For south Indians, a seemingly endless array of podis can be found, each bursting with flavour, heat and the fresh taste of familiar spices and aromatics.

A banana leaf plate with idlis and a mound of south Indian podiPicxy.com/StockImageFactory
Features Food Tuesday, September 08, 2020 - 19:22

Across India, the act of grinding stone against stone is as old as much of cooking itself. References to flat, cylindrical and rounded grinding stones date back millennia both in Sanskrit and Tamil literature. Crushing, as a result, has become foundational to a large part of India’s culinary history, whether to create juices, batters, wet pastes or dry spice powders, or as they’re commonly called in the south Indian states and territories, 'podi' or 'pudi'.

Spices, from those grown indigenously — such as turmeric, sesame and curry leaves — or to ones brought to India — cloves, chillies — have become an integral part of much of India’s regional cuisine, and with it, the blends created from them. There’s the Bengali five-spice panch phoran, which has versions in Assam and Odisha as well, Maharashtrian goda masala and any number of variations on kari masala. For south Indians, a seemingly endless array of podis ('pudi' is Karnataka) can be found in kitchens throughout the region, each bursting with flavour, heat and the fresh taste of familiar spices and aromatics. 

“That marvelous, dry spice mix that just needs to be poured from a jar on your kitchen shelf to your plate and eaten like a chutney with rice, idlis, dosas or other snacks — changes dramatically from state to state,” Marryam H Reshii wrote in The Flavour of Spice

Shobhaa Narayan, who started her own home business, podibyshobhaa, in Pune that specialises in podis delivered across the country, explained that these powders were likely created to add a hit of flavour idlis or rice at times when fresh produce was hard to find. “There are unlimited varieties of podis. You name it, you can make it,” she said. Shobhaa, who is originally from Kerala, currently sells puliyogare, milagai, rasam and sambhar podis, and plans to expand to more in the coming months. Podis can be mixed with oil or ghee, hot rice or sprinkled on anything from crispy vegetables to fries to salads. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Making podis at home is a fairly straightforward process, as long as you have the necessary ingredients at hand. Coriander seeds, dry red chillies, dals, cumin, curry leaves, asafoetida and salt are often found in many different recipes. Each ingredient is either roasted (in a dry pan or with oil) and allowed to cook before being ground to a powder. A key step is maintaining a low flame to prevent the spices and lentils from burning, said Teja Paruchuri, who runs the popular YouTube channel Vismai Foods with almost two million followers. 

To continue the journey into podis, we’re taking a look at some of the southern states’ favourite kinds. (Keep in mind, this is only a general description of each podi, and not a full list of ingredients).

Milagai podi

After sambar and rasam podi, milagai podi, colloquially called gunpowder, is perhaps the most widely used spice blend in the southern states, often found as a condiment on tables in tiffin eateries. According to Archana Pidathala’s Five Morsels of Love, a family cookbook of Telugu recipes, the name gunpowder is “because of the amazing burst of spice in every bite.”

Andhra-style milagai podi includes roasted gram, dried coconut, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, dried red chillies and garlic cloves. 

In Tamil Nadu, milagai podi is made with two kinds of dal (chana dal and urad dal), sesame seeds, dried red chillies, asafoetida and salt, though jaggery is sometimes added as well. 

In Karnataka, a version of gunpowder is known as chutney pudi, which includes roasted chana and urad dal, dry coconut, dried red chilli, tamarind, jaggery and asafoetidia. 

Ellu podi

Sesame seeds form the base of this podi recipe, though the choice of black or white sesame seeds varies depending on individual tastes. Sesame seeds, urad and chana dals are roasted until golden brown and aromatic, as are red chillies and other aromatics, before they’re coarsely ground together.  

Raw banana podi or Vazhakkai podi

Vazhakkai podi may look a bit more like a crumble than a typical powder, but aside from the preparation of the raw banana, the steps closely mirror most podi recipes. The raw banana is roasted on an open flame until the skin is completely charred. The blackened skin is then removed before the inner fruit is grated or crumbled. Urad dal, chana dal, red chillies, kopra and curry leaves are then roasted and ground, before being incorporated into the banana. Tempered mustard seeds and curry leaves can be added as well.

Chammanthi podi 

This Kerala-style podi uses dried coconut as its starring ingredient. Once the coconut is grated, proceed as usual, with urad dal, dried red chillies, asafoetida, curry leaves and additionally, tamarind. 

Peanut podi

A cup of peanuts, 10 cloves of garlic, dried red chillies, coriander cumin, sugar and salt, and you have a peanut-y podi that can’t go wrong. Keep in mind, the podi may be slightly moist from the garlic and peanuts. 

Karuvepillai podi 

Fresh curry leaves are used to make this fragrant podi that’s popular in several states, including Tamil Nadu and the Telugu states. It also includes split black gram. The leaves must be dried completely (a few hours in the sun) before they’re heated and ground. “For children, it increases their appetite,” Shobhaa said. 

Kollu (horse gram) podi

Horse Gram — kollu in Tamil, ulavalu in Telugu, hurule in Kannada — is a pulse often known for its health benefits, being high in protein, iron and calcium content. Some recipes call for peppercorns, cumin, garlic cloves and curry leaves along with the dry-roasted horsegram. Others use urad and chana dal, red chillies and asafoetida. 

Angaya podi 

Shobhaa noted that angaya podi is known for relieving health ailments, including stomach upsets, indigestion and other issues. Some also suggest that the podi is given to postpartum mothers to help in their recovery. This podi includes a number of ingredients, such as dried neem flowers, sundakkai vathal (turkey berries) and manathakkali vathal (known as black nightshade). 

Nalla Karam

Teja noted that Nalla Karam is among the most popular podis in the Telugu states. This Andhra-style podi is made with coriander, urad dal, chana dal, cumin, dry red chillies, curry leaves, garlic and tamarind. Some recipes call for black gram dal (with the husk) to give the podi its darker colour (the name comes from nallapu, which means black). Teja also recommended sambar karam to add to any stir-fry. 

Paruppu podi (or Kandi podi)

As the same suggests, roasted toor dal and split gram dal are key to this podi. Dry red chillies, asafoetida, peppercorns, cumin and curry leaves can be added as well. “The tricky part is you have to retain the colour. You have to keep on stirring on low flame,” Teja said. 

Garlic podi

No surprises for the star of this recipe. A dozen to two dozen garlic cloves are fried in a little oil, before being ground with roasted urad dal, dry red chillies and asafoetida. A variation on the recipe includes adding coriander seeds to create dhaniya poondu podi. Dessicated coconut may also be added to the blend.  

Pudina podi

Fresh mint leaves, tamarind, red chillies, whole peppercorns, urad dal, chana dal, cumin and more. As with all podis involving fresh green ingredients, make sure to dry the mint leaves completely to remove all the moisture. Frying in a little oil will help this process. 

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