The Indian cuisine uses rice in many forms: breads, savory and sweet preparations, soups, pilafs, and more. To create them, there are many different grocery shelf products: flour, par-cooked, raw, halved, whole, puffed, beaten / flattened and others. Puffed rice and poha (पोहा) are two unique types of rice products that most Indian homes consider as staple pantry items. They can be fixed up several different ways in a jiffy, are light on the stomach and manage to produce delicious treats, like this Poha.
According to the Directorate of Rice Development in India, there are literally several hundred varieties and strains of rice grown, just in India. Small farmers choose rice strains particularly suited to their local micro-climate, water and soil, making each crop unique. Many of them have to husk and polish their crop before they sell it to local grocers, so some of them just sell it to their local poha and puffed rice mills instead (i.e those that convert raw rice into poha or puffed rice) to save on processing costs.
Traditionally, these mills are family run small-scale industries that rely heavily on relationships with local farmers, and offer products made from locally grown rice. Just like a local bakery, a small scale Poha mill can be spotted from the end of the block as the warm sweet fragrance of a freshly made batch of Poha can make you hungry in an instant. To make Poha from raw rice, it is first parboiled while still in its husk, flattened and roasted to remove the husk and then allowed to dry. In doing so, much of the nutrient value of the rice is retained.
Such small scale Poha mills help preserve the local economy and rice flavors, and often create two varieties of poha – thick or thin poha depending on how much they are flattened and what they are intended for. So, if you are traveling in rural India, pick up a pound of Poha from the local mill, you will be amazed at the subtle variations of flavor, all found in the simple flakes of poha.
This particular preparation of Poha is frequently served as breakfast, for brunch even as a quick snack for an impromptu guest. Serve it with a side of piping hot masala cha or coffee.
Note: Poha can refer to the shelf product, as well as the prepared dish. Some folks differentiate between them by using the word poha for the product, and the word pohey (पोहे) for the prepared dish.
There are several kinds of poha available in most urban grocery stores, including thick poha, thin poha, nylon poha (super thin), basmati poha (made from basmati rice), as well as red poha (made from particular varieties of short grain rice). This recipe requires thick poha.
Makes: Twelve 3 oz servings
Diet: Vegetarian, Gluten-free
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
2 tblsp oil
2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 large red onion, finely diced
2 medium potatoes, skinned, finely diced, see prep note
1 cup golden corn kernels, see prep note
1” ginger, finely minced
10-12 fresh curry leaves
1 jalapeño deseeded and finely diced, optional
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Pinch of asafetida
1/2 or more tsp cayenne pepper powder, optional
4 cups thick poha, see prep note
Salt, to taste
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
2 small tomatoes, sliced
1/3 cup fine Besan sev for garnish, optional
Place the poha in a large, fine grade sieve or sifter, or on over a sieve lined with a cheese cloth. Run it under a quick spray of water allowing the water to drain away immediately. Do not rinse or soak. Par boil the diced potatoes or corn, or both if using both and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large wok. Add the mustard seeds and allow them to pop. Add the diced red onion and allow this to soften and turn golden. Add par boiled potatoes (or corn or both) and allow this to cook through for 2 minutes. Now add the curry leaves, ginger and jalapeños and sauté them until their flavors release, about 30 seconds. Add the turmeric, asafetida and cayenne pepper powder and quickly add the damp poha. Using two flat spatulas, toss the mixture until all the spices are well distributed. Season with salt, lemon juice and sugar and mix again. Cover and steam cook on low for 5 minutes. Serve warm with sliced tomatoes and garnished with chopped sev.