Kanava Podimas | Squid Podimas
One of the finest pleasures you can encounter as a cook is coming across a new way of seeing (and by that I mean eating) an ingredient you thought you knew. Eating tomatoes in a dessert, tasting dulce de leche for the first time and wondering how this possibly could have come from milk, even just eating a frozen candy bar were all revelations to me each in their turn. Of course there’s no end of fascinating things we can do to food with the constantly evolving technology we use in the kitchen these days, but I’m talking here primarily of the delight of seeing an everyday ingredient transformed by an everyday process—like squid that, simply by being ground and stir-fried with spices, takes on another life and nature altogether.
Podimas—the word means, simply “powder meat”—is a kind of preparation beloved in many parts of Tamil Nadu, which typically contains some kind of ground ingredient. Often this is meat, though I’ve heard of Tamil households in which certain egg dishes also go by the same name. The first time I came across this squid (kanava in Tamil) podimas, was on a research trip near the Palk Strait, the narrow band of water that separates the coast of Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka.
The dish itself is simple: cooked and ground squid stir-fried together with spices and aromatics. But the results are like the product of alchemy. The separate little grains of ground squid, sweet and pleasantly chewy, absorb the piquancy of the spices, the peppery fragrance of curry leaves, the toasted sweetness of coconut. The whole thing tastes like an improbable and delicious seafood pilaf—except that the “rice” itself is made of the sweet, briny flavor of the ocean.
When I first ate this dish, it was made with beautifully fresh thondi squid that had barely been out of the ocean a handful of hours. If you have access to similarly fresh squid, do use it, and count your blessings. If, like the vast majority of us, you only have access to squid that has been shipped from elsewhere to your local fishmonger, fret not: the dish will still be exquisite, unusual, and memorable.
KANAVA PODIMAS | SQUID PODIMAS
3 lb cleaned squid
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp coconut oil
2 sprigs curry leaves, stripped from the stem
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp split urad dhal
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced through the root
¼ cup grated fresh coconut
Bring a large saucepan of unsalted water to a rolling boil and add the squid to it. Allow to cook for ten minutes.
Drain the squid and set aside to cool for fifteen minutes.
When the squid is cool enough to handle, cut it into rough chunks and tip it into the work bowl of a food processor.
Pulse the food processor, grinding the squid until it forms a rough paste with no pieces larger than a grain of rice.
Scrape the squid into a large bowl, add the cumin, chilli powder, salt, and turmeric, and mix well.
In a large frying pan, wok, or kadhai, heat the coconut oil till it begins to shimmer.
Add the mustard seeds and urad dhal and allow them to toast in the hot oil just until the mustard turns grey and begins to pop and the dhal is a light golden brown.
Immediately add the curry leaves and stand back—they will splatter impressively when they hit the hot oil.
Add the onions and cook till they start to brown at the edges.
Scrape the ground squid mixture into the pan and cook, stirring often, to combine with the spices and aromatics, until the mixture is glossy and smells sweet and toasted.
Taste and adjust for salt and seasoning as needed. Sprinkle over with the grated coconut, stir through, and serve while still hot with rice, sambhar, and appalam.