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 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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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