OK so I posted my recycled recipe for the poha leftovers before posting the recipe for the poha itself. But this is an actual recipe, you know, with quantities and proper ingredients and times for cooking and stuff. Oh, the pressure.
I read about poha a couple of weeks ago when looking at the brilliant Time photo essay, What the World Eats. Without passing judgement whatsoever, it’s just fascinating to see what people eat on a daily basis, because food isn’t just one of the defining facets of culture, but it can also reflect everything from socioeconomic status, to religion, to the topographical landscape. And the families in the pictures aren’t just asked to show what they eat in a week, but also to tell what they love to eat. Hands down the family that gave me the biggest kick was the Melansons of Iqaluit, Nunavut Territory, Canada, who list their favourite foods as “narwhal, polar bear, extra cheese stuffed crust pizza, watermelon”, but the ones who sent me Googling were the Patkars of Ujjain, India, whose family recipe is “Sangeeta Patkar's Poha (Rice Flakes)”.
At this point, I felt cheated, because I felt I should know what these rice flakes were, but didn’t. Even though I love and adore Indian food, maybe it was just something too exotic for me to have encountered before, I thought. I asked Google. Google said no. Google said that poha is also known as flattened rice or beaten rice, and is very popular in India, particularly for breakfast. Oh. Thanks, Google.
At the Indian grocer’s near work, I found that poha comes in several thicknesses, and is a top convenience food. Not only is it ready in half the time as rice, but you only need to rinse or soak it before cooking, if cooking it at all. And it is light and fluffy when ready, in the way that you want rice to be but sometimes isn’t.
Poha with potatoes is a pretty standard combination, and once I knew what other cooks do to make it, I made my own. But this is just the beginning, I reckon, and I can already see the possibilities for poha pilaf, poha ruz bish'irreeyeh, or even buttered poha with Parmesan on the side of something equally yummy.
While I enjoy a slice of cold pizza for breakfast as much as the next person (oh go on, admit it), and this poha is truly delicious, I don't think I could have it for brekkie. So I served it for dinner with spinach sautéed in onion and garam masala and thick yoghurt stirred in. But you don’t need an accompaniment. This comforting bowlful o’carbs has pretty much everything you could want or need, as evidenced by the three main men in my life, who wolfed down massive helpings.
SPICED POHA WITH POTATOES AND CHICKPEAS
2 cups thick poha
2 tbsp. oil
2 tsp. mustard seeds
1 onion, chopped
2 green chilies, chopped
1 tsp. turmeric
a few curry leaves
a pinch of chili powder (opt.)
2 medium potatoes, diced
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cup cooked chickpeas (tinned are OK)
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup slivered or flaked almonds
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped coriander (cilantro), to taste
fresh lime or lemon juice, to taste
What you do:
1. Put the poha to soak in a bowl of cold water while you prepare the vegetable mixture.
2. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds. When they pop and sputter, reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and chilies. Sauté, stirring often, until onion is translucent, then add turmeric, curry leaves, and chili powder if using. Stir constantly until aromatic.
3. Add potato and tomato, and jam the lid on. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender but firm to the bite. Add chickpeas, peas, and almonds, and allow to cook a few minutes. Taste for salt and pepper, remembering that the poha is bland, so the flavour of the vegetable mixture will have to have oomph.
4. Drain poha, and stir into into vegetable mixture. Jam lid on, and cook 5-7 min over low heat. Fold in coriander and lime or lemon juice to taste. Poha should be fluffy, so be careful when you do this so that you don’t break it down to mush.