Food talk
Malawa’s king

Poha is filling, easy to digest with a taste that can be tailored to one’s mood, writes Pushpesh Pant

Poha Pulav

Heat oil in a large flat pan. Put mustard seeds in it with the powdered spices; add chiwada after 30 seconds. Turn lightly with a flat spatula. Cover, reduce heat to very low and remove from flame in about a minute. In another frying pan, heat some more oil and brown the cauliflower, then stir-fry potatoes, beans and carrots. Now put in tomatoes that just have to be scalded. Add panir in the end if using. Stir in sugar, salt and limejuice along with green chillies. Arrange the pulav in layers like a biryani in a serving dish alternating the poha and vegetable mix. Garnish with hara dhaniya and chillies.

Chiwada—pounded rice flakes—is encountered in many avatars across the subcontinent. In the hill villages of Uttaranchala—now Uttarakhand—it is munched upon sitting around a glowing fire to while away the early part of long winter nights and in Bihar, soaked in dahi, it is a low cost, no-hassles-to-prepare nourishing fast food that saves the life of the starving traveller away from home.

Nearby, in Benaras it is often coupled with fresh sweet peas to provide a delicious contrasting crunch while in Sholapur in Maharashtra the deep-fried, as piquant and pungent as you can make it version reigns supreme.

Before the Bikaneri bhujiya, in its mass-produced ultra-modern attractively packaged Haldiram incarnation, spread its addiction vanquishing all competition, this specialty vied with Ratlami sev to occupy the position of favourite deshi nibble. But it is in the heart of India—the Malawa region of Madhya Pradesh—that chiwada really remains the King.

Served as poha—a scarcely cooked, barely exposed to the lightest touch of heat breakfast cereal it, to our mind, beats anything the much-hyped Kellog’s offers. It is filling, easy to digest with a taste that can be tailored to one’s mood—add to the substance by increasing the quantum of fried peanuts, boiled green peas or tiny bits of potatoes, sprinkle some sev, squeeze lime juice, spike it with additional green chillies and finally tinker with the tempering.

Touring in the state we have discovered that hardly any one has something else for breakfast in Indore and Ujjain. There are shops that have survived and flourished serving just poha to generations of loyal patrons. If you don’t consider gluttony a sin you are welcome to finish the morning repast with piping hot jalebi and doodh/dahi. Poha is popular in Maharashtra as well but nothing quite matches its dominance in Malawa.

It was a fantastically aromatic poha delicacy that inspired Indrajit to experiment with a pulav made with poha—the recipe we share with our readers this time. Eschewing fat and meats, this has the potential to win the hearts of all heart-care conscious gourmets (and others).

Please remember that though preparing poha pulav may appear deceptively easy, it is not without challenges. Over-soaking the rice flakes will end in soggy inedible lumps and enthusiastic stirring while gently heating and blending ingredients too can ruin it. It is best to prepare poha with now readily available coarser chiwada and cook the substantial additives separately then assemble the pulav in layers like you would a biryani before putting it on dum.