I still remember the year 1949- 50……. I was admitted to the 1st standard of Boys High School Cranganore …..that was the name given by the Portuguese to Kodungallore. As usual classes started on the 1st of June. Heavy rain….. fully damaged village roads ….. extreme cold climate….. newly stitched shirt and trouser that got wet in the rains……. an old umbrella which was supposed to be black, but it was almost white, as it was manufactured even before I was born! ………strange faces, a very strict class teacher always carrying a “Chooral” in his hands……..somehow managed the first day with a mid-day break for lunch at your Achichan’s Vaidyasaala (grandpa’s clinic).
After school, with hunger pangs at its peak, we walked half an hour from school, thinking of the food item that will be served by your Ammumma. On reaching home, I rushed to the kitchen……it was just getting ready. I saw steam coming out of the Iddli-chembu …..the very smell of it doubled my hunger…….I jumped onto the Adappinpottam (kitchen counter) and sat there waiting with a hungry looking face. Your Ammumma could read my face……She opened the Iddli-chembu…..WHOWOHH…… hot steam coming out with a fresh smell of mixed rice powder and thengapeera (grated coconut)…… really irresistible fragrance and that was nothing other than the great ‘naadan’ KANJIPPIDI, a slightly salty snow white oval shape cakes with your Ammumma's fingerprints clearly visible on the surface ………it was usually cooked with kanji but sometimes was steam cooked like this too…… you know, it was really delicious and it was the monsoon season, most suitable period to have such a steaming dish served right from the cooking dish. I don’t know how she prepared it…..rice powder, salt, thengapeera etc made the trick, I think. This was one of the main items served by Ammumma during those evenings when we returned from school…… anybody can make this but Ammumma’s touch was really fantastic…..hmm…….for a short period my brain got delighted recollecting that monsoon day and those steamed cakes”
These are few lines my father wrote to me recollecting a mundane day from his childhood, when I asked him to share his thoughts …………as I saw him getting excited on this very simple dish his mother used to prepare, on one of my casual conversations with my parents. This humble dish still continues to excite my father’s memory and palate as it did several decades back to that young handsome slim boy with sharp features, wearing a shirt and short trouser with black oily hair combed neatly to one side….that’s how I have seen my father in those black & white family photos. After reading his mail, I could almost visualise that innocent boyish image of my father, jumping on to the kitchen counter and waiting impatiently for his mother to serve those steamed dumplings and it did bring a smile on my face :)
Kanji-Pidi is a very unassuming, down to earth and visually unappealing dish that may never satisfy today’s younger generation whose palate is used to meat patties and aerated drinks. It is essentially rice flour softly cooked with hot water first and then mixed with grated coconut and flavored with an extra pinch of salt and then thrown into the boiling rice bowl and cooked along with Kanji (gruel) to make it nutritious. Pidi can be roughly translated to a “fistful” (of rice flour and grated coconut) and since it was cooked along with Kanji (gruel), it has been called as ‘Kanji-Pidi’. This was usually cooked along with the rice for lunch and served as a mid-morning snack for young boys in my paternal family but when it was to be served as a school-time snack, my grandma resorted to the steamer, to serve her dozen kids.
Though I have tasted Pidi in my childhood and teenage days especially when my mother had some extra dough from Idiappam (String hoppers) which she prepared for breakfast and gave a makeover to the leftover dough by adding some grated coconut and then steamed in Idli-Steamer, I was quite fascinated by this method of preparation after listening to my father. So today, I made an attempt to “recreate the forgotten taste” of my father’s childhood delicacy from his mother’s unpretentious kitchen in my modern American kitchen!
Ingredients: (Makes about 10-12 )
- 1 ½ cups rice flour, mildly roasted
- Around 1 - 1½ cups hot boiling water or enough to make a smooth dough
- ¾ cup grated coconut
- 1 ½ tsp salt ( salt needs be a tad bit more than the usual amount)
- Add around 1½ tbsp warm water to grated coconut and crush it with a fork to invigorate the grated coconut and make the juices come together.
- Mix rice flour and salt; to this add the boiling hot water, just enough to make a soft and smooth dough; use a spoon to stir well and then add the grated coconut and blend everything well. (Note: the dough should be looser than the Chappathi/roti dough but as soft as the Idiayappam/string-hoppers dough). Take a fistful of dough and shape it like the ones in the picture. When the dough comes together in your fist, gently press to emboss your finger prints on them.
- You can throw these dumplings into a boiling rice bowl (the rice should be ‘almost’ cooked by now) and cook for about 10-12 minutes and then using a slotted spoon, collect each of them draining the ‘Kanjivellam’, starchy water and place it on a serving bowl. Another alternative method is to use an idli-steamer or any other steamer or in a pressure cooker without keeping the weight, filled with enough water, and steam for 10-12 minutes, or till it is fully cooked, in medium heat.
- Serve warm with a cup of tea or coffee.
This may not be an exotic dish worthy to be blogged but it is special to me and I want to chronicle it here as part of saving many things close to my heart!