Puttu and Kadala Curry

Photographs by Sebastian John

I was going through the pantry this afternoon and I found the puttu maker that I had bought three years back when moving to the U.S. I had completely forgotten about it. The puttu maker had traveled from India to California, then to Washington DC, and then two house moves in DC. Somehow it survived all those travels, never got misplaced, and had been in the pantry for the last one year after our second move in the city. Considering I found it, I had to make at least one round of puttu. After all it is the beloved breakfast food of most Keralites.

I decided to try it with corn meal (Indian Head Yellow Corn Meal). I used the same procedure that is used to make puttu with rice flour. I served it with chick peas cooked in roasted coconut curry. Traditionally black chickpeas are used for making this curry. Since I don’t have them, I substituted with the regular chickpeas.

So what is puttu? In its simplest form puttu is moistened rice powder layered with fresh shredded coconut and steamed in the puttu maker. I have seen puttu made with brown rice and white rice powder. Sometimes rice is substituted with wheat flour, ragi, all-purpose flour, semolina/farina, and as in this post with corn flour. Traditionally puttu is cylindrical in shape. Variants include –

Chiratta puttu – Chiratta means coconut shell in Malayalam. The flour is steamed the shell, which lends it a very earthy taste.

Mani puttu – Small balls of rice flour kneaded with coconut and steamed. They are served with with sweetened coconut milk. I have eaten with savory curries too.

Nool Puttu – Also called idiyappam are steamed rice noodles with a crest of shredded coconut. Idiyappam’s are popular street food in Kerala, and are usually served with savory curries, especially chicken or beef.  This was one of my favorite meals during my graduate years in Trivandrum.

Ingredients

For puttu (as posted here)
1. 1 cup corn meal.
2. Salt
3. Sugar
4. pinch of cardamom and nutmeg powder
5. Water

For roasted coconut chick pea curry
1. 1 can chick pea
2. 1/2 cup dry shredded coconut
3. 3 dried red chillies
4. 1 teaspoon of whole coriander
5. 2-3 green cardamom pods
6. 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
7. 1/4 cup of coconut milk
8. 1/2 teaspoon chopped ginger
9. 2 finely chopped shallot
10. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
11. Salt
12. Oil

To make puttu add salt to taste, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, pinch of cardamom and nutmeg powder (this was my experiment) to the corn meal. Slowly add water and mix the flour ensuring no clumps are formed. The resultant mixture should not be like dough, but rather loose. To test it, take a handful of flour and form a ball. If it is of the right consistency, the flour will shape into a ball, and when you put slight pressure to it, it will crumble.

Layer shredded coconut and corn meal into the puttu maker and steam it for about 5 minutes.

For chickpea curry, dry roast the spices for 2-3 minutes in the following order – first coriander and cumin, then cardamom, followed by red chillies. Lower the flame and add dry shredded coconut. Stir continuously till the coconut turns light brown and gives off a nice caramel smell. I specified the order because the toasting time for coriander and cumin is longer than cardamom and chillies. So if you reverse the order by the time coriander and cumin is toasted, the cardamom and chillies will burn.

Toasted coconut, chillies, cardamom and coriander

Transfer the roasted spices to a blender, and puree with coconut milk. Add water if you want to make the sauce thinner.

Heat 1 teaspoon of oil and add ginger and shallots. Fry till shallots turn golden brown and add turmeric powder. Add the chick peas and stir-fry for about 1 minute. Add the coconut spice puree and bring it to boil. Cover and simmer for about 5-7 minutes.

Serve with puttu.

This is the first time I have made puttu with corn meal. It was slightly more denser than puttu made with rice flour. I would be experimenting more options, including pan or oven-roasting the corn meal or mixing it with butter to give it a smoother texture.

The puttu maker –

More puttu trivia –

The range of dishes that is served with puttu is astounding. Apart from kadala (chickpea) curry, meat dishes (chicken, mutton and beef), egg curry, fish, boiled green lentils, potato stew, plantains and poppadoms (papads). I have seen people eat with just sugar and milk.

Though current puttu makers are all made from stainless steel, earlier ones were made with bamboo stems and coconut shells.

In the 1992 Malayalam movie Sooryamanasam, Mammootty played the lead character named “Puttu Urmees”.

The phrase “puttu adikan poova“, means “lets us go get some food.”

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7 thoughts on “Puttu and Kadala Curry

    1. I bought it in India.. you can nowadays get in some Indian grocery stores in the US. sorry for the late reply..

  1. where did you purchase you puttu maker from? is it made of stainless steel? or aluminum? can it be purchased over internet?

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