When I was about 6 years old, I once remember asking my mother for fried rice. It must have around 1975, the first time I heard about new dishes such as Falafel (which my dad, fresh from a 2 month posting to Kuwait, pronounced as 'Filafil' ) and Fried rice. Amma's repertoire of recipes at the time was restricted to traditional South Indian dishes with the odd Punjabi choley & Alu Mutter thrown in.
She probably was unsure of what I was asking for, and my reply to her must on the lines of deep frying 'daal chawal'.I don't think I ever got my wish, but this I remember clearly. I received a long extended lecture about how cooked rice was not considered 'kosher' (referred to as 'Paththu' in Tam Brahm lingo) and there was no way she was ever going to pollute precious cooking oil by frying cooked dal rice.
Since that time, I discovered what Fried rice really was and the interest in deep frying rice dissipated, with the occasional nostalgia of my conversation with Amma cropping up whenever I spotted recipes for Chawal ke Pakore by Chef Sanjeev Kapoor.
Call it by its Hindi name or the 'oh so sophisticated' sounding Italian equivalent, Arancini, the dish remains a delightful way to use up leftover rice. 'Leftover' being crucial. The starch in the rice fluffs up and thickens to bind the rice into a consistency that facilitates the shaping. Fresh made rice would simply fall apart.
The thought of making these deep fried morsels would cross my mind each time I had left over Bisibela at home, but somehow, never materialized beyond the thought process. As is the case with many of my recipes, the ones I put off trying the longest usually are the best, and this was no exception. The leftovers from yesterdays dinner, in the form of the savory 'Venn Pongal' a South Indian style risotto flavored with cumin, pepper and finely minced ginger root were perfect for frying the next day into 'melt - in - your - mouth' Arancini.
Ideally I would have liked to try making both the sweet and the savory version, but I'm a little short of ghee for frying the sweet version & also neglected to divvy up the cooked rice and dal prior to adding the spices.
Arancini , South Indian Style
You need: (for the Pongal)
1/2 cup dehusked, split mung dal
1 cup short grained rice
2 (heaped) tablespoons ghee
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger root
1 teaspoon powdered cumin
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon powdered peppercorn
8-10 whole peppercorns
1/4 cup broken cashew nuts
1 sprig curry leaves, torn
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
4 cups water.
Toast the mung bean until golden. Combine with the rice and rinse thoroughly 3 -4 times until the water runs clear.
Add the mixture to a heavy bottom pan and add 3 cups of hot water and the turmeric. Allow the water to come to a boil, stir the rice, lower the heat, cover and allow the mixture to cook down to a porridge like consistency. Add the additional cup of water if the rice doesn't look mushed up.
In a small skillet, heat the ghee and add the whole cumin , peppercorns and the respective powdered spices along with the ginger, curry leaves, cashew nut and salt. Fry until the blend emits a smoky aroma and the cashewnuts turn a golden brown. Add this sizzling mix to the rice/dal blend (which should have the consistency of porridge and stir until the seasoning is completely incorporated into the pongal. Set aside about 1.5 cups of the finished Pongal for the arancini in the refrigerator, covered and enjoy the rest for a Yummy supper with a dollop of yogurt or Raita.
For the Arancini : (makes about 10 - 12)
1.5 cups leftover Pongal, chilled in the refrigerator overnight
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 -1 teaspoon Powdered cumin and crushed peppercorn blend
Oil for deep frying
Season the Panko breadcrumbs with the cumin/pepper blend and add to a bowl. Scoop the chilled pongal using a cookie scoop and shape it into an orb between your palms. (It helps to fish out the curry leaves that may be lurking).
Gently toss the pongal ball into the seasoned breadcrumbs and swirl the bowl to evenly & completely coat the Pongal. Place onto a tray and repeat with the remaining pongal.
Heat the oil in a wok and fry the coated pongal under a medium heat, until they turn a crispy golden brown. (I tried using coarsely powdered poha in lieu of breadcrumbs, but the poha tends to float free of the pongal once it hits the hot oil, it is possible that I hadn't crushed it fine enough. Go ahead & try it for a gluten free version). Using a slotted spoon remove the fried arancini onto paper towels to absorb any extra oil.
Serve warm, pairing the arancini with your choice of coconut or onion chutney.