I think economy may be one of my favourite ingredients in the kitchen. I know it doesn’t have the same tantalizing air as, say, “hazelnuts,” or “green mango” or so many other actual ingredients that I do, in fact, love, but I think there’s something to it that I find deeply satisfying. Thrift is definitely a large part of its appeal: I hate wasting things. But the other is the elegance of the truly economical dish—one in which all the parts are in balance, that doesn’t deplete the cook (or her bank account) in its making.
Chitranna (often called lime rice in English), that great and economical staple of so many Kannadiga kitchens, is a perfect example of the genre. All you need is some rice, spices, curry leaves, a few choice aromatics, and some peanuts to pull it together. I loved it as a child for its taste, I love it even more now for its convenience and ease.
Imagine, then, my delight at finding a version of chitranna that calls on even fewer perishable ingredients and doesn’t even require you to cook any rice. I’m speaking here of saasive chitranna, or mustard-seed chitranna. This delightful rice-based dish comes together in less than five minutes and is a specialty of the cuisine of Udupi, on the coast of Karnataka. My version is based on a recipe from U.B. Rajalakshmi’s handy little compendium of home recipes, Udupi Cuisine, which I love leafing through, but which I don’t cook from nearly often enough.
Like chitranna, it is tangy—from the addition of amchur (dried mango powder)—but unlike chitranna, it has no peanuts or curry leaves. It involves no chopping of onions. It does call for ground coconut—for which I simply substitute frozen grated coconut, which works admirably well. And the whole dish benefits from the smoky, earthy, piquant flavor of black mustard—both whole and ground.
It’s worth noting that the original recipe calls for cooked rice and only adds in a side note that you can use puffed rice as a substitute. I, however, love the convenience that this little trick adds to the recipe—as well as the texture of the resulting dish.
Serves 3–4 as a side dish
3 cups puffed rice (poha) rinsed briefly in cool water, then drained and squeezed dry
1.5 tsp amchur
1 tsp toasted and ground cumin powder
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup grated coconut (frozen and thawed is fine)
1 tsp black mustard seeds, finely ground in a mortar and pestle
1 tsp black mustard seeds
4–5 whole black peppercorns
3 tbsp coconut oil (or a neutral-flavoured vegetable oil, if you prefer)
In a medium kadhai or wok, heat the oil until it begins to shimmer.
Add the whole black mustard seeds and the peppercorns to the hot oil.
Once the mustard seeds have turned grey and started to pop, add in the amchur, ground cumin, ground pepper, and stir into the oil till the spices are all sizzling and aromatic.
Add the rice and salt and stir well till the rice is well coated with the spices.
Add the ground coconut and mustard seeds and stir to combine.
Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Enjoy hot or at room temperature.