One of our all time favourite dinners growing up was undoubtedly the sandhagai. I’m not sure if my mother was aware of this but this simple dinner never ceased to fascinate me no matter how many times it was served during the course of my childhood.The reason for my fascination was how one ingredient could be cooked in so many ways that it not only tasted different but was served in an array of colours.
We each had our favourites.The one with the sweet tooth loved the thin soft strands best when tossed through with grated coconut,ghee and sugar.My tastes vacillated between the pale yellow lemon sandhagai and the vibrant red thakkali sandhagai ,while Dad just had to finish the meal with the creamy thayir sandhagai with it’s crunchy tempering of lentils,mustard seeds and a bite of heat from the dried red chilly.
The flour for these string hoppers was always made at home and it was fun to have a turn squeezing the last roll of dough through the wooden hand press.It was a memory that came back to me a few weeks ago when chancing upon my idiappam presses during a routine cleaning of my store room.
I must confess that sandhagai dinners are not as frequent these days as when my kids were younger simply because of failing to remember to make a batch of the rice flour ahead of time. Somehow the commercially available flours don’t hold much appeal especially having made the decision to go back to eating hand pounded organic rice.
But when the sandhagai dinner craving hit ,something had to be done. A quick search in the neighbourhood organic shops yielded just what we needed.The packet of flour read ‘Pandaiya gramiya gudisai thozhlil’ (village small scale industries initiative) consisting of hand pounded rice, roasted and made into flour using traditional methods.
The colour was more of a dull ivory than the blinding white of refined rice flour.The instructions couldn’t have been simpler. ‘Add a cup of hot water to a cup of rice flour and stir vigorously’.The warm pasty dough came together quickly with a bit of arm action and was ready for the fun part ,that of squeezing through the tiny holes of the perforated brass disc at the bottom of the wooden hand press. We also added a quarter tea spoon of cold pressed coconut oil to the dough so that it comes away without sticking too much to the sides of the container. It helps to grease the palms and the insides of the press in a similar manner.
Soon we were hand a pile of soft steaming idiappams on the fresh banana leaf.Of course I got my kids involved in the process and they enjoyed it every bit as I do even today.
Then came the decision of what flavours to add.In addition to the usual tomato,lemon and tamarind ,my mother would at times make a few different savoury versions. Keeping that in mind,seeing that we had some fresh country corn at home,it was boiled and added to chopped green capsicum and small cubes of paneer,cooked with onion and spices .It offered a great contrast to the thin tomato flavoured strands of idiappam. Also known as Kothu idiappam ,this is a great meal to have at any time of the day and one that is most satisfying too.
Buying flour that has not been subject to a refining process and going through the rest of the cooking process at home is a great way of keeping alive traditional practices that are beneficial to health. Breakfast the next morning,by popular demand was idiappam served whole with a side of coconut milk / ghee and jaggery.
The versatile nature of most wholesome Indian carbs has a lot to do with the requirement of coming up with dishes that were designed to suit the needs of a hungry family from one meal to the next while still managing to keep the grocery expenses to a minimum.
The soft noodle like texture of the idiappam tastes just as great infused with thai flavours;coconut milk, lemon grass, turmeric, garlic , chilli etc or with another family specialty,tossed with minced meat and egg. Steamed dinner options don’t really have to be bland and boring now do they ?!
Source for hand pounded Idiappam flour
Iyal organic store
N 13 ,50 feet road,
Ph# 98427 01946