Prasadam - Poha, Part 2


Chipping the rice
Jamini Roy, Calcutta, c. 1950

Apr 19, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.

The story of Sudama brahmana offering a bag of chipped rice to Sri Krsna is just one of many examples of the mention of poha in sastra. For Gaudiya Vaisnavas, the most famous pastime is the Chida-dadhi Mahotsav, or the chipped rice festival of Panihati. This yearly celebration honors the pastimes of Srila Raghunatha dasa Goswami and Lord Nityananda Prabhu. Their astonishing pastime took place on the banks of the Ganges at Panihati, just north of Calcutta, where Lord Caitanya and His associates enjoyed many transcendental pastimes.

Chida-dadhi Mahotsav observes how the Lord mercifully reciprocated with His devotees by arranging, through Nityananda Prabhu and Raghunatha dasa, to provide an ecstatic feast of chipped rice and yoghurt, along with various other nectarean foodstuffs. The festival took place just before the monsoons, when it is very hot and muggy, so naturally the most refreshing of foodstuffs were offered. Cool yoghurt (dadhi) and chipped rice (chida) were offered with sugar, bananas, milk sweets and cakes.

    "Everyone was offered two earthen pots. In one was put chipped rice with condensed milk and in the other chipped rice with yogurt. All the other people sat in groups around the platform. No one could count how many people there were. Each and every one of them was supplied two earthen pots--one of chipped rice soaked in yogurt and the other of chipped rice soaked in condensed milk. Some of the brahmanas, not having gotten a place on the platform, went to the bank of the Ganges with their two earthen pots and soaked their chipped rice there. Others, who could not get a place even on the bank of the Ganges, got down into the water and began eating their two kinds of chipped rice."

    (Caitanya-caritamrta Antya lila, Chapter 6)

A more complete narration of the Panihata festival can be found here, along with a collection of prasadam recipes designed for putting on authentic festival.

Poha is a much loved foodstuff outside of Bengal, as well. It is commonly used in South Indian preparations as well as in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Bihar. In Karnataka State, at Horanadu in the Chickmagular district, is a famous temple of Annapoorni, the goddess of food and grains. One of the main foodstuffs offered to Devi is poha, which is distributed as breakfast prasadam each day.

Annapoorneshwari Temple at Horanadu

Poha is also a popular offering at Diwali and Laksmi Puja. Poha made from rice that is fresh from harvest is considered the finest bhoga. Indian weddings often feature poha as part of the laja homa, with the grinding stone and pestle. In the ceremony, puffed poha (laja) is placed in the bride's hands, layered with ghee and more laja, and this is poured onto the sacrificial fire.

In South India, poha, or aval, is a popular tiffin item, made savory with yogurt and seasoned with chilies and mustard. There are several tart varieties featuring tamarind or lemon mixed with coconut, and these can also be served as a side dish later in the day. Sweet aval for breakfast is made with jaggery, coconut and a bit of ghee with cardamom. For Janmastami, poha laddus are a much loved offering to Sri Krsna.

In Maharashtra, particularly in Konkan and Varadi cuisine, poha jalebi is a common snack. Poha made in the usual way is paired with a juicy jalebi, as a breakfast sweet.

Breakfast Poha

In the Anga region of Bihar state, Poha Chiwda is popular, often prepared with yoghurt and sugar. Savoury chiwda (chivda) is also a favored snack in Maharashtra, and is often served at festival time to balance all the sweets. Chiwda in yoghurt sweetened with jaggery and bananas or strawberries is taken for breakfast there.

Poha a great 'instant' foodstuff, and many devotees offer it to the Deities for breakfast because it can be made into an opulent foodstuff in very little time. It's also a very healthful addition to preparations that are normally high in gluten. It can be used in place of oatmeal in cookies, or mixed into a nutloaf as a bread replacement.

The thin varieties of poha can be used with no advance preparation, but depending on the intended use, the thicker types often work better if pre-soaked for 20 minutes or so. Once the water is drained off, thick poha fluffs up very nicely, whereas the thin variety would just disintegrate. Thick poha absorbs ghee, spices and sauces very nicely, so the rice can take on a lot of flavor.

Poha can be roasted in the oven for a puffy snack, or likewise quickly deep fried in ghee, then sprinkled with seasonings. A basic blend of ginger, coriander, mustard, cumin and asofoetide works well, with a little turmeric for color. Pre-cooked vegetables in a little liquid can be spiced, and the poha tossed on top to steam for 10 or 15 minutes.

Breakfast Poha

For breakfast, thin poha mixed with hot milk can be seasoned with any of the aromatic spices (cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.), almond or vanilla essence, dried fruit and nuts, or fresh fruits like mango. You can also pre-mix a poha hot cereal blend, just like instant oatmeal packets, while is nice traveling. Take 5 cups thin poha, cup jaggery, 3 Tblsp. dried milk or soy powder, and a cup of raisins or other dried fruits. Store in an airtight container. To make a fast, healthy breakfast, add to cup boiling water (or mix milk and water) to cup of the poha mixture. Let it thicken for a few minutes, then offer.

Batata Poha

The most popular breakfast poha, taken from coast to coast in India, is a cooked mixture of spiced poha and potato, with a wide variety of other ingredients thrown in. This quick, nutritious meal is so versatile, it can be eaten every day of the year with great variety. It goes by many names: Aloo Poha, Batata Poha, Vaggarane Avalakki (vaggarane refers to the chaunked spices), etc.

The basic method of preparation is to boil a potato and cut into cubes. If using thick poha, soak it for 10 or 15 minutes. In a little ghee, temper the spices, then mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt and add a garnish, and offer.

There are innumerable combinations of spices you can temper the poha and potato with, but here are a few:

    Mustard, cumin, turmeric and chilis along with:
    Fresh or powdered ginger
    Curry leaves

All sorts of nuts or dried fruits can either be added during the cooking, or chopped fine and added as a garnish:

    Peanuts, cashews, almonds
    Pumpkin and sunflower seeds

Once the mixture is cooked and spiced, you can also sprinkle garnishes on top:

    Lemon juice
    Plain sev or boondis
    Chopped coriander leaves
    Other fresh herbs

Vaggarane Avalakki

The Vaggarane Avalakki recipe is unique in that it includes a few teaspoons of bengal gram or urad dal (split black gram). Another main variation is the Gojju Avalakki, gojju referring to tamarind. This is a popular dish in Karnataka.

To make the Gojju Avalakki, use 2 cups thick poha, no potato. Make a mixture with tamarind paste, a few Tblsp. jaggery, salt and sambar (or rasam) powder plus cup water, and soak the poha in this for a few minutes. Temper in ghee some mustard seeds, chana and urd dal (a few tsp.), and peanuts. Add curry leaves, asofoetida and chili powder, and mix well with the poha. Garnish with fresh grated coconut, coriander leaves, or thinly sliced cucumber.


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