If you ever happen to meet a Maharashtrian friend, invariably you will be invited over for a ”Chaha/chai and Pohe‘ meet. In fact, in the olden days, when the to- be groom and family visited the prospective bride’s house –the viewing and discussions would be over a table laden with Chaha and Pohe! Be it breakfast time or evening teatime, pohe have stood the test of time.
Pohe, Poha or flattened rice/beaten rice is one of the most popular and traditional snacks all over this western state of India. Myriad ways of making this nutritious cereal have changed through the time of Sivaji Maharaj, the Maratha empire leader, to present day fusion food. Today, traditional meets mix and experiments new flavours, regional authenticity and competition (Pohe from Nagpur, pohe made in Pune, pohe made on coastal Maharashtra for example, have distinct additions and spices). The western packaged cereals boxed up on the supermarket shelves have no competition with Indian traditional breakfasts that are hand me down recipes involving nutrition, Ayurveda, simplicity and even some history.
Essentiallly pohe are made from pounding rice by hand or mill, another way of utilizing and storing paddy for later use. Maharashtra has two distinct regions – the sea side Konkan (fertile with rice farming) and the Khandesh or Vidarbha on Deccan plateau, (semi arid with plantations of sugarcane, cotton, peanuts and millets). As the land, so is the cuisine, different.
Story: Have you heard the legendary story of friendship and karma between Lord Sri Krishna and his childhood friend Sudama, over a fistful of pohe? Well, almost every Indian mother will lovingly narate such educative tales while feeding her child. Stories are a great way to better mind, body and interpersonal relations.
Some may wonder how a handful of flattened rice would be enough to grant good karma spanning over several lifetimes as happened to Sudama, who slyly stole and ate up Krishna’s share of pohe that would keep them nourished in the jungles, while collecting fruit and sticks for fire for the Guru’s wife/mother. Though Krishna, the Godhead, had seen Sudama, take his share, he did not interfere, and permitted him to complete his karmic actions. This debt of food would then lead to another set of actions later in life. As the story goes, Sudama married and had children, but was never interested in material gains, rather always devoted to the Lord. Once when he visited friend Krishna, who had then become King of Dwarka, he meekily offered ‘a handful of pohe’ to him, with love and they chatted about the childhood incident.
Sudama had unknowingly done the greatest deed of feeding the Universal Form of the Lord Himself. With this handful of the rice, Krishna, in his Universal Form, fed all the creatures of the world. This act of Sudama wiped out all his negative karma in one single moment of time; whilst also earning him enough good karma to last several more lifetimes! Krishna in return for the handful of poha, restored wealth and benevolence upon his poor friend Sudama, says the story.
‘ Anna he poorna Brahman’ which translates as Food is Brahman, the seed lies in the grain itself. It is said that Annadaan, or the act of offering food is the greatest ever charity man can perform in his lifetime.
What other stories or experiences have you heard about the simple grain of rice or about pohe?
Even traditional Maharashtrian bridal jewellery is inspired by the simple grain of rice, or by pohe! When the Maratha empire at its height was wealthy, the Kolhapur region was the seat of power, temples, wealth and craftsmen. Kohlapuri chappals or leather slippers have withstood the test of time, fashion and simplicity. So too the Pohe Haar, neck piece garland, crafted in gold or silver.
Shall we get to the kitchen now?
1 cup flattened thick rice flakes (brown or white) (most Indian stores will stock this)
1 medium potato
1 medium onion
few green chillies / or chilli flakes, if you wish
1/2 lemon for juice
1 spoon sugar
2 spoons fresh grated coconut / or soak dry coconut flakes in some water
1/2 cup roasted peanuts or sprouted mung beans (optional, to raise nutrient content)
2 tbsps cooking oil (tradionally peanut oil, as groundnut is the crop)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
2-3 sprigs of curry leaf /kadipatta (high content of nutrient minerals)
Wash the pohe and drain entirely all water, keep aside. Chop the onion and potato (optionally add peas, carrot…but becomes sweeter). Prepare ingredients for tempering and garnishing.
In a big wok or kadhai, heat up the oil, add the tempering, stir.
Add the chopped potato and onions and any peanuts if using, Add some salt to cook faster, cover with lid. After a minute, stir and sprinkle water to cook further. Add the pohe, salt, lemon juice, sugar, chillies, torn leaves and stir well. Adjust salt and chillies to taste. Sprinkle little water if required, cover and cook.
Careful, it cooks quick, so dont get it mushy! Switch off gas, turn it all into a container. Garnish with curry leaves and fresh grated coconut. ( to add texture, garnish with a pappadum!)
‘ Chala…pohe taiiyaar ahet, ya khavun ya sarve jana’ translates the Marathi invite to call everyone to sit at table and eat the warm, pohe.
Recipe 2: In the photo below, is a small container with dudh-dahi pohe, an ideal quick mid time snack. Just a fistful of pohe added to 2-3 spoons of yoghurt + 2 -3 spoons of milk + pinch of salt and some cumin powder for taste.
Do share how you make pohe or any stories you remember, any childhood moments of nourishment.