Downtown Louisville has a character of its own. It's quiet and peaceful for the most part although lately, it seems to be more like that slumbering giant, slowly being shaken awake. The city comes to life once the sun takes a more westward turn. Until then, its quirkiness is on display for those who choose to walk through its quiet streets and alleys. One thing that can't be doubted though, is that we are a welcoming lot. So welcoming that sometimes we put our couches outside the house.
While I don't have any couches in my frontyard for a weary runner, bicyclist or walker to put their feet up for a while, a welcome to my home is usually in the form of idli-sambar-chutney, instead of the ubiquitous pohe. And, I have to wonder why that is the case when pohe (po-hay) is a rice dish that can be served at any time of the day or for that matter, for any occasion! Someone drops in for tea, make pohe. Too exhausted to make dinner? Make pohe. Diwali feast? Yes, pohe have to be on the menu. That well-groomed green-card-equipped engineer from the US dropping by to see if you are pretty enough to marry? Your mother insists you must make pohe. Or, she makes pohe and passes it off as your doing, while the prospective groom watches closely as you walk across the room without tripping, to confirm that you have no limp and that you are not blind.
I've often wondered why pohe was such an important part of that last ritual until it dawned on me that if a girl can make pohe, she has some of the basics in place and will be able to feed her family most of the time, even if they get bored with the same ol' same ol'.
Off I went to my pantry in order to be a true welcoming Maharashtrian girl and finally understood why pohe was not on my menu as often as it should be. Three bags of thin pohe and not a single bag of thick pohe.
Those darned dancing people are the same and while the packet may be color-coded, I see Poha thi- and I grab it thinking I have bought the kind of pohe I need to make pohe. (That's another thing you have to bend your mind around if you're new to pohe: the uncooked flattened rice is called pohe and the cooked savory dish is also called pohe.) It's only when I get home that I realize that the thi- fooled me yet again and I add to my pile of thin pohe.
So why do they write poha on the packages? Because in Hindi and in Gujarati, it is poha. Even powa and pauwa. In Marathi, it is pohe. I am biased but I think it sounds nicer. Thin pohe can be put to very good use: to make chivda, of course. It is now Kitt's job to show up for Diwali celebrations with a truckload of chivda. Yep, I'm looking at you, Kitt, for this year's party, too!
Don't you have enough of those already? was thrown loosely in my direction when I finally bought the right kind of pohe. I was in a good mood else three of the older packets would have suddenly become air-borne with a trajectory aimed suspiciously towards the general area from whence that voice emanated.
I've come across a few sites that have thin pohe in their ingredient list for pohe. Please. No. There are others that don't mention the kind of pohe you need. Thick. Most of the recipes are called kanda / kande pohe because they have onions. Only in dire circumstances do I ever make pohe without onions so I drop that qualifier.
When I make pohe, I make a fairly large amount. It feeds us for at least two meals and a tea-time snack should anyone feel the need to dig in.
- 6 cups thick pohe or flattened rice
- 6 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- pinch asafetida
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 5-6 hot green chillies, chopped
- 7-8 curry leaves
- 1/4 tsp + 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 cup onion, chopped fine
- 1 cup potatoes, chopped fine
- 1 tbsp grated ginger
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- juice of 1 lime
- 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
- salt to taste
- Place the pohe in a colander and rinse in cool water. Drain well and set aside.
- Heat oil in a kadhai and when hot, add mustard seeds.
- When the mustard seeds do the dance of life, add asafetida followed by cumin seeds.
- Add green chillies and curry leaves and cover the kadhai to avoid oil getting all over your stove. Turn the heat down.
- When things have calmed down some, uncover and add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder. Also add chopped onions and cook until they have softened.
- Next, add chopped potatoes, grated ginger, a dash of lime and salt to taste. What you have here is your main masala. This needs to be spicy enough to carry the flavors through the entire batch of pohe. It needs to be very spicy.
- Cover and cook on medium-low until the potatoes are cooked through.
- While the spicy mixture is cooking, break up any clumps that may have formed in the soaked pohe. To this, add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1/2 tsp sugar, lime juice and salt to taste and toss to mix well.
- Add the pohe to the mixture in the kadhai in three parts, mixing well after adding each part. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
- Cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 7-10 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld well.
- Either garnish with chopped cilantro or mix the cilantro into the pohe. Serve hot with tea.
- My mother used to say "one fistful of pohe for each person, if there are other dishes; two fistfuls if that's all you're eating." Her hands were teeny but that ratio still holds. Six cups are just right for us to eat over two meals and six cups was just right for our Diwali party last year.
- More oil always makes everything taste better and so in this case, too. I use as many tablespoons of oil as cups of pohe when I am cooking for a crowd. When I cook for us, I halve that number. I add about 1/4 cup of water to the potatoes to help them cook faster. When I do this, the pohe always taste better when they are just made than they do the next day. I sprinkle them with warm water before re-heating to moisten them up a bit. That helps some but not as much as using the additional oil would have.
- I used eight chillies in these pohe and they were still not spicy enough. I couldn't believe it either!
- Traditionally, pohe is served with a wedge of lime but I find it more convenient to add the lime to the soaked pohe and do away with flying wedges at the table and squirting lime juice in someone's eyes.
- I like to add spicy sev, especially bhujia sev, to my pohe for an extra zing and a crunch.
- Fresh grated coconut is often used to garnish pohe.