If you’re trying to go vegetarian or eat less meat, you could figure out meat substitutions for what you normally eat. Or, and I prefer this, you could make dishes that are meant to be vegetarian. And South Indian cuisines have so many vegetarian dishes to offer. And this is one of those dishes that you barely realize is vegetarian! Um vegan in fact. I guarantee that you will not miss the meat.
I want to share with you Puri Saagu (or Poori Sagu) today which was one of my favorite dishes growing up. My mom didn’t make puris quite as often as we would have liked, because they are fried. So puris were reserved for weekends or special occasions like when guests visited.
Saagu is a very South Indian curry with a base that is made separately and then cooked together with the vegetables. The ‘base’ is called a masala and is thickened by coconut and lentils. This is not a dish at your typical Indian restaurant which makes it even more special.
1.5 cup of vegetables (diced green bell pepper, shelled peas, carrots, diced potatoes, green beans)
½ yellow onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
10 fresh curry leaves (online source)
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
½ cup grated coconut or 1 cup dessicated, unsweetened coconut flakes (if using dessicated, rehydrate in warm water for 10 minutes)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
3 tablespoons chana dal (You can try substituting with 2 tablepoons chickpea flour. Roast in a pan on low heat for 2-3 minutes)
2 teaspoons white poppy seeds (optional)
3 thai green chilis, ends cut
1 teaspoon tamarind paste (or juice of ½ lime)
Water to blend
Boil the prepared vegetables using enough water to cover the vegetables plus 1/4 inch, for 6-7 minutes or till they are almost cooked.
Dry roast the masala ingredients over medium heat for 3 minutes or till the chana dal is slightly brown.
Blend with ½ cup water or enough to make the blender work.
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or till a mustard seed thrown in starts to sizzle.
Sizzle the mustard seeds for 10 seconds or till they start spluttering (it helps to have a cover handly) and then add the curry leaves for another 5 seconds.
Stir fry the onions for 5 minutes or till slightly brown.
Add the blended masala to the pot and cook for 3 minutes.
Add the cooked vegetables along with the water they boiled in.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. You can start cooking the puris at this time.
Add salt to taste.
2 cups unbleached whole wheat flour + 1/3 cup for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil or enough to fry puris in
Make a dough starting with 1/3 cup water and adding more as necessary.
Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 10 minutes or till the last steps of the sagu.
Divide the dough into 8 balls.
Dust them and your work surface with a bit of flour.
Roll out each ball into a circle that is a couple of millimeters thick. Keep covered to prevent them from drying out.
Fill a small frying pan with vegetable oil up to half an inch. (Using a larger pan means you will need to fill it with more oil)
Heat over medium high till the oil just starts smoking.
Ever so gently slide a puri into the hot oil (please be careful with this step!)
With a slotted spoon, pat the topside of the puri – this helps it puff up, a characteristic that most people desire. Cook for 30 seconds on both sides or till golden brown.
Place the cooked puri on 3 layers of paper towels to soak up excess oil.
Cook all your puris this way keeping in mind that you may have to adjust the heat up and down. If the oil starts smoking a lot, turn down the heat. If the puris are taking too long to cook, turn up the heat again.