Meditations

Can’t beat beaten rice with fast, tasty curry


Poha, or beaten rice, is a staple in Northeastern India and Nepal

Raw poha needs to be soaked or crisped to make it palatable.

Ever since I had poha, or beaten rice, nearly a decade ago, I’ve been wondering where to find this flattened Indian rice, and what to do with it when I did. That first encounter, beneath a spicy lamb curry at The Mint in Victoria, had fascinated me. Why serve flakes of rice—what essentially amounts to rice crispies—with a savoury dish? And yet the crunch somehow worked with the spicy curry, soaking up just enough sauce to stick to the fork, not enough to suffer the soggy-cereal fate of crispies soaked too long in anything. Yes, it was a memorable meal. And one not to be repeated, at least not until now.

I crossed paths with kilogram-sized sacks of poha recently at Fruiticana Market in Richmond, while waiting for a shady automobile transaction to take place (I was allegedly buying a car from a guy who said he’d meet me there, but was running suspiciously late). Fortunately for me, I could wait out the cold afternoon in that fragrant emporium of all foods Indian, and I happily roamed the aisles until summoned by car-guy’s impatient phone call. It was just as my cell rang that I’d spotted the sacks of poha, and I knew right then that I’d be back to buy several kilo-sized bags, whether I had a car to transport them in or not.

While I was waiting, I’d had time to find out that beaten rice is a handy staple, not unlike instant mashed potatoes, in Bangladesh, Northeastern India and Nepal. It’s eaten both sweet, like a kind of breakfast cereal, and savoury, either fried or crisped with seasonings. In Bhopal, it’s often served with a savoury seasoning of fried mustard seeds, onions and curry. The advantage to poha is its speed: moisten it, toss it in with some other warm ingredients, and you’ve got what amounts to instant rice.

Back at home, I sliced open a bag of the stuff, eager to crunch on a handful of tasty (though bland) beaten rice.

Straight from the bag, the poha was dry and a bit chewy, not the crispy treat I’d remembered. Another quick websearch told me it needed to be toasted before serving, so I filled a baking tray and popped it into the hot oven for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Well, shaking it once in a while as I waited for the a pot of pork curry, a leftover-fusion non-recipe of mine, to be ready. In about eight minutes, the rice had crisped up to a cornflake-like consistency. Just right.

After about eight minutes at 425 degrees, the poha's crisp.

Crisp the poha on a baking tray in a hot oven, about 425 degrees, for a few minutes.

But dry crisp rice didn’t seem to be enough to feed the gang for dinner. Six starving artists of various ages need more than curry and crisps. So I trolled around for a fast and easy idea, combined a few possibilities, and ended up with this Bhopal-inspired dish:

Fast Carrot Poha

2 cups raw beaten rice, rinsed well and left to sit while you deal with the other stuff.

2 large carrots, grated

2 green onions, chopped fine

½ cup frozen lima beans (but frozen peas would work too)

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon red chili flakes

½ teaspoon curry powder

¾ teaspoon turmeric powder

salt to taste

1.5 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat up the oil in a big sturdy pan (I like to use a cast iron wok), and let the mustard seeds sizzle in it for a few moments.

Stir in the chili flakes and onions, and sizzle for a few more minutes until the onions are soft. Regular minced onion would work in place of green onion, too.

Add the grated carrot, turmeric and curry powder, and let cook until the carrot is softened. I poured in about ¼ cup of water into the bottom of the wok to hasten the carrot along.

Toss in the frozen lima beans or frozen peas if you prefer, and stir until they’re warm, plus the salt—you may want to taste a few times at this point, as it gets lovely and fragrant and savoury.

Stir in the beaten rice. At this point, the whole mess will resemble fried rice with a decidedly golden hue. Add the lemon juice, mix well, and let sit, covered, on low heat for another two to three minutes.

Beaten rice with carrots, onions and turmeric

At this point, the soaked poha looks a bit more like leftover rice. Stir it in to the cooked carrots and onions.

Serve alongside curry and crispy rice, or on its own for a fast, satisfying vegan meal.

The thing I already love about poha is its speed—it’s like instant rice for all those dishes where you wish you had just a handful of cooked rice. I can tell already it’ll make a killer fried rice next time I’ve got random bits of meat and veggies to use up.

I’m glad now that I ended up buying the car after all. It has a capacious trunk, and I’ll be heading back to Fruiticana Market to stock up again soon.

Serve carrot poha with your favourite curry over crisped poha

Carrot poha makes a spicy foil for crispy poha beneath your favourite curry.

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