Puliodarai, or Tamarind Rice, is one of my favorites.
Tamil cuisine includes a plethora of "prepared rice" dishes, including lemon rice, tomato rice, coconut rice and brinjal rice. But tamarind rice is quite special. When I first ate it at my in-laws' home, the irresistibly tangy tamarind, spicy chili and nuttily sweet peanuts burst into an explosion of flavors in my mouth.
Indian temples often serve this delicious rice in their kitchens and most Tamil homes usually have a jar of the tamarind sauce, or Pulikkachal, on hand at all times. Each time we visited Chennai from Bombay, Amma, my mother-in-law, would send us back home with a big jar that we'd enjoy for months.
Sometimes, on nights when the whole family was together, she would mix up a big plate of puliodarai and feed each and every one of us by hand. Amma has passed on since, but I still remember her loving touch each time I make this dish, many years later and miles away in my kitchen here in the United States.
This one is for you, dear Amma.
For the tamarind sauce (pulikkachal)
1 large lime-size ball of tamarind, soaked in about 4 cups of water. When the tamarind softens, crush it with your fingers to extract all the juice, and discard the solids.
2 red chilies
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp chana dal (bengal gram)
1 tbsp udad dal (black gram)
2 tbsp peanuts
1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
A generous pinch of asafetida (hing)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Dry-roast the fenugreek seeds until they darken slightly to a reddish hue.
In a tiny bit of oil, fry the red chilies. Remove, and use a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.
In a spice grinder, powder the fenugreek and chilies along with about 1/2 tsp of salt. Set aside.
Heat remaining oil and add the mustard, asafetida, chilies, chana dal and udad dal. Fry for a minute, then add the peanuts.
Once the peanuts start browning, add the tamarind sauce, the chili-fenugreek powder, and check seasoning. Add more salt if needed.
Let the tamarind sauce reduce on a low flame until it has thickened to a consistency almost like that of molasses (it'll even look a little like molasses with the dals and peanuts suspended in it, but won't be as sticky)
This sauce will store for weeks if kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
To put together the Puliodarai:
2 cups boiled white rice (I used basmati because I love the taste and the fact that the grains do not mush easily, making for a pretty presentation)
2-3 tbsp of the tamarind sauce.
1 tsp canola oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp peanuts
1 sprig curry leaves
Heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When the crackle, add the curry leaves and peanuts and fry until the peanuts turn pale brown.
Add the peanuts, mustard and curry leaves to the rice along with the tamarind sauce. Mix thoroughly. Add more tamarind sauce if you need.