Rao – Kitchen Tales

The last two weekends have seen me entering the kitchen to roast some masalas like the various chutney powders which are essentialities in any south Indian home along with sambar masala powder and rasam masala powder. South Indians cannot do without their chutney powders as they can be eaten with rice, roti and of course the ubiquitous idlis and dosas. Sometimes with oil or curd or clarified butter or dry, as is. As a school girl I remember coming home to find my amma busy in the kitchen rustling up the masalas and poodis, the aroma of roasted coriander wafting through the house and I would feel a sense of importance as amma would ask me to taste it and give my verdict. On such days, she would cook a simple meal of rasam and rice as she was occupied with the masalas.

The formula was never structured, a handful of this, a pinch of that and half a handful of something else. There were no weights and measures and it was the gut instinct (pun intended) that made amma come up with mind blowing recipes of anything, be it masalas or other food items. I think this was what made the food cooked by the earlier generations so finger-lickingly delicious, the lack of structured recipes!

After years of going through professional grind, I had forgotten the recipes for these staples as my Amma and mother in law, God bless them, always ensured a steady supply for me through relatives and friends who would come visiting. In case of a shortfall, I would buy the marketed masalas but they barely passed muster. Coming back to my adventure in the kitchen, last Sunday morning I called up my amma for the recipe for mulagay poodi, a type of chutney powder made with roasted split chickpeas, urad dal, dry red chillis, little bit of coriander seeds and tamarind and grinding to a coarse powder. She hesitantly told me the proportions and the procedure and the sequence, all the while telling me, I quote: “ I am coming next month dear, I will get the poodi. Don’t worry”. She insisted on using bedgi chillis as they give a smart red color and are not very hot. I was adamant as the homemaker in me had assumed gargantuan proportions and no way was I going back on the resolution I had made to myself. The fact that I was on the wrong side of forty and everywhere I was reading articles in newspapers and social media that we need to change as we near the twilight of our lives. I got busy in the kitchen, assembling all the paraphernalia for making the poodi. As I started to roast the chickpeas and urad dal, the noise alerted my daughter and hubby, both of whom sauntered near the kitchen to see what I was up to but too scared to ask me and risking my ire. They shared oblong glances. I told them what I was doing. My hubby hesitantly asked me if I had called up his amma for the recipe. I gave him a stern look and told him about the source. I think this is a lifelong contentious issue between married couples, ‘my mother is a better cook than yours’. Tomes can be written on this topic with no concrete solution to the issue.

I roasted the dals to a golden brown, constantly working the ladle. In went the dessicated coconut, then the coriander seeds, tamarind and dry red chillis. After grinding the powder to a coarse texture I asked my daughter and hubby to taste and give their verdict. My daughter kissed me to express her opinion, more for the efforts than the product and my hubby said it was good but could do with some more of something. Elated as I was, I clicked a picture and posted it on all my social groups including my amma and my mother in law. I felt elated at all the likes and thumbs up I received, as pleased as a Cheshire cat.

For the readers with the disclaimer that there might be variations in the recipe across South India.


  • 1 measure/cup : split chickpeas/chana dal
  • 1 measure/I cup: urad dal
  • Half measure: dessicated coconut
  • Half measure: coriander seeds
  • Half measure: curry leaves
  • 2 measures: dry red chillis/ bedgi variety/ more if you like it spicy
  • 1 measure: tamarind

3 comments on “Rao – Kitchen Tales

  1. @Monica Rao : each and every word of your account is endearing. I imagined myself sitting in front of you while you told me the story in person . Superb ! Please keep writing .
    P.s: literally there is no such thing as the wrong side of forty ; only figuratively 😘trust me you are still exactly the same as I remember you from the 1 st day of college in my B.Pharm days.

  2. Nice one, our ancestors are great. Now a days many ones prefer fast food. But this recipes are unique one and tasty as well useful diet to our day to day health.
    Thanks and Regards to all our elder ones.

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