Every year during the Summer holidays the cousins in Delhi got a crash course on what we ate in Mumbai. My mother would carry packets of “Pohe” (Flat beaten rice) to make for breakfast much to the bewilderment of the cousins. Who would wonder why the hell did we “Bombaywallas” ate this Rice like thing in the morning when there were better things like Parathas (stuffed flatbread) & Chole Bhature (chickpeas served with deep fried bread) to be had.
It did not help that my mother was not the best Pohe maker in the world. Her skills as far as making Pohe was concerned has considerably improved since then but in those days I remember the sad faces that everyone made trying to please her, with heads shaking in unison whenever she asked “Acche lage?” (Did you like them).
And true to form, just like my mother my Pohe making skills left a lot to be desired as well. The first time I experimented with them in my mum’s kitchen, my brother puckered up his nose and said in the loudest voice “Chee kitne gande bane hain, main nahin khaonga” (yuck, they are so badly made, I won’t eat them). To give him credit, they were that bad. While I tried a few more times, I just could never get them to come out well. So I finally gave up. But when you live in Maharashtra, it is not easy to forget Pohe. Like a long lost love they keep coming back in your culinary life because everywhere you go you see them. Your neighbors make them; your friends make them, the local restaurants in your vicinity serve Pohe on their menu, and even your mother who used to be the worst Pohe maker in the world keeps making them and keeps getting better everyday.
So over a period I have learned to do a passable job with them. Decent enough that I can serve them to someone without being blamed for food poisoning. Unlike Rice that needs to be soaked in water before you cook them, Pohe just need to be gently washed, so they become fluffy and not slushy. One of the great things with Pohe is you can add any garnish that you like Peanuts, chopped Tomatoes, desiccated Coconut; they work beautifully with anything you fancy. I love adding Peanuts and Potatoes in my version of Pohe and then sprinkle a little bit of Lemon juice on top as a final garnish. I just hope no one puckers up their nose while tasting this version of Pohe.
Recipe: (Cooking time 20 minutes, serves 3)
One and a half cups medium Pohe (I find them easy to handle)
One medium sized Onion finely chopped
One large Potato chopped (make sure you cut them into small pieces, so they fry quickly)
Handful of Peanuts in their skin
5/7 Curry leaves
Two green Chillies chopped (Don’t chop them too finely as they may burn someone’s mouth, I like cut them in bigger pieces so people can put them away if they don’t want to eat them and the dish still gets the flavor)
One tsp Turmeric powder
Salt to taste
One tbsp Vegetable Oil
One tbsp Mustard seeds
One Lemon cut into wedges to be served individually to garnish
Put the Pohe in a Colander and gently wash them under a slow stream of running water just for a few seconds. Using your fingers make sure you keep mixing the Pohe so that they have become wet. This is the most important step as I find that this is where I fail. If the pohe are too wet, they will become stodgy, and if they are too dry, they become hard. So ensure that you wet all of them without making them too slushy. Leave them to drain in the colander.
Heat oil in a pan and add the chopped Potatoes and fry them till they are done. Remove them from the oil and drain them on a paper towel to remove excess oil.
In the same pan fry the Peanuts for a minute or two without burning them. Remove them from the oil and drain them on a paper towel to remove excess oil.
In the same pan on a medium flame add the Mustard seeds, Curry leaves, and green chillies. Add the chopped Onions till they have turned translucent.
Now add the fried Potatoes, Turmeric Powder, and Salt to taste.
Add the Pohe at this stage, should you feel that they are too dry sprinkle some water on them, mix them and add them to the pan. Mix everything well together and cook for five minutes on a low flame.
Turn off the heat and sprinkle the Peanuts on top and serve with wedges of Lemon to sprinkle on top.
Tip: As mentioned above if you are allergic to Peanuts, you can use uncooked chopped Tomatoes or a little desiccated coconut or some freshly chopped Coriander for garnish.