When I was a child growing up in India, noodles were either something you ate at Chinese restaurants for a Sunday treat, or a food that you could buy in bright red and yellow packages at the grocery store and boil up in water for an instant meal. Those ramen noodles — which every Indian simply referred to as “Maggi” because that was the brand name they were marketed under– became all the rage when they appeared on grocery store shelves in the 1980s because they offered the superwoman housewife something she had never had before: convenience.
But noodles, although not an obvious ingredient in traditional Indian cuisine, are not foreign to it either. They crop up around India in various forms and at various meals. Vermicilli noodles, angel-hair-like wheat noodles, are the base of a classic Indian sweet dish said to have originated with the Muslims in India but now popular all over the country– the very special and very delicious semiya payasam, or shevyachi kheer. Vermicilli also features in another well-loved Indian sweet, the falooda, a Persian-origin medley of rose syrup, ice cream, tapioca pearls (saboodana) and — of all ingredients– pysllium fiber.
South Indians turn vermicilli into a delicious savory upma. Some deep-fried Indian snacks, like sev and ribbon pakoras, are nothing but chickpea noodles. And I remember my culinarily adventurous parents pressing out rice noodles at home to make idiyappam, a south Indian dish that is served with a stew or a curry or even dunked into sweetened coconut milk for a delicious breakfast treat.
The recipe I am sharing today comes via the Indian-British chef Anjum Anand. When I saw her on TV the other day, stirring up a very simple, subtly spiced coconut broth bursting with veggies, to which she added some storebought rice noodles, I wanted to make it rightaway. Anand’s inspiration for this dish comes from idiyappam and from ishtoo, a vegetable stew, both foods from the spice-and-coconut-blessed south Indian state of Kerala.
Luckily, she uses storebought rice noodles in her recipe, which is great because I have neither the time nor the energy to press out noodles at home after a hard day’s work.
I like this dish a lot for its versatility: I followed Anand’s directions and used peas, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli and potatoes. But you could easily change the veggies– I also added carrots– and I am sure that some sweet potato or green or red peppers would be divine in here.
Time for the recipe. Hope everyone’s having a great weekend. Here in the DC area, as in much of the northeast, we were stuck with the rains for nearly a week but the sun’s finally out today. It’s beautiful.
Kerala Rice Noodles in A Coconut Stew
- 1 12- ounce package of rice noodles (if you have never used these, you can find them at any Asian grocery store). Cook the noodles in plenty of salted water until al dente, or according to package directions. (Make sure you time your recipe so you don't have to leave the noodles standing while you prepare the sauce. The cooked rice noodles have a tendency to stick together. I cooked the noodles only as I got to the tail-end of preparing my sauce to avoid this.)
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 2 cups cauliflower florets
- 2 medium carrots , chopped into rings about 1-cm thick
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 cup cut green beans (I used frozen, but by all means use fresh if you have those)
- 2 potatoes , skins scrubbed clean, then diced into 1-inch cubes. Cook the potatoes until tender-- you can either cover them with water, bring it to a boil, cover the pot, and simmer for 10 minutes, or, if you're as convenience-loving as I am, just place them in a microwave-safe bowl, place two tablespoons of water in the bowl, cover with a microwave-safe lid or a dish, and zap for 7 minutes until very tender. Mash the potatoes with a fork and set aside.
- 1 large onion , thinly sliced
- 20 curry leaves
- 4 green chillies , slit down the middle
- 1- inch piece of ginger , minced
- 4 cloves
- 1- inch cinnamon stick
- 30 peppercorns
- Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 2 tsp sambar powder (Anand uses garam masala, but I liked the sambar powder better here because it is south Indian)
- 1 tsp coconut oil (use another vegetable oil if you don't have this)
- Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the cloves, cinnamon and peppercorns and saute for a couple of minutes.
- Add the sliced onion and saute, stirring frequently, until translucent. You don't want the onion to brown.
- Add the ginger, curry leaves, and green chillies. Saute for another minute.
- Add the broccoli, cauliflower and carrots and stir well together. Season with some salt and ground black pepper. Add 2 cups of hot water, bring to a boil, cover, and allow it to simmer about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are fairly tender.
- Add the green peas, beans, and mashed potatoes. Stir well together and add a little more water if the mixture is too thick.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the coconut milk and sambar powder.
- Check for salt and pepper and add more if needed.
- Slide the drained, just-cooked noodles into the hot stew, and serve immediately.
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