Sunday, April 06, 2008

Apartment Therapy, Poha and Chai

Last week I did my second kitchen tour for Apartment Therapy’s kitchen-related site, the Kitchn. This time, I chose to tour my friend Devesh’s kitchen. Devesh is an old and dear friend, and an avid and adventurous cook. I focused the piece on his spice treasure trove, and he agreed to cook and share the recipes for a couple of dishes that take advantage of his stash. After some brainstorming, we agreed on a flavorful breakfast dish made with flattened rice, and authentic chai to go with it. You can read the main article and view the slideshow here. For the recipes, see here and here (or keep reading below).

Usually, I try to share recipes that I think you will have a reasonable likelihood of trying. I don’t like to post things that are unnecessarily complicated or time-intensive, too specialty-ingredient heavy (or too banal for that matter). It gives me great pleasure when I hear that a post actually inspired you to cook the dish, and a huge thrill if you loved it!

In this particular case, I know the odds are against me. These dishes most certainly require a trip to an Indian grocer or specialty spice store. Unless you have breakfasted in an Indian home, you have most likely never had Poha, and chances are high that you have never heard of flattened rice. You probably can’t quite imagine what this dish would taste like, and it might sound a little unusual for breakfast. If I have earned any credibility, at all, I’d like to cash in a little of it and get you to at least read the recipe and consider it.

It’s a very quick dish. It cooks in less than 10 minutes. It is incredibly flavorful and hearty yet light at the same time. The flavors for breakfast are not that far of a stretch: after all, we eat huevos rancheros and we don’t consider the zip in that dish to be unusual. The truth is, while traditionally a breakfast dish, you could certainly serve this as a side dish at lunch and dinner if you wanted to. But it works great for breakfast: I left the table full but not weighed down. I didn’t have that heavy residual egg taste in my mouth, and wasn’t high on sugar. It truly hit the spot. And the chai – well if you think of chai as that stuff that comes in a green and white takeout cup, think again . . .

p.s. the "click" photography contest voting polls are open. I entered my photo of peppercorns in spoons for the theme of metal. Hop on over and have a look at the gallery and cast your vote. Voting ends Monday, April 7 at noon.

Poha (flattened rice) (note: ingredients are pictured at the top of this post)
(makes ~3 cups)
2-3 cups (when dry) (thick) Poha (flattened rice)
A generous pinch asafoetida
1.5 teaspoons mustard seeds
1-2 green chilies (chopped small) (or according to desired level of heat - can leave out if you prefer)
1 onion (small dice)
1 potato (small dice – use the waxy kind, i.e. red bliss, Yukon gold, eastern white. Avoid boiling potatoes, which don’t retain their shape once cooked)
1/2 cup peanuts or cashews
3/4-1 teaspoon turmeric
5-6 curry leaves
Salt to taste
1/2 cup fresh cilantro (chopped) for garnish
Fresh lemon (to squeeze at end)

Soak the Poha for 5 mins then drain in a colander (there's a thick and a thin Poha - this recipe is for the thick Poha). Heat oil in a pan (Devesh uses a wok). Season with asafoetida, then mustard seeds. As soon as they crackle, add diced onion and green chilies. Fry until translucent.
In parallel, heat diced potatoes in microwave for ~2 minutes to partly cook them. Add turmeric and curry leaves to hot oil once onions are done. Add nuts. Add heated potatoes. Sauté until potatoes are done. Add Poha and salt and mix thoroughly. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
Transfer to serving bowl and sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro and lemon juice (or lime juice) before serving.

Authentic Chai
(All measurements are per cup – multiply for the number of cups or medium-sized mugs you are making. There are two approaches: focus on one key spice, like cardamom, or use a smaller quantity of several ingredients)
3/4 cup water plus 1/4 cup milk (if you are using skim or 1 percent, use half milk and half water)
Sugar to taste
Roughly ~2 teaspoons per cup loose black tea leaves (Ideally Assam or Ceylon tea – English Breakfast will do)

Some or all of the following (measurements are per cup or per medium-sized mug):

2 green cardamom pods
2-3 whole black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1-2 pieces cinnamon (“real cinnamon” not Cassia. May be labeled “Vietnamese cinnamon”)
Fresh ginger (2-3 thin slices for extra zing)


Loose tea masala (a mixture of spices) (Devesh has both the MDH and Everest brands. Kalustyans has a loose Tea masala sold by weight);
and ginger (see above) if desired

Heat water and milk. Before it comes to a boil, add fresh ginger (with skin, sliced into thin rounds), if using and any or several of the following: a few pods of green cardamom, Cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, peppercorns and/or cinnamon. Devesh used 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon of tea masala per cup and fresh ginger, skipping the other spices. When the milk / water mixture boils, add loose black tea. Turn off the heat and let steep for 2 minutes. Pour into a cup through a sieve to strain out tea leaves and spices. Add sugar / sweetener to taste (start with one Tbsp per cup).


bee said...

have you tried adding some lemongrass to chai? it goes really well with the ginger.

Cannelle Et Vanille said...

I have to admit I am not very familiar with Indian cuisine. I have tried but I"m still far from mastering it. These photos are so inspiring that makes me want to try it. I will have to see if our Whole Foods carries the ingredients. That's as exotic as we get here in Palm Beach County.

Anonymous said...

Simply beautiful photos! Thanks for the reminder about the Click event - I voted.

Deborah said...

I really wish I had an Indian grocer near, because this sounds delicious!

Sabra said...

That sounds good, Bee.
Aran: I am not familiar with cooking Indian cuisine either (although very fond of Indian food). It's something I would definitely like to know more about. There are a couple Indian cookbooks on my wish list.
Deborah - if you were so inclined, you could certainly mail order. The place I get my Indian goods from in NY, for example, will ship. Take a look here.
I think all you would need is the Poha (flattened rice - the thick kind), the curry leaves, and the asafoetida. The rest I imagine you can find easily enough near you.

Anonymous said...

Your Blog is becoming more useful and more fantastic with each posting.


Special K

MPG said...

As I commented on your Flickr've really made it look charming...I don't remember Poha looking so beautiful. Well done!

Anonymous said...

Just lovely, I'm ready to expand my breakfast horizons. Plus, how can you resist a required trip to a NYC spice emporium?

Gigi said...

Thank you for the chai recipe, it sounds super tasty. I love Indian food but have never prepared it at home. I'll have to give this try.

Amanda said...

I am a frequent visitor to your blog and love your posts. When I saw this particular recipe, I just had to comment!

I am American, but my boyfriend is from India, so I am very familiar with this dish--it's probably our favorite breakfast (we also add cauliflower, and just boil it separately). As you mentioned, the dish may be intimidating to try, but it's so worth it! Everytime my mom comes to visit, this is her first request.

And once you have a bag of poha, the possiblities are endless. You can fry it for a snack, or make a sweet dessert with coconut and raisins. I encourage everyone to give it a try!

thanks again for the post,

RecipeGirl said...

Great photographs!

I've not heard of flattened rice. Something to look for!

Anonymous said...


I have very much enjoy your blog. I wanted to thank you for your excellent and inspiring work by passing on a nomination for "E is for Excellent".

Great work! Thank you,


Sabra said...

Thanks Mango Power Girl!
Thanks for stopping by, Gigi.
Thanks so much sweet tooth - I haven't heard of that - I'll have to go google that now. I really appreciate the nomination, that means a lot to me - thank you!
Amanda: That is THE nicest comment - I've read it several times, you made my day! I am so happy that this recipe has personal meaning for you and it's really nice to hear that you and your boyfriend share this together and cook it for your mom! I like your ideas. I also think a friend egg on top might be nice. I will definitely keep experimenting with this one. Thanks again.
Thanks for your comments "fan" and recipe girl.

Marianna said...

Hi Sabra,
I tend to comment more on your flickr stream then here on your blog. Anyway, I was just passing through scrolling through your wonderful posts and beautiful blog. I really have to say once again that I have such a great admiration for your photos, they kind of take a different dimension here on your blog! You are so bloody talented- that is basically what I wanted to say!!

Cate Bruce-Low said...

wow! so beautiful! i will try making the poha this weekend...and put a link to this recipe on my blog. thanks. it looks so delicious.

Joyti said...

I've never thought of adding black peppercorn + fennel to my chai, sounds great though. My family usually uses cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, lots of ginger, and sometimes fresh lemongrass.

Unknown said...


Being an Indian, I never tried making poha. I loved your poha receipe and the picture so much that i went ahead and tried making it. It turned out to be amazing and everyone in my family liked it.

Thank you,


denathequeena said...

I lived in India for a while several years ago, and poha was my absolute favorite breakfast dish, and I have made it many times since returning to the states. Friends and family have always loved it, too, so be encouraged to try it if you're not already! Two toppings that I really like to put on (in addition to those listed here) are fresh chopped tomatoes and bombay mix of some kind (a mix of spicy/salty/sweet fried deliciousness... google it). Also, in India people it is not uncommon for people to pour a little chai onto their poha and eat the two combined!! YUM... I think I'll make some for breakfast tomorrow :)

Post a Comment

Thank you for submitting a comment. I love, love reading your comments - they motivate and inspire me. Typically I try to come back and respond to your comment. Forgive me if occasionally I don't. Thanks for dropping by! (p.s. please don't leave marketing messages here)