Pound it up

LIVING IN THE KITCHEN

SECRET MIX Add it to ‘dal’, team it with vegetables or stir it into a bowl of whipped curd, ‘pudis’ have a way of turning every meal into a treat.

Describing Karnataka cuisine is much like describing Indian cuisine itself, for the same diversity that is seen in Indian cuisine is seen within the state.

While rice and ragi are popular in the south, jowar and other millets are used in the north.  But a common thread that runs across all the regions of the state is the pudi culture. 

Ask any urban Kannadiga housewife the recipe of the delicious saaru (rasam) or huli (sambar) or palya (a dry vegetable preparation) she just served you and the answer you are most likely to hear is, “I can tell you how to prepare the dish, but for the pudi recipe you will have to ask my mom!”  This is quintessential Karnataka cuisine for you, where a handy magic ingredient can transform ordinary dal/palya into a gastronomic delight.

The significance of pudi — spice powder — in cooking cannot be overstated, considering that pudi is an essential element in the new bride’s survival kit! Anxious mothers of new brides diligently pack sufficient amounts of these spice powders, lovingly made with their own hands, for their daughters for guaranteed harmony at the dinner table. And parents of children who are abroad are ever on the lookout for someone to carry parcels of the precious pudis!

There was also a social dimension to the pudi culture. In the not-so-distant past, the preparation of these powders was a mega event! It was a common practice for women of the entire family to come together on an auspicious day and start the ritual of making a month’s supply of the powders while building new bonds and strengthening old ones.
Every pudi is a delicate blend of various spices (and pulses in some cases) in just the right proportions and roasted to just the right degree and then milled to get the final aromatic, brightly-coloured ambrosia. The skill of making the perfect pudi can come only with years of practice under the hawk-eyed supervision of elderly aunts  in the family, who in turn have been trained by experts before them. And only when you have mastered the art of making a pudi, hefty with flavour, can you be certified an expert cook by the reigning matriarch! Or else, be prepared to be brushed off with a scornful comment such as, “What does she know about cooking? She can’t even make a decent huli pudi!”

Apart from huli pudi and saarina pudi, there is palya pudi, which when added to a simple palya can bring in that much-needed zing and turn it into an appetising dish.  There are various types of chutney powders to be relished with either plain hot rice or dosas and idlis. They are made with niger and flax seeds, which are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, sesame seeds, which have a very high calcium content, nutritious nuts like groundnuts or pulses like urad dal. Another equally nutritious and tasty powder is the menthya hittu, which is a blend of pulses and spices. It can be had with steamed rice topped with hot ghee. It can be used in various gravies as well.

SECRET MIX Add it to ‘dal’, team it with vegetables or stir it into a bowl of whipped curd, ‘pudis’ have a way of turning every meal into a treat.Karnataka cuisine has its share of unique gravy masalas which are prepared fresh, unlike spice powders which can be stored for months.

Gojju is a dish unique to the Brahmin communities of Karnataka. No festive spread is complete without this dish. It is a sweet-sour-spicy vegetable dish, made with coconut as an essential ingredient. It is a combination of pulses and spices, carefully roasted and ground with coconut. Sesame seeds give it a rich, nutty taste. Though gojju can be made with different vegetables like capsicum, sweet pumpkin and bendekai (lady’s finger), it is most commonly prepared with bitter gourd and, hold your breath, pineapple! The fruity flavour of the pineapple combined with the typical sweet-sour-spicy gojju masala makes this dish truly heavenly. Eaten with curd rice or even with piping hot udina vadas, it is an unforgettable experience.

Then comes kootu, a variation of the everyday huli, except that black pepper is used instead of red chillies for the piquant taste. 

While the aforementioned dishes are part of the main course in a typical meal in most homes in Karnataka, this is not, by any means, a comprehensive list.

Pudi takes on different hues and flavours depending on the spice/pulse blend which is specific to specific communities across the state, each adding to the variety.  In fact, seasoned cooks can tell you by just the smell and colour of the pudi as to which community’s kitchen it came from! Karnataka cuisine has a lot to offer in terms of variety and taste. The minimal use of oil in the masalas as well as the dish and the liberal use of spices, which are storehouses of trace minerals, make it one of healthiest cuisines,  proving that taste and good health can indeed go together.

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