Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Back into the Suriani Kitchen

a butte of puttu.

"Out of curiosity I asked a hundred Syrian Christians what their favorite food was, and it was no surprise that more than eighty of them said -- 'puttu!'" -- Lathika George, author of The Suriani Kitchen.

I knew I couldn't move on to a new cookbook until I had made puttu, which sounds like a dirty word but is just one of many pasty rice dishes in George's book and apparently the most special.

Only diehard cooks will find this fascinating, but here's the full puttu report:

To make puttu per George's recipe, you mix roasted rice flour with salt and water to form a crumbly dough which you then push through a sieve to work out any lumps. This takes an eon, after which you alternate layer of crumbs with spoonfuls of grated coconut in a cylindrical puttu kuti and steam your puttu. (Lacking a puttu kuti, lightly greased ramekins work.) In pictures on the internet, puttu appears to be pasty tubes of firm white carbohydrate, but my puttu immediately collapsed into a pile of crumbs. These crumbs were quite pleasant to eat, like couscous with the flavor of unseasoned rice, if you can imagine such a knockout dish. I was not convinced I had done puttu justice.

On Sunday, I tried again. This time I aimed for a wetter batter and I used coconut milk instead of water to provide the coconut flavor. I then omitted the grated coconut because I am tired of coconut whiskers in everything I eat. This second puttu steamed into a cohesive puck of bland starch, as you can see in the photograph at the top of the page. Perfectly edible, but I don't understand how something so innocuous could possibly be anyone's favorite dish. I suspect it's one of those comfort foods you just have to grow with to love, like grits or mashed potatoes or poi. 

Both times, I served the puttu with a spinach thoran and you don't have to grow up with spinach thoran to know that it is a delicious, easy, and unfattening way to get more leafy greens into your diet. 



Spinach thoran, barely adapted from The Suriani Kitchen by Lathika George.



1/ 2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 serrano chili, sliced  (seeds removed if you don't want the dish to be too spicy)

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped

2 cloves garlic
6 shallots, sliced
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups spinach, chopped into 1/4-1/2 inch shreds
1 teaspoon oil (or slightly more -- but you really do just want a tiny amount)
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
6 curry leaves
2 dried red chilies, torn in half

1. In a food processor or powerful spice grinder, grind the first 7 ingredient to a paste. Mix with the spinach, massaging it into the leaves with your hands.

2. In a big skillet, heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and when they burst, add the curry leaves and chiles. Saute for a minute or two.

3. Add the spinach and sprinkle with a little water. (Very little. The first time I added too much and the dish was a bit soggy. The second time I added maybe a tablespoon and the dish was perfect.) Cover and cook for a few minutes, until the spinach is soft and hot. Serves 2.

7 comments:

  1. I am one of those people that like poi although I didn't like it initially. I am going to make that spinach tonight--very attracted by the lack of oil.

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  2. This reminded me of one of when I was first learning how to cook. The cookbook author described something as so delicious that she'd be happy to eat it three times a day for years. Thinking this sounded great, I made a double batch -- of brown lentils and rice with a touch of salt.

    Not surprisingly, it was incredibly bland and got both harder and mushier by the day, eventually congealing into a concrete-like slab. Thankfully (and relatedly), I discovered spices after that.

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  3. This reminds me of tapioca. I like it, but when I look at it objectively, I know it must be linked to some childhood memory. It's very bland, but comforting.

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  4. This is not on topic, but my husband got me a copy of your book on Friday and I'm about halfway through and really enjoying it.

    I'm simultaneously reading The Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler, and there's a an interesting style contrast. Both very enjoyable.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Jennifer,

    I'm with Babble.com and we love your blog and would like to consider featuring it in one of our Best Food Bloggers roundups. Could you send me your email address so we can get in touch if need be? Thank you,

    Caitlin Palmer
    caitlin@babble.com

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'd have to say puttu is very much something that you'd need to grow up with to appreciate fully, so I'd totally get how you dont get it lol :)
    But the highlight would usually be what you're having with the puttu- a kadala curry (lentils), a nice fish curry, plain bananas and paani (a palm syrup), an egg curry.. the list goes on.. Would usually be eaten with a gravy, or at breakfast with bananas and paani.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'd have to say puttu is very much something that you'd need to grow up with to appreciate fully, so I'd totally get how you dont get it lol :)
    But the highlight would usually be what you're having with the puttu- a kadala curry (lentils), a nice fish curry, plain bananas and paani (a palm syrup), an egg curry.. the list goes on.. Would usually be eaten with a gravy, or at breakfast with bananas and paani.

    ReplyDelete