Friday, March 9, 2012

Aval Vilayichathu

 It is a jaggery syrup-encoated, beaten rice dish known as aval vilayichathu. Sound confusing? Let me explain.

Aval, also known as poha, is beaten, dried flakes of rice.

Rice is the main grain crop in India. And being one of the largest rice producers helps in conjuring up interesting and easily digestible ways to consume this chief crop. Among the different manifestations are rice powder, rice flour, puffed rice and beaten rice - our focus today. Taking on the flavor of the other ingredients, and depending on the recipe, beaten rice or aval can be made either savory or sweet.

Used mainly in Asian recipes, jaggery is unrefined, whole cane sugar, ranging in color, from dark to light brown. You can buy them in blocks, chunks, even paste.  Being a more wholesome and healthier alternative to its white cousin, it is  still an addictively sweet piece of sugar.
Add the aval to the jaggery syrup and your end result will be one blissfully satisfying concoction. This overall preparation is known as vilayichathu.

 Known as a convenience snack in India (yeah, right), I first fell in love with aval vilayichathu at my Aunt's house. A wonderful cook herself, she'd make this on occasion in a very large, traditional chatti ( pan). Just seeing the pan come out would drive me to hyper-salivation mode. I knew what was coming.

It took me quite a while to master aval vilayichathu (for lack of a better word, I use "master").  A good friend who was visiting us from India simplified the "syrup thread form " that is so vital in vilayichathu. A systematic method is involved in getting the jaggery syrup of the right consistency. If it's too thick, the overall product will be hard and candied, too thin leads to a soaked, bland aval.
Hopefully, the directions will help you strike the right balance. With the first bite, you'll be well on your way to knowing the most delightful snack you've ever had in your life.

Oh, this does require a trip to an Indian grocer ( have I said that enough?).
What you'll need~
  • *1 ½c jaggery, cut or shaved into small pieces
  • ¾c -1c water
  • 2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
  • 2 tbsp coconut flakes or slices
  • *¼ c chana gram dal
  • ¼ c cashews
  • 1 c shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 2 cardamom, powdered or crushed
  • 2 c aval ( poha, as it's seen on labels)
  • Put your jaggery pieces in a saucepan with the water. Bring to boil, until jaggery melts in the water and the whole thing becomes liquid and smooth. Take off heat and keep aside.
  • Over medium flame, heat ghee in a deep sided, heavy bottomed pan.
  •  Add coconut flakes, dal and cashews to the ghee, bring to a light brown.
  • Pour the jaggery liquid into this.
  • Add the grated coconut to the mixture.
  • Bring to a boil reduce heat to medium until the liquid becomes a syrup of single thread consistency (when syrup drops from a spoon, it forms thin threads in water). On a candy thermometer, this reads around 223° F . 
  • Switch off heat.
  • Mix in the powdered cardamom .
  • In intervals, using a wooden spoon, slowly add in the aval, coating each addition fully, till all the aval is glazed and covered. 
  • It makes a large amount, but keeps well, unrefrigerated for a week or two( if you get it to last that long)

Buy the jaggery in blocks or chunks (picture above), generally yields consistent results.
To get jaggery into pieces faster, put in the microwave, 50% power and soften at 10 second intervals, don't let it melt or heat up at this point. Then piece each block, for it to melt faster and blend with the water.
Strain the jaggery liquid before you make the syrup, since it may contain impurities, black oddments you don't want showing(or consuming) in your final product. 
Chana gram dal is a yellow colored legume.
Mashed with bananas, this dish qualifies itself as a healthy breakfast item.
Why not stop and talk to the Lord, right now? "Wherever we are, God is here. 
There is no place, there can be no place, where He is not." A.W. Tozer 
"My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”" ~Psalm 27:8
 (Source: Proverbs 31 ministeries)

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