I am just back after celebrating Holi in Krishna’s own land Barsana, near Mathura, and while the faith, colours and bonhomie made my soul very happy, it was something very unexpected and regular that actually made me ecstatic in this trip. This regular was the absolutely amazing poha (beaten rice, flattened rice or rice flakes, atkulu or aval) that I had for breakfast on my first day at resort where I was staying. That brilliant yellow turmeric infused poha made for a pretty picture and I was satiated to the core.
I am a huge poha fan — have always been, but it was so delicious there, with lots of peanuts, that I had it every day for breakfast for the next few days of my stay. It was fitting too, as I was in Lord Krishna’s land, and haven’t we all grown up hearing the story about Sudama’s gift of poha to his childhood friend Krishna, and how the lord devoured it, and gifted umpteen riches to poor Sudama in return.
Baby Krishna’s favourite food.
I am not after the riches at all, but eating poha to my heart’s content day in and day out reminded me that I had something in common with Krishna: poha was his favourite food, too. I was reminded of another fact too – just how healthy and nutritious this simple, humble dish actually is. And yet so underrated!
I don’t see too many people having poha these days for breakfast, and that’s a pity as not many dishes this easy to make and so easily accessible deliver as many health benefits. In fact, poha may be rightly described as one of world’s first ever “fast food” items that is also super healthy.
Chiwda, the healthiest snack.
First, poha is an easily digestible food, and everyone from infants to the elderly can have it. That is why it is considered an excellent weaning food, and a fabulous home remedy when a person is down with an upset tummy or fever.
All you do is immerse some rice flakes in a bowl containing cold water, then flavour it with salt, sugar, lime juice and a pinch of black pepper and simply dig in to give your body a break and some much needed nourishment.
It is an energy-rich food that keeps you active for a while after eating. That’s because it is healthier than other carbohydrate options, and delivers decent fibre, too. It is a good meal option for diabetics as it promotes the slow release of sugar into the bloodstream, and also keeps you full for a longer time. In addition, poha is gluten-free, and so it can be had by those allergic to the component.
Poha delivers some iron, which is much needed in these times of rampant iron deficiency and falling haemoglobin levels. And traditionally, lemon is always squeezed on top of the dish, and that helps as the vitamin C it delivers helps in better absorption of iron from both poha and peanuts — usually difficult to score from vegetarian sources.
It also delivers B vitamins, particularly vitamin B1 or thiamine, which is essential for proper breakdown of carbohydrates and fats in the body. The peanuts that are usually added to poha are a good source of antioxidants and protein, making poha heart-healthy!
There is an even healthier variation available (you do have to look for it though) to the everyday poha – the red poha, made of red rice. The red colour is due to the presence of the pigment anthocyanin, which is a flavonoid or antioxidant. Plus it is rich in fibre, vitamin B, and minerals like calcium, zinc, iron, manganese, magnesium et al.
For me, poha is a perfect food for enjoyment and energy. One that I often have not just for breakfast but sometimes as a snack, too. I love the traditional recipe with lots of rai (mustard seeds), curry leaves, peanuts, potatoes and peas, with a generous squeeze of lemon juice on top, but you could try variations too.
Prepare it pilaf-style with raisins, nuts, black pepper, salt, green chillies, and sugar to taste. Or give it a continental twist by making red rice poha with peppers, mushrooms, and cheese. I remember my mom feeding me spinach poha too; a smart way of adding greens to a child’s diet.
Dahi chura is a Spring delight.
Add some protein consciously to poha to make it complete. Have you eaten poha with boiled egg added to it? Try it, it’s an interesting combination. Sprouts and soya nuggets also go very well with poha, and make it a perfect carbohydrate- and-protein-rich dish. Similarly, when eaten with curd (I know many people like it this way) makes poha makes for a balanced, complete meal that delivers calcium too.
One interesting and tempting concoction, yes it was a concoction, that I had at a neighbour’s house while I was growing up was made by soaking poha in water, running it through a sieve, adding curd and a pinch of table salt to it, and then eating it with mango or lime pickle. Still remember that taste.
In fact, during Makar Sankranti, the welcome ceremony for the arrival of spring and the change of season, dahi chura (curd poha) is a commonly eaten meal in many states up North.
Aval Nanachathu is heavenly, moist poha.
Finally, some like their poha sweet too. Down south, they make a mean Aval Nanachathu (literally means poha that is moist). This is rice flakes mixed with grated coconut, cardamom, a bit of milk and jaggery, embellished with banana slices. This mix gives both instant energy, as well as sustained release of energy and fortifies like no other dish. I tried this recipe recently with maple syrup instead of jaggery, and the combination tasted great too.
So get poha back on the menu, and eat it more often I say. If you need inspiration, go hot foot to Krishna land and taste that yummy poha I had at Brij Vasundhara. Maybe I’ll go back just for that soon. #KhabarLive