If one were to make an account of the smells and tastes of one’s childhood, the fragrant, creamy essence of butter, perhaps swirls of yellow and white fluttering in a pan, getting set to clarify and transform into the curdled richness of ghee, would top the list. Of course the ebullient palatableness of the everyday toast – gorgeous, brown and crunchy to the very touch, wouldn’t be too far behind. The grainy, toasty aroma of semolina would quite easily find a spot somewhere among the top five, along with grease-smacked raisins, cashews, the pungent vapors of asafoetida, the smoky bitterness of a well-proportioned tempering used to top various gravies and mains..the list could run into reams, unless one took a moment’s pause to log the stuff that made the world of the grown-ups go around, like caffiene and the heat of chillies..the forbidden stuff that smelled so good and tasted even better when savored stealthily. Still, there were enough pleasures to roll and revel in without having to cross the line..like the silken strands of semiya, for instance, not very unlike their slightly more acclaimed ringer – angel hair pasta – that fluffed up so impeccably well when cooked, each strand content in its own starchy cover, never sticking to another, yet so gratifying as a whole. To glorify this cherished ingredient that was part of so many childhood meals, feasted on in both sweet and savory avatars, we’re serving up a Scrumptious Semiya spread so take your seat and dig right in..
Hot and Spicy Semiya
1 Cup Vermicelli Semiya – roasted on a low flame until brown
2 Cups water
2 Tablespoons light olive oil
1/2 Teaspoon each of mustard, cumin, black gram (urad dal)
1 Small green chilli, finely minced (optional)
1 Medium-sized potato, cut into strips
1/2 Each of green and red bell pepper, cut into strips
1/4 Cup peas, thawed
1 Sprig of curry leaves, washed and dried
A dash of asafoetida
Salt and sugar to taste
2 Tablespoons Masala powder (recipe follows)
The juice of one small lemon (optional)
A few nuts, like sliced almonds or chopped cashews, roasted (optional) and finely chopped cilantro, for garnish
For the Masala -
1 Teaspoon each of coriander seeds and red chilli flakes
2 Teaspoons each of (black gram) urad dal and (Bengal gram) channa dal
1 Pod of cardamom
About 1/2 inch of cinnamon stick
1/2 Teaspoon dried coconut flakes
Dry roast the above on low flame in said order in a small pan – first the coriander, red chillies, urad and channa dal. Transfer to a bowl for cooling down, then fry the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, transfer to the bowl and finally, the coconut flakes until they turn a mild brown. Grind to a fine powder in your coffee grinder or blender once cooled.
The Semiya -
Heat the oil in a kadhai, season with the usual suspects, add the green chillies, fry for a minute and then add the vegetables and curry leaves. Let them cook on medium flame, covered, for about 8-10 minutes or until the potatoes are browned and the peppers are done. Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of water to a rolling boil in a separate pot.
Throw in a dash of asafoetida in the kadhai, fry and mix in with the vegetables for a few seconds, then season with salt, sugar and the ground masala powder. (Add another teaspoon of oil if the vegetables appear too dry at this point). Fry for 3-4 minutes on low, then add the fried semiya and mix well. Add more salt (and sugar if you so please), mix well and add the boiling water, stir and cook covered for 5-7 minutes. Toss in the lemon juice once you turn the flame off and serve hot with a garnish of roasted nuts and cilantro.
- You can add peanuts or cashews in the seasoning mix along with the urad dal/ black gram. But they are wont to turn soggy while cooking up with the semiya, so if you want the nuts crunchy, you can roast them separately and mix in the semiya just before serving.
- You can try this with a variety of vegetables – even methi (fenugreek) greens, corn, carrots, beans. Try a green chillies only + lemon version if you like it milder, without the Masala powder.