For the second feature of my blog series ‘Melting Pot’ , I’ve interviewed my childhood friends’ mother, Mrs Meena Newaskar, who was kind enough to share the recipe for her daughter’s (my friend Neeti) favourite – Sabudana Khichdi and how she learnt to create this popular breakfast and snack originating from Maharashtra.
Sabudana, also known as Tapioca Sago, is obtained from filtering and roasting globules of tapioca (cassava) root milk extract. Though indigenous to South America, it was brought over to the rest of the world by Portuguese explorers. It is similar in appearance to palm sago, which is made from the starch extracted from various palm stems and used in many Southeast Asian desserts, but tapioca sago is usually slightly larger in size.
Aunty Meena learnt how to make Sabudana Khichdi from her mother-in-law in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. She added that being a Goan Saraswat Brahmin (a smaller group of Brahmins who, unlike other Lacto-Vegetarian Brahmins, consume fish due to their proximity to the coast) meant that her family was not strict with observing the various Hindu fasting occasions. However, after she got married at 19, she had to learn all about the various observances from her mother-in-law and part of that included learning how to cook the different dishes predominantly eaten when one is fasting. Fasting in Hindu culture is very common practice and is observed during religious festivals like Mahasivarathri , Ganesh Chathurthi, before Diwali and on specific days each week.
In Hinduism, fasting is a way of spiritual and physical purification and it usually last for the period between sunrise and sunset. On special occasions, abstinence from food is necessary but on weekly fasts, the consumption of fruits and roots is accepted but grains, lentils, beans and allium vegetables are avoided. Sabudana is hence eaten on fasting days as it’s made from tapioca root, light on the stomach, can be prepared quickly and adheres to the rules for fasting.
To prepare the dish, Aunty Meena emphasises that the most important step in this dish is to properly rehydrate the sabudhana pearls – too much water and they disintegrate when cooked and too little water makes them hard and very chewy. She first rinses the pearls and submerges them in a container of water for about 30 minutes until they double in volume and then she drains most of the water out with a partially covered lid over the container. The tapioca pearls are just slightly damp and not fully submerged in water and they are left to fully rehydrate overnight. The pearls are ready to be cooked when they are soft, light and a little bouncy when you try to squeeze them between your fingers and turn from translucent to opaque and milky-white in colour.
To begin, Aunty Meena adds most of the ground peanuts, a little salt and sugar to the rehydrated tapioca pearls and gently mixes them. Then, she proceeds to heat a large pan over a medium flame with a few tablespoons of coconut oil and tempers the cumin seeds and cut chillies until they are aromatic. Tempering whole spices and chillies in hot oil draws out the flavours from the added ingredients and carries through their flavour throughout the dish. Once the spices are added to the hot oil, they should sizzle (like shown in the photo below) and splutter immediately. In a simple dish like Sabudana Khichdi where very few ingredients are used, tempering is an essential step to add some much needed flavour and aroma.
Aunty Meena watches her pan carefully so as not to burn the cumin seeds and soon as we could smell the earthy aroma of cumin she adds the pre-cooked potato pieces. In an instant, she gives them a quick stir before adding the bouncy, little tapioca pearls all at once.
At this stage, all we need to do is to cook the tapioca pearls for about 10 minutes or so. Stir occasionally to prevent clumping as each pearl should be separate. The sabudana khichdi is ready when the pearls turn translucent again. Just before serving, while it’s still hot, squeeze some fresh lime juice, add remainder of crushed peanuts and chopped coriander leaves and toss.
I had never eaten this dish before and having Aunty Meena make this for me made it extra special and memorable. She shares that this dish reminds her of her daughter a lot as it is her favourite since young and now even her son-in-law enjoys it. I’ve had several meals made by Aunty Meena over the years as I’ve come over and stayed over at her then-house in Yishun and by far this is one of the most memorable meals I’ve had. Each mouthful reminded me of Pad Thai albeit it did not have any meat in it. It was fresh, slightly sweet from the sugar, sour from the lime, spicy from the chillies and infinitely moorish – I couldn’t stop eating! Definitely a kid-friendly dish if you remove the chillies before serving and a treat for the kid inside all of us. The soft and slightly chewy texture of the tapioca pearls make it fun to it and they’re a lot like the large tapioca pearls in the Taiwanese bubble tea drinks. I kid you not – I’ve followed Aunty Meena’s instructions and tried my hand at making this for breakfast and it turned almost exactly like the one she’d made for the other day. Ever since that, I’ve made it a few more times as it’s so simple to make and comforting to eat. Who doesn’t want comfort food that can easily be customised – add green chillies instead of red for milder heat, ginger-garlic paste for more depth of flavour or even some peas or cubed carrots ? The ground peanuts is not optional (unless you’re allergic to them!) as they give the dish texture and a lovely nutty flavour that contrasts so well with the fresh lime and coriander.
Aunty Meena had her friend Shobha Singh over that day and we ate several dishes they’d both made for lunch. It was such a treat to learn from doyens of regional Indian cooking and savour their amazingly delicious and vegetarian homemade treats.
Normally made from rice and lentils, kichdi refers to a style of preparation and is a quick an easy meal, one pot meal made throughout many Indian homes. It inspired the Anglo-Indian – Kedgeree and this only goes to show the versatility of this dish. Try this simple gluten-free, vegan tapioca pearl version for yourself and you’ll quickly learn what a comforting treat it is.
Aunty Meena's Sabudana Khichdi (Savoury Tapioca Sago)
- 2 cups sabudana (tapioca sago) , soaked for 5-8 hrs
- 2-3 small potatoes, recooked and cut into small pieces
- about 1 – 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp fine sugar
- 3/4 – 1 cup toasted and coarsely ground peanuts
- 2-4 tbsp ghee / cold-pressed coconut oil
- 1-2 red thai chillies / green spur chillies , roughly chopped
- 1- 1 1/2 cumin seeds
- freshly squeezed lime juice from 1/2 a lime
- grated fresh coconut
- finely chopped coriander leaves
- more toasted, ground peanuts
- Rinse tapioca pearls throughly in tap water and completely submerge them in water. Soak for 30 mins till they’ve doubled in volume. Drain most of the water out and leave to completely rehydrate for 5-12 hours. (refer to description in post)
- Just before cooking, gently mix the rehydrated pearls with salt, sugar and ground peanuts.
- In a wide pan, heat oil till hot. Add cut chillies and cumin seeds till aromatic. Add potatoes and soaked pearls. Sauté. cover and cook till pearls turn translucent.
- Check for seasoning. Add garnish and squeeze of lime. Serve.
The sabudana khichdi and dahi wada we had for lunch that day. Such a delight for the senses! I could swim in that delicious yoghurt sauce !