Puliyodharai or the South Indian Tamarind Rice has a unique flavor, and it is one of the few rice dishes that tastes better at room temperature than it does hot… making it an ideal for large get-togethers or even a lunchbox recipe.
As a South Indian, I’m notoriously addicted to rice and rice-based dishes. A grain that is so comforting and delicious, rice makes (at the risk of sounding cheesy –) everything nice! Another flavor profile I grew up eating was that of Tamarind. Be it Sambar or Rasam or any other gravy or kuzhambu varieties my mum used to make, Tamarind was a constant ingredient she used. And so, it is no surprise that Tamarind Rice is something I cannot get enough of. Ever since I started living on my own, I’ve been through nostalgic cooking experiments, and most recently, I made a large batch of the Puliyodharai to make the rice whenever I want.
There are a few different ways of making the fabulous South-Indian Tamarind Rice. In fact, different regions also call it by different names: Puliyodharai in Tamil; Pulihora in Telugu; Pulichor in Malayalam; and Puliyogare in Kannada. But the version I’m sharing today is my Amma’s puliyodhari, made with pulikachal (or the tamarind pickle).
What are the key components of the Iyengar Puliyodharai?
There are 4 main components to making the Tamil-style Puliyodhari:
- Pulikachal (read: poo-lee-kaa-chul): This is a kind of sour pickle made by cooking down the tamarind.
- Spice-Mix: A simple mixture of dried red chilies, black peppercorn and coriander seeds: roasted until aromatic and then powdered! A lot of folks add these spices to the pulikachal itself. But we like to keep both components separate. That way, you can control how spicy you want your tamarind rice to be.
- Roasted Peanuts: Adding peanuts to the tamarind rice is optional. If you’re allergic, you can substitute with any other nuts you like. Or, simply omit the nuts and add some roasted split chickpeas instead.
- Rice: Cooking the rice perfectly is crucial to that perfect bite of puliyodharai. I recommend basmati rice, just because it is long, fluffy, and flavorful. But you can use any rice (that isn’t sticky) for the recipe. Add some oil while cooking the rice so the grains stay separated. And do not mix anything until the rice has cooled down completely.
What is Pulikachal?
The soul of the Iyengar Puliyodharai is the Pulikachal or the Tamarind Pickle. This is what gives the rice such a distinct flavor. You’ll need a few ingredients and it takes about 30-45 minutes to make, but you can batch-cook it and store it in the refrigerator for up to a year. Here are some of the main components of the pulikaachal:
You obviously need to start with the star of the recipe: Tamarind (which is called “puli” in all south-Indian languages, hence the name Puliyodharai!).
Sesame Oil (Til Oil or Nalla Ennai) is also crucial to drive the authentic puliyodharai flavor. However, if you don’t have it, you can use any other nut oil you prefer.
Fenugreek Seeds (methi seeds or vendayam) roasted and powdered, and then added to the Pulikachal
Lots of Curry Leaves (kadi patta or karuveppilai) add a much-needed freshness to the tangy pickle.
Dried Red Chilies (laal mirch or vara molagai): some to spice up the pickle itself, and some reserved to make the spice-mix.
Jaggery (Gud or Vellam) or any kind of sweetener to balance the spiciness from the chilies and sourness of the tamarind.
And then a few other seeds and spices to get things going…
Can you make the Pulikachal ahead of time?
Yes, in fact, Pulikachal or the Tamarind Pickle can last up to a year when refrigerated because we use so much Tamarind in the mix. The tamarind along with the sesame oil acts as a natural preservative.
Because this is a long process, we usually make a large batch once a year and refrigerate it. You only need about a spoon for a big batch of rice, so the mix will last you for many rounds of yummy tamarind rice experiences!
How long will the Puliyodharai last?
Although the pulikachal can last for a long time, the same cannot be said for Puliyodharai for obvious reasons. Once you mix some of the tamarind pickle with rice, it needs to be consumed within a few days.
But here’s a tip: Do not mix the pickle with hot rice. Mix it with room temperature rice, and allow the rice to rest for at least a few hours. The longer it sits, the better it gets! And so, I usually mix the Tamarind Rice in the morning and eat it for dinner, for that perfect experience. I refrigerate any leftovers. And the next day, I keep it out, to let it come to room temperature on its own, and then consume it.
When is this Tamarind Rice usually made?
Most of us make it for lunch or dinner.
But traditionally, tamarind rice is served in South-Indian temples (koil / kovil) as Prasadam (offerings to the Lord). It is also made during get-togethers, and religious or cultural events where one needs to feed a large crowd. Here’s a large batch of tamarind rice I made last month for a classical music event –
Iyengar Puliyodharai (Tamarind Rice)
For the Pulikachal (the Tamarind Pickle)
- 1 cup seedless Tamarind fruit (or deseed manually)
- 1 Tbsp Methi seeds (vendhayam or fenugreek seedS)
- 1/2 to 1 cup Sesame Oil (the more you use, the longer the pickle lasts and more flavor it has)
- 1 Tbsp solid Hing or powdered Hing (Perungayam or Asafetoda)
- 1 Tbsp Mustard Seeds (kadugu or rai)
- 2 Tbsp Chana Dal (split chickpeas or kadalai paruppu)
- 2 Tbsp split Urad Dal (split black gram or ulutham paruppu)
- 1/4 cup dried Red Chili (adjust for spice)
- 1 Tbsp Turmeric Powder (haldi or manja podi)
- 1/3 cup fresh Curry Leaves
- 2 Tbsp Salt, adjust to taste
- 1 Tbsp Jaggery (gud or vellam), adjust to taste
For the Spice-Mix (makes enough for 2-4 cups of Rice. You should make these fresh in batches for best results)
- 2 Tbsp Coriander seeds (dhania)
- 2 tsp Black Peppercorn (kali mirch or milagu)
- 1/4 cup dried Red Chili or Chili Powder
To make the Puliyodharai
- 1 cup Basmati Rice (or any fluffy rice) – cooked & cooled
- 1-2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
- 1-2 tsp Tamarind Pickle or Pulikachal
- 1-2 tsp Coriander-Chili-Pepper Spice-Mix
- 2-3 Tbsp Peanuts (moongfali or verkadalai)
*All the above components under Tamarind Rice are approximate measurements, adjust the amount of spice-mix or pickle you need based on your preference.
For the Pickle or Pulikachal
- Prepping the tamarind: Soak the tamarind in warm water for an hour or until softened. If there are any seeds, remove them from the mixture. Add the tamaridn with some water to a blender and blend to a smooth puree. Pass this through a seive to ensure you have a smooth tamarind paste with no fibre or seeds.
- Prepping Methi Seeds: Roast the methi seeds until they turn golden and aromatic. Let them cool completely. Crush them with a mortar pestle to a coarse powder. You can also use an electric spice grinder. Set this powder aside until the end.
- Tadka for the tamarind pickle: Heat the sesame oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Add mustard seeds, when that splutters, add the chana dal and urad dal and fry a few seconds. Then add the hing, curry leaves, turmeric powder and mix.
- Pour in the tamarind paste along with a cup of water. Add salt and mix well. Keep stirring occassionally and cook the mixture on medium heat.
- In about 20-30 minutes, the mixture will thicken. Add the jaggery and methi powder that we had prepared earlier. Mix well. Taste and adjust for seasoning (salt / jaggery).
- Let the mixture cook for another 5 minutes or until the oil starts to separate from the pickle.
- Once the pickle cools to room temperature, add it to an airtight container and refrigerate it for upto a year. Use as needed.
For the Spice-Mix
- Roast the coriander seeds, black peppercorn and dried red chilies until aromatic and crunchy. Let them cool completely.
- Grind to a smooth powder. That's it. Store in an airtight jar and use as needed.
- Ideally, make this in small batches so that the spices stay fresh.
For assembling the Puliyodharai or Tamarind Rice
- Cooking the Rice: Wash and soak rice for at least 30 minutes. Use 1:2 rice to water ratio and cook on a pan with lid or pressure cooker with spoonful of oil. Once it is cooked, let it cool to room temperature complety without disturbing the rice. Once it has cooled, fluff up gently with a fork.
- Bringing everything together:
- Add the fluffed up rice (at room temp) to a large mixing bowl. Add the sesame oil, roasted peanuts, pulikachal and spice mix. Mix gently with a couple of forks, without breaking the rice. That's it!
- Make sure to let the pickle and spices infuse into the rice. Let it rest for at least 2 hours (if not more). Serve at room temperature as is or with your favorite chips or yogurt.
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