Making Indian rice noodles from scratch sounds, at first, like a daunting task. Actually they are easier to make than wheat pasta! Just a few special items are needed in your kitchen: a special press, a steamer, some muscle and some friends.

 

Homemade Indian rice noodles

Homemade Indian rice noodles

 

Equipment

A special press is required to make Indian rice  noodles, whether it is rice, wheat or lentil flour based and it has many different names: sev sancha, sevai press, murukku press, noodle press, shavige press, and, perhaps, many other names. Many different varieties are available. From the original ones with a wooden plunger that is pressed through a brass tube, to the brass or stainless steel ones that use a crank to push the plunger and the modern steel ones with a trigger to push the plunger. I have seen photos of one model that rests on a stand that, I
think, would make the noodle pressing process easier. Most of the various presses come with several discs with different size holes that can be inserted into the tube to make different sizes and shapes of noodles or sev snacks. You cannot go wrong with any of these options.

Ingredients for Indian rice noodles and noodle press.

Ingredients for Indian rice noodles and noodle press.

 

 

I have a simple steel sev noodle mold with a crank. It is inexpensive and is readily available online. I looked at several local Indian grocery stores that carry basic kitchen equipment but could not find one. I quickly gave up and ordered one online from Om India Plaza at Amazon.com. It arrived very quickly and the company was very helpful.

 

The second item that is needed is a steamer, electric or stovetop. I use an electric steamer with removable trays but any method, including a basket in a pan on the stove works just as well.

 

Tips

When making the noodle dough it must be kneaded after the rice flour and hot water have been stirred together. Let it cool a bit first so you can handle the dough easily. It takes a few minutes to get the right consistency of dough. It cannot be too soft or runny and it cannot too tough or hard. If it is very firm like Play Doh, it will not extrude through the press very easily so mix in a bit more hot water so it is flexible. If it is too soft, knead about a tablespoon of rice flour into the dough to make it firmer.

 

Dough and press for Indian rice noodles.

Dough and press for Indian rice noodles.

 

Spray the inside of the press with a bit of oil so the dough does not stick. Take care not to get oil on the outside of the tube as it will be very difficult to hold when you are turning the crank to extrude the noodles.

 

Indian rice noodles ready to be steamed.

Indian rice noodles ready to be steamed.

 

The most important part of making good rice noodles is to have some fun with it. I always make them when my kids are home to help mix and knead the dough. They love to squeeze the dough through the press and make creative piles of noodles. Once the noodles have been steamed, they tend to sample more noodles than they leave for serving at mealtime. I can’t complain because we have so much fun together.

 

Check out my recipes for Sevai and Idiyappam.

 

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This month I thought I would focus on two of my favorite recipes using rice noodles that are most popular in my household. They are very simple dishes but very tasty.

 

Technically Sevaka (Malayalam), or Sevai (Tamil), is considered a Tiffin, an afternoon snack that is served with tea and, of course, coconut chutney on the side. It can be served any time of the day but I prefer it for breakfast since it has a very mild flavor. It is also fantastic as a main item or as a side dish instead of rice for a simple meal of dal with rice. I serve it as often as I can because I feel as though I am making something special instead of plain rice.

 

Sevai or Sevaka is a popular rice noodle dish in South India.

Sevai or Sevaka is a popular rice noodle dish in South India.


 

Sevai are thin rice noodles that are pressed, steamed and then broken into bits before they are seasoned with urad dal, mustard seeds, dried red chilies and curry leaves that have been fried in a little bit of oil. The best part of making this dish is that there is two ways to make it:

 

  • Easy – Use store bought rice noodles that you simply boil. They can be found at any Indian grocery store and are very inexpensive.
  • Authentic – Make your own rice noodles from scratch using rice flour. Making the dough takes very little time but the process involves several steps. (This is a great weekend activity.)

 

The basic recipe for Sevai can be changed for variety by adding different ingredients, including: tomatoes, coconut, lemon juice, peanuts, cashews, green chiles and spices. Adding jaggery (or brown sugar), ghee or melted butter, coconut, cardamom and raisins, a simple but delicious dessert can be made with minimal effort.

 

Idiyappam (Malayalam) and Noolputtu (Tamil) is a side dish served instead of rice with a curry since it doesn’t have any seasonings or spices. Idiyappam are thin rice noodles that are pressed into Idli molds with grated coconut then steamed. They make a beautiful presentation when many of them are arranged on a plate when served.  They are often called string hoppers because they do, in fact, look like small piles of string. I love to serve them with Malabar Egg Curry or any spicy curry and coconut chutney.

 

Idiyappam or Noolputtu are popular rice noodles in south India.

Idiyappam or Noolputtu are popular rice noodles in south India.

 

Try these recipes soon! They are some of the first Indian dishes my children loved because they weren’t hot and the tiny noodles were fun to pick up and eat with their fingers. Enjoy!

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A few weeks ago I craved a dish that I had banned from my table while I was on a diet last year – Sevai. A very simple dish made with rice noodles, it is easy to make in very little time and disappears quickly. Since I was limiting my intake of rice- and wheat-based carbs, I tried to exclude recipes with these ingredients for the longest time. The result is that I am now craving this tasty dish. Guess what we are having for dinner tonight…

 

In thinking about noodles and Indian food I realized that they play a very important role in this diverse and mature cuisine. In fact they have been part of regional Indian cuisine for over two thousand years in some form or the other. Made with rice, wheat, lentils or cornstarch they are served as a very simple dish or part of something more elaborate, at any meal as a snack, a side dish or even a dessert. The best part of Indian noodles is they are as much fun to make as they are to eat.

Rice Noodles

Rice noodles are found in many Indian snacks, or tiffins. A very simple dough is made with soaked rice that is then ground or rice flour that is roasted, and then mixed with water. A special press is used to make these noodles. Kachi’s mother had an antique brass one with a wooden handle that you would press to extrude the noodles. Mine is stainless steel and looks like a cookie press or a pepper mill with a crank on the top to lower the plunger. Inside the press is an interchangeable disk that gives the noodles different shapes.

 

Idiyappam or Noolputtu are popular rice noodles in south India.

Idiyappam or Noolputtu are popular rice noodles in south India.

Idiyappam (Malayalam) and Noolputtu (Tamil) are small piles of thin rice noodles that are steamed with a bit of grated coconut and served as a snack with Egg Curry and Coconut Chutney. In Kerala, these tasty morsels are considered to be similar to the Appam that looks like a rice pancake.

 

Sevaka (Malayalam) and Sevai (Tamil) are similar thin rice noodles that are pressed, steamed and then broken into bits before they are seasoned with mustard seeds, dried red chilies, urad dal and curry leaves that have been fried in a bit of oil. Some recipes call for the dough to be steamed before the noodles are extruded through the press. I cannot detect a difference in taste so I follow the recipe from my mother-in-law.

 

Wheat Noodles

Needle-thin noodles made from wheat are found across India in side dishes and desserts. In all of the research I have done, I haven’t found that people make these noodles at home but buy them ready-made. They are so delicate that they make any dish special.

 

Vermacelli noodles made from wheat are popular in Uppuma and Payasam.

Vermacelli noodles made from wheat are popular in Uppuma and Payasam.

 

Vermicelli Uppuma is one of the tastiest dishes in all of Indian cooking. The lightly browned noodles that have been fried in ghee then boiled are mixed with a tasty assortment of vegetables and seasoned with mustard seeds, urad dal, Bengal gram dal, cashew nuts and curry leaves. It is perfect for a quick weeknight dinner or a weekend lunch.

 

Semiya (Vermicelli) Payasam is the most popular desert in South India with the delicate wheat noodles lightly fried in butter before adding them to the sweet payasam spiced with cardamom, raisins and nuts. It is served for the most important dinners including birthdays, anniversaries and other important events.

Lentil Noodles

Sev are noodles made from chickpea flour, extruded through the press with the smallest holes into hot oil and deep-fried to become a crunchy treat. Many varieties are available with different spices and ingredients added to give them unique flavors. Varieties of sev with different seasonings are incorporated into many Indian snack foods like mixture and dal mooth. Sev noodles are also sprinkled on top of papadi as a garnish for chaat and other North Indian street food recipes. Word of warning: These are so delicious that they are addictive and can lead to weight gain. I confess that I love these snacks and eat them too often!

 

Simply changing the disk in the press from the one with tiny holes to one with wide slits or the one with a star shape creates entirely different noodles. South Indian snacks Murukkus and Pokavada are made with a combination of rice and one or more of the following lentil flours: green gram dal, urad dal and Bengal gram dal. Ribbon pokavada are small strips of fried dough seasoned with red chili powder and asafetida. They look just like FRITOS® Corn Chips except they are crunchier and taste far less salty or greasy. Many different recipes exist for Murukkus; mine are made by mixing rice with various lentils, grinding them and adding cumin seeds or asafetida for flavor.

 

Noodles made with lentil or dal flour are fried for popular Indian snacks.

Noodles made with lentil or dal flour are fried for popular Indian snacks.

Fried noodle snacks can be made at home as part of a weekend family activity, however, every Indian grocery store has a full aisle dedicated in Indian snack foods (just like the potato chip aisle at Wal-Mart) with many brands and varieties available. I find that even though I did not include any snack food on my grocery list, several bags of these snacks land in my cart each time I visit the store. The best ones in the world can be found at Grand Snacks in Chennai, India.

 

Cornstarch Noodles

The fourth variety of noodles is made from cornstarch that gives the noodles a transparent appearance. The method for making these noodles is different from the other processes in that the dough is heated during the preparation process and then pushed through the press into a cold-water bath. Since this type of noodle is used in Falooda, a popular drink in India, sugar is added. (Look for more information on Falooda in a post in a few weeks.) Sometimes arrowroot, a starch extracted from a rhizome and available in Indian grocery stores, is used instead of cornstarch to make these noodles.

 

Noodles made with cornstarch make delicate noodles for the Indian sweet, Falooda.

Noodles made with cornstarch make delicate noodles for the Indian sweet, Falooda.

 

In my next post, I will share my recipes for Sevai and Idyappam which are fantastic as main items for breakfast or late afternoon snack, or as a side dish instead of rice with any simple meal with dal. Enjoy!

 

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My time in Calicut drew to an end far too quickly. On our final evening in Calicut, we walked along the boardwalk
that was filled with other families doing the same thing. Several years ago a huge investment had been made in this area with benches, beautiful lighting and a long pier out into the water. Unfortunately over time many of the lights have been broken and the boardwalk shows its wear. I hope that it will be repaired before my next visit.

 


 

The girls I met exuded an excitement that eclipsed the worn, tired boardwalk. They were happy and dancing around without a care in the world. When the group came over to talk to me, each wanted to hold my hand and ask me questions. They were such nice children. I tried to take their photo so I could remember them always but, unfortunately, I wasn’t proficient enough with night photography to capture them well.

 


 

I left Kerala with memories of meeting some of the friendliest people on the planet. Everywhere went both children and adults smiled and waved to me. The children wanted to talk to me (I think they wanted to practice their English with me) and have me take photos of them. I find it funny that these kids wanted to pose for photos they most likely will never see. Their parents were a little more reserved; when I smiled at them, they always offered a huge smile in return.

 


 

Next, I headed to Chennai…

 

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I was recently asked to write a post about South India for an Indian travel blog. I chose my favorite state to visit – Kerala, God’s own country. I hope you enjoy reading it!
 

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I picked a recipe this month that follows along with my trip to India, a Palghat Kofta Curry recipe. While visiting my husband’s cousin in Palghat, Chitra and her mother, Akka, treated us to a delicious luncheon. I noticed that Chitra was eyeing me, as I tasted her Kofta Curry. The kofta, or vegetable balls, were tender and full of flavor, and the curry in which they were served was rich and full of spice (not hot at all). I thought that the flavor of the curry was familiar but I couldn’t place it. Finally, Chitra told me that the kofta were made of cabbage instead of potato and the curry was the one from my Egg Curry recipe. I was impressed because I am trying to limit starches and increase vegetables in my diet. It was absolutely delicious!

We decided that the recipe should be called Palghat Kofta Curry in honor of the region in which Chitra lives.

The recipe is prepared in two parts: the kofta and the curry. First the vegetables are cooked and mashed, the spices ground, and the kofta are formed then fried. The curry is much easier to make by making a base of ground shallots and spices then adding onions, tomato and coconut milk to form the gravy.

 

Palghat Kofta Curry is a healthy vegetarian recipe from India.

Palghat Kofta Curry is a healthy vegetarian recipe from India.

 

This Indian recipe for Palghat Kofta Curry is exquisite and suitable for any dinner party at which you want to impress your guests.

 

Thank you, Chitra, for introducing me to this delightful recipe!

 

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One occasionally reads about Indian festivals at which people dress in costumes, musicians play traditional elephants and huge decorated elephants march majestically down the street. I was always impressed by these stories and the photos that accompanied them but, never in my wildest dreams, thought I would find myself in the middle of one, or two.

 

The drive to Palakkad from Calicut was supposed to take four hours so I sat back in my seat for a long drive through small towns and farmland. After a pleasant ride I saw the strangest thing – an elephant climbing out of the back of a truck. What? I asked the driver to stop so I could watch for a few minutes. After at least 20 or 30 photos, I got back in the car so we could get to Palakkkad.

 

Unloading an elephant from a truck.

Unloading an elephant from a truck.


 
A few minutes later three of these dramatic tuskers in formal parade regalia walked by our car on their way to the local temple. Apparently the Mannarghat/Karimba Temple was holding its annual Ayeppam “Utsaram” Festival. Many people were accompanying the elephants to the temple while more awaited their arrival in the temple yard. As the elephants entered, they were greeted by a group of men dressed in white dhoti and playing various drums and horns.  I made my way to the back of the musicians and enjoyed the sights and sounds. I was amazed at the wondrous sights and sounds. After the performance ended I walked back to our car in a daze.

 

Elephants near Palghat are ready for the festival to begin.

Elephants near Palghat are ready for the festival to begin.



I thought my day had been made: Kerala temple festival, traditional music, and three caparisoned elephants on parade! I was very happy as we made our way to Palakkad. I have to confess that we were running a bit late but the traffic did back up due to the reasons I listed above; I wasn’t the only spectator.

 

After a delightful visit and delicious luncheon, we headed back to our hotel in Calicut only to have one more unsurpassable elephant encounter…

 

Half way back to Calicut the traffic on the main road (only one lane in each direction) came to a complete stop. Our wonderfully patient driver told me there was another festival ahead and the car would be stuck for a while. My husband and I jumped out of the car and joined all of the people walking toward the action. As we approached, the sides of the road were lined with vendors selling snacks and trinkets. People were dancing in the street wearing colorful headdresses and costumes; percussionists dressed in white kasavu mundu (traditional garb) played and danced. Hundreds of others watched the excitement with their children.
  

Drummers playing traditional music before the festival.

Drummers playing traditional music before the festival.


 
Soon the main attraction arrived. Yes, you guessed it, elephants. All of them were males with huge, magnificent tusks. This time, eight huge caparisoned elephants marched their way down the street toward the temple. Apparently it is a really big deal to have so many elephants at one event. Some of them are owned by temples, others owned privately. Elephant owners are proud to lend their animals and keepers for the day.
  

Caparisoned elephants are ready for their parade near Palghat.

Caparisoned elephants are ready for their parade near Palghat.

 

 

After the elephants passed by on their way to the Temple Utsavam, young men brought out their stereos and loud speakers loaded in the back of their trucks so dancing in the street could begin. One thing I noticed was how friendly the people were and how they wanted to include me in their celebration. Everyone was so excited by the celebration that the police had a challenge to control the crowds and get the traffic moving again. It took a while for our driver to get to us but we finally found him and headed back to the hotel.

 

 

I had a full day, visiting relatives and three pachyderm sightings in different locations along the Palakkad Highway. I wonder if I had seen some of the same elephants in multiple locations or if I had really seen 12 different elephants. I guess I will never know the answer – it is one of the mysteries of life.

 

 

What an amazing day!



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Palakkad is a town in central Kerala of about 3 million people situated in a gap in the Western Ghats where my mother-in-law’s sister lives with her family. My initial impression Palakkad is that it was a small town. With just a few tall buildings in the central part of town and shops and houses spread out from there, it retains a small town feel.

 

 

 

Since we were in Kerala, we thought we would stop by for a visit. We were welcomed with a magnificent and delicious lunch. My cousin-in-law, Chitra, served us a new dish she had created which we decided should be called Malabar Kofta. She made cabbage kofta (vegetable dumplings) and served them in a tomato and onion curry. I was impressed with her creativity in combining some of my favorite flavors into one dish. I plan on trying to replicate her recipe as my next Recipe of the Month.

 

 

 Oldest Jain temple in Kerala

After lunch, Chitra and I took a walk after our huge feast. Right over their back fence is the oldest Jain temple in Kerala. Built 500 years ago, Digambara Jain Temple is a small and simple structure with some beautiful carvings in the granite columns and unadorned walls. Compared to most Hindu temples that are huge, this one is an intimate 20 x 30 feet in size. The temple is reaching the end of a multiyear renovation project and the idols have been removed for safekeeping. I was lucky to have Chitra with me who knows the groundskeeper and the pujari (the lovely lady who says pujas, or prayers, at the temple) who showed me the beautiful idols. I was greatly moved by their kindness to a stranger.
 

Digambara Jain Temple in Kerala is undergoing restorations.

Digambara Jain Temple in Kerala is undergoing restorations.

 

Palakkad Fort

All too soon, our visit had to end. From the Jainmedu area in Palakkad where Chitra lives, we stopped by an authentic fort before heading back to our hotel. The Palakkad Fort, was built by Haider Ali in the 18th Century, is located right in the center of Palakkad. It was originally named, Tipu Sultan’s Fort, which is the name of the builder’s son. Surrounded by a moat that once upon a time boasted crocodiles, it is one of the best-maintained forts in Southern India. The outside granite wall rises to a very tall height and was certainly impenetrable to invaders.  The interior buildings are in immaculate with the original carvings still clearly visible. Green grass and flowers dominate the ground inside. Today a jail is housed inside the fort.
 


 

Old Palakkad Fort

Old Palakkad Fort

 

 

One would think that I’ve had a very full day. Wait! There is more action and excitement on our way back to the
hotel.
 

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One of the things I had hoped to see was an elephant, up close and personal. During our drive out to Wayanad, we made a brief stop at Pookot Lake. Like most scenic parks, it had picnic tables, a playground and boating on the small lake. The park offered a unique feature: elephant rides.

 

 

 

Elephant ride at Pookot Lake in Wayanad.

Elephant ride at Pookot Lake in Wayanad.

As we walked around the lake to the ride, we noticed that no one was in line and there was no elephant. I was really sad because I wanted to play tourist and have my picture taken on the elephant so I could post it on Facebook and brag about my out-of-this-world trip. Our driver asked the park employees what happened to the elephant. He was told she had the day off. If I had been 5 years old, I would have cried and had a tantrum.

 

 

 

While walking back to the car, our driver made a few discrete phone calls. We left the park to head to our next stop. He told me that he knew where the elephant was – she had the day off and was having a bath in a nearby river. We immediately headed for the river. We left the car and walked through a soccer field down to the river and there she was!

 

 

 

My elephant, named Roopa, was eating a snack of leaves and playing in the water! When her keepers saw me, they yelled out to Roopa a command (in Malayalam since that is the only language she knows) to spray herself with water. I started snapping photos as quickly as I could. When the keepers realized that the bank was too steep for me to climb any closer, they walked her over to me. I stepped to the river’s edge and was able to pet and talk with my new friend.

 

 

Roopa plays in the river at Wayanad, Kerala.

Roopa plays in the river at Wayanad, Kerala.

Since I was too busy playing with Roopa, the driver and my husband had to take the photos. I had the time of my life! I didn’t get to ride her but I had a personal audience with a beautiful 20-year-old elephant named Roopa.

 


 

Ann Vinod and Roopa

Ann Vinod and Roopa

 

 

As we headed back for the hotel in Calicut, I decided this was definitely one day that I will remember for many years to come. Next stop: Palakkad to visit relatives and check out the oldest Jain temple in Kerala and a fort with a moat.
 
 

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Wayanad is a beautiful hill station in the Western Ghats Mountains of Kerala. This area is known for its beautiful greenery and perfect climate. Many people come to see the dramatic waterfalls and caves. With many wildlife sanctuaries, visitors are drawn here to see many different species of animals. It is a very pleasant place to live or visit since it is so quiet and peaceful. 

 

With just one day planned for our visit to Wayanad we had to spend our time wisely. We hired a driver who knew this area very well. He found everything I had on my list to see. His knowledge of tea, coffee, spices, produce and everything Kerala was very impressive. We drove up into the mountains that were covered with a light mist that made the trip more amazing and mysterious.

 

A beautiful morning from the top of the Ghat Mountains in Wayanad, Kerala, India.

A beautiful morning from the top of the Ghat Mountains in Wayanad, Kerala, India.

 

Tea plantation

Our first stop was at the Ripon Tea Estate.  We arrived just as the crew of women harvesters was finishing their morning work. Apparently, tea can only be picked in the early morning and the late afternoon when the juices in the leaves are at their peak. The women pick only the top two bright green leaves and the tiny bud of new growth as they are the most tender. These leaves are collected in mesh bags that are carried back to the central loading dock on top of their heads. Each bag is weighed and then loaded on to a truck so the tealeaves taken to the factory to be processed and aged.

 

Freshly picked tea leaves in Wayanad, Kerala.

Freshly picked tea leaves in Wayanad, Kerala.

 

 

Professional tea pickers have just finished their morning work.

Professional tea pickers have just finished their morning work.

Tea bushes are about 2 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide. They are planted close together with just enough room between them for the women who harvest this precious crop to pass between them. Fields of tea plants run up and down the hills of the Western Ghats for drainage. The green fields are absolutely gorgeous as the elevation changes. As a farm manager, I have to admit this is just as beautiful as an Iowa cornfield in July.

 

Tea bushes grow up the hills in Waynad.

Tea bushes grow up the hills in Waynad.

 

Coffee plantation

Our next stop was a coffee plantation. The Cottanad Plantation was situated on hillsides to allow the rain from the monsoons to run off and not swamp the trees. 

 

Entrance to the Cottanad Coffee Plantation

Entrance to the Cottanad Coffee Plantation

 

The plants grow to a height of about 10 feet. One thing I noticed right away is that several types of trees, including spices and palm trees, grew right along side the coffee trees. At first glance one would think that various seeds were mixed together when the trees were planted but that is not correct. It was intentional. The intermixing of trees of various heights and the shade they offer, do two things. First, the flavor of the coffee beans is enhanced when planted by spice trees. Second, planting under the canopy of taller trees creates shade that improves the yield of the coffee fruit. When the coffee plant fruit turns red (after 7 or 8 months) it is time for them to be picked by hand as they are gathered in buckets and then taken to the factory where they are dried in the sun before they are roasted.

 

Coffee tree with its fruit ready to be harvested.

Coffee tree with its fruit ready to be harvested.


So much of the land in Wayanad is under production with coffee, tea and spices that it is absolutely stunning.

 

The next stop: Meeting Roopa. 

 

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