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  • Rohan Kamicheril

Huli Avalakki | Beaten Rice with Tamarind and Peanuts


This dish is essentially a variation on the popular tamarind-rice dish called puliyogare that is made in many parts of the south of India.

I got this particular recipe from Gayathri Kongovi, a friend’s mother, who lives in Bangalore. She and her longtime cook Kamlamma were kind enough to prepare a number of traditional Kannadiga dishes with me one cool Bangalore morning many months ago.

This recipe is distinctive both for the particular blend of spices it uses and for the fact that it uses avalakki, or beaten rice, instead of cooked rice, the grain of choice for the more commonly available puliyogare. This version also has a touch of sweetness that I really like with the tangy taste of tamarind, the crunchiness of the fried peanuts and lentils, and the peppery aroma of fried curry leaves.

Avalakki is a fantastic ingredient that it’s worth learning more about. It’s incredibly versatile and can be deployed in a number of different ways. It’s made by soaking rice in water and then rolling the grains out and flattening them. The finished flakes, which are sold in large bags in most Indian grocery stores, resemble rolled oats. They often need no more than a toss with some hot oil or water to reconstitute them, which makes them ideal for a meal that has to come together in minutes.

One of the things I love most about this dish is how it illuminates a different and striking way of dealing with rice. The rice flakes, instead of being used whole—as they often are—are ground to a fairly fine meal. This small step has the unexpected effect of producing a dish that tastes and looks uncannily like fine couscous—albeit with a distinctly South Indian flavor.

A note on buying beaten rice: Beaten rice is called avalakki in Karnataka. If you’re looking for it in an Indian grocery store in the West or outside of Karnataka, though, chances are it’ll be sold as poha. Beaten rice comes in a variety of grades. Make sure to buy “thick poha” (called gatti avalakki in Kannada) for this recipe.

A note on saaru pudi: Saaru pudi is a spice blend that many Kannadiga cooks use to make saaru, a lentil-enriched stew, as well as for a number of other dishes. Many modern Kannadiga cooks will buy, rather than make, their saaru pudi. I use a pre-made variety that my brother-in-law’s mother gets for me from Subbamma Stores in Gandhi Bazaar in Bangalore. It’s a fantastic place—stacked high with piles of bagged spice blends, fried snacks, and other comestibles and condiments. Their saaru pudi is mildly tangy, earthy, with a mild, persuasive chilli heat. For readers who don’t have access to good store-bought saaru pudi, I’ve included Kamlamma’s recipe for her saaru pudi below, which I’ve adapted slightly.

A note on tamarind: For the purists out there, I’ve given directions for how to reconstitute dried tamarind for this recipe. If you don’t have the time for this extra step, feel free to use tamarind puree, which is also readily available in Indian grocery stores.

Huli Avalakki | Beaten Rice with Tamarind and Peanuts

Serves 3–4 as a side dish

INGREDIENTS

2 cups gatti avalakki (see note), ground to a fine meal in a food processor

½ cup dried tamarind (see note)

1 cup boiling hot water

4–5 tbsp saaru pudi (see note, recipe below)

¼ cup cane or palm jaggery broken up to a fine powder

1/2 tsp asafetida

½ tsp ground, dried turmeric

Salt to taste

Seasoning:

4 tbsp canola oil or other neutral oil

1 tbsp chana dhal

1 tbsp tbsp urad dhal

3 tbsp roasted skin-on peanuts

2 tsp black mustard seeds

4 byadagi chillies or other floral, moderately spicy chillies

10–12 curry leaves

¼ cup freshly grated coconut or frozen grated coconut, thawed

¼ cup fresh cilantro, washed, dried, and roughly chopped

PREPARATION

First, add the tamarind to a small heatproof bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Cover the bowl and allow the tamarind to steep for at least half an hour.

When the tamarind has softened and is cool enough to handle, gently massage the reconstituted pulp to remove all the coarse fibers and seeds from it. Squeeze the tamarind to remove all the pulp and juice from it. You should be left with a little over a cup of tangy, brown tamarind juice without any fibers or seeds in it.

Place the ground avalakki in a medium-sized bowl. Add in the saaru pudi, jaggery, turmeric, 1 tsp salt, and toss well to combine.

Next, stirring constantly with one hand, slowly add the tamarind juice to the bowl, pressing the ground rice together to hydrate it and then breaking it up with your open hand. Take care not to add too much liquid at a time, or you risk ending up with a sodden, lumpen mess. Continue in this way until the avalakki is uniformly moistened but the grains are all separate and have the texture of loose wet sand. If you run out of tamarind juice continue with cool water.

Taste for seasoning and add more salt or saaru pudi as needed. The avalakki will be slightly tough to the bite still but should taste noticeably tart from the tamarind with a touch of sweetness from the jaggery and a subtle heat from the saaru pudi.

At this point, cover the avalakki loosely with a clean kitchen towel and set aside for half an hour to allow the rice grains to fully absorb the water and to plump up.

If, after half an hour, the grains still taste too al dente, moisten with a little more water.

Heat the oil in a large wok or kadhai over high heat.

When the oil begins to shimmer, add the black mustard seeds and let them pop, briefly, before adding the chana dhal, urad dhal, and peanuts. Stir-fry continuously for just a minute or two, until the peanuts and the dhals have turned a very pale golden brown. Quickly add the dried red chillies and curry leaves and stand back: the curry leaves will cause the oil to sputter aggressively.

Cook for just 30 seconds more, or until the curry leaves have turned a shade darker and have become glossy and aromatic.

Turn down the heat to low and pour the moistened rice into the wok. Using a spatula, toss all the ingredients together so that they are well combined.

Add the coconut and chopped cilantro and mix well. Check for seasoning one final time. Adjust salt as needed.

Serve hot or warm.

Kamlamma's Saaru Pudi Recipe:

1 cup coriander seed

¼ cup cumin

¾ cup byadagi chillies

1/8 cup black pepper

1/8 cup fenugreek

1/8 cup black mustard seeds

¼ tsp asafetida

In a medium skillet, toast all the spices separately until aromatic, stirring often to prevent burning.

As they get toasted put them into a bowl to cool.

When all the spices are cool, grind them together in a spice grinder or a high-powered blender to make a fine powder. Store in an air-tight bottle in a cool, dark place.

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