It’s been months since I’ve been back from India, but all the wonderful food experiences that I had there, including this sabudana dish, are still fresh in my mind. And I’m slowly but surely getting around to sharing them here. My excuse is that my recent food allergies have thrown me for a bit of a loop disrupting my blogging plans. I’ve had to give up eating dairy, oats, gluten, soy, sugar, apples, pears, bananas, and raisins, at least for now. While I’m eagerly awaiting the allergy test results which are due back this Friday, I was very excited when I realized Sabudana Khichdi is something that I can eat!
Khichdi is a catchall term for comfort food that typically involve rice, lentils and spices all cooked in the same pot. This dish doesn’t involve rice or lentils but qualifies for the comfort food tag while tingling the tastebuds, in a pleasant way. Sabudana are sago pearls that when soaked and cooked, have a soft but springy texture. Honestly, anything with sabudana is hard to stop eating. It’s addictive. Seriously addictive.
Many people get sago and tapioca confused. Sago is the inner pith of the trunk of the sago palm. Tapioca comes from cassava which is a tuber, like sweet potato. Both sago and tapioca can be processed into small, medium or large pearls. Sabudana khichdi is made from large sago pearls which you should be able to get from most Indian or perhaps Asian grocery stores. Tapioca pearls are more commonly available but they are small pearls and are harder to work with. And I know this from having tried to make sabudana khichdi using small tapioca pearls. Twice. It’s very hard to prevent the tapioca pearls from getting gooey when cooked. I’ll keep trying though and will post a recipe if I achieve success. But that awesome consistency that I mentioned earlier comes through even with gooey tapioca. And before you know it, you’ll be staring at the empty bowl wondering where all that sabudana khichdi you made went.
Going back to my India trip, when I was in Bangalore, I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with Mrs Meera Handigol, a family friend who taught me the secrets of cooking with sabudana. She showed me how to make both the khichdi and the vadas (fritters). Meera Aunty is from my state of Karnataka (Bangalore is in Karnataka state) originally, but moved to the state of Maharashtra (where Mumbai is located) after getting married and became very familiar with the Maharashtrian cuisine. Maharashtra is just one state north of Karnataka in South India but there are many differences in the cuisines. For instance, very few people in Karnataka use sabudana.
When I arrived, Meera Aunty had all the ingredients already prepped in her spotless kitchen. She had also prepared a sweet coconut chutney to dip the vadas in. With her practiced hand, it took us less than an hour to make both dishes, and take photos. That left plenty of time for eating and chatting later! The sabudana khichdi was simply delightful and light. The vadas were crispy and irresistible.
Here is the sabudana khichdi recipe. I’ll leave the vada for another day. There are relatively few ingredients and both the prep and the cooking steps are simple. Since the sabudana pearls need to be soaked for 4 hours, this is an ideal brunch or lunch dish for weekends. Please note that soaking longer may result in that gooey sabudana that I mentioned earlier. So I recommend practicing this dish a couple of times before serving to guests.
- 2 cups large sago or sabudana pearls, rinsed 3 times and then soaked in water for 4 hours
- 1-2 white or yukon gold potato (enough to yield roughly 1 cup when diced)
- 1/3 cup peanuts (substitute with cashews if allergic)
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- 2 green chilis, chopped (optional)
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 5 curry leaves (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons grated coconut to garnish (if using frozen, bring down to room temperature)
Peel, boil the potatoes with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Dice into 1/2 inch cubes or slices. You can also parboil potatoes ahead of time to reduce the prep work.
Roast the peanuts on medium-low heat for 3 minutes while stirring frequently. Allow to air dry to crisp up. Crush in a mortar and pestle or use a spice blender to make a coarse powder but with some chunks. The powder is necessary to soak up excess water from the sabudana while the chunks add a lovely crunch.
Drain the sabudana completely and mix in the crushed peanuts, potatoes, cilantro, lime juice and 3/4 teaspoon salt.
After all the prep work is complete, heat the oil in a pot large enough to comfortably hold all the sabudana. Use medium-low heat and add a cumin seed when you see ripples in the surface of the oil. If the seed sizzles, the oil is hot enough. Roast the remaining cumin seeds, curry leaves and green chilis for 10 seconds. Reduce heat to low and add the turmeric. Stir.
Add the sabudana mix into the pot while gently folding it in to get an even coating of oil. Do not stir too much or roughly as the sabudana pearls will tend to stick together with anything more than the gentlest of touches.
Cover the pot and cook till the sabudana pearls are translucent. Remove from heat right away.
Taste for salt and garnish with grated coconut before serving.