, manganese and zinc.
Here, then, is the recipe for my brown rice puliyodarai. A classic made healthier. Now that’s a win-win.
For the tamarind sauce (pulikachal)
2 tbsp tamarind paste dissolved in about 4 cups of water. If you’re using tamarind pods, soak a large lemon-size ball in 4 cups of warm water. When the tamarind softens, in about 30 minutes, crush it with your fingers to extract all the juice, and discard the solids.
3 red chilies
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp chana dal (bengal gram)
1 tbsp udad dal (black gram)
1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
A generous pinch of asafetida (hing)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Dry-roast the fenugreek seeds until they darken slightly to a reddish hue.
In a tiny bit of oil, fry the red chilies. Remove, and use a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.
In a spice grinder, powder the fenugreek and chilies along with about 1/2 tsp of salt. Set aside.
Heat remaining oil and add the mustard, asafetida, chilies, chana dal and udad dal. Fry for a minute.
Once the peanuts start browning, add the tamarind sauce. Let the tamarind sauce reduce on a low flame until it has thickened to a consistency almost like that of molasses. Now add the chilli-fenugreek powder and stir well to mix. Check for salt and add more if needed. Take off heat.
This sauce will store for weeks if kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
To put together the Puliyodarai:
1 cup brown rice, cooked until tender in rice cooker per the manufacturer’s instructions, or by this method. You can leave out the cumin seeds if you use the oven procedure.
3 tbsp of the tamarind sauce.
1 tsp canola oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp peanuts
1 tbsp cashewnuts
2-3 small sprigs of curry leaves
Heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When the crackle, add the curry leaves, cashew nuts and peanuts and fry until the peanuts turn lightly golden.
Add the peanuts, mustard and curry leaves to the rice along with the tamarind sauce. Mix thoroughly. Add more tamarind sauce if you need.
1 large potato, sliced very, very thinly, preferably with a mandoline. I set mine to about 1/10ths of an inch thick.
1 tsp red chilli powder like cayenne
Oil for deep-frying (you want about an inch-deep layer of oil in your frying pan)
Salt to taste.
Immediately after slicing the potatoes, dunk them into a water bath and leave them there for at least 15 minutes. This washes off any excess starch which would keep the chips from crisping up nicely.
Heat the oil to between 360 and 370 degrees. If you have one, use a frying thermometer to ensure the oil’s at the right temperature. Food fried at these temperatures absorbs almost no oil, taking a good deal of the guilt out of deep-frying.
While the oil is heating, dry off the potato slices thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Put them in a dry bowl and sprinkle with chilli powder. I prefer not to salt the potatoes until after they are fried– that way they don’t draw any more water out of the potato, and you need less salt to get the perfect flavor.
Fry the potato slices in batches, making sure they do not overlap. Each side should take about 2 minutes– they will start curling and turn golden brown and feel firm– that’s how you know they’re done.
Remove to a bowl lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt while still hot.
Eat with the Puliyodarai. Perfect.