On a warm summers evening, when my mother would take out from her closet a pile of old saris, I knew what the following day would mean. It involved scrapping any plans whatsoever I may of had, and instead prepare for Operation Khichi.
Khichi is steamed rice flour dumplings, flavoured with earthy cumin seeds and chillies, and is often eaten on its own, with a little drizzle of oil (always), plus a garlic chutney, and/or a sprinkle of chilli powder, and/or garnished with chopped coriander.
So, how do the several saris fit in? Well, back to Operation Khichi, with the whole family ready for duty, sir.
The soft, ever so slightly sticky steamed dumpling can be eaten straight away because to its own merit its highly addictive, melty and beautiful to eat. Leaving a few aside of this purpose, let’s talk about the rest of them.
Formed into small balls, my mother would roll out each dumpling into round discs in-between two oiled sheets of plastic. As quickly as she rolled them, my sisters, father, and I would be ready to take each one draped over a rolling pin (there was a minimum of 3 rolling pins needed), out to the garden. A rainbow of colourful and brightly patterned saris would be layed out covering almost every blade of grass, all held down on the corners with random household objects – an old telephone, a 2lt bottle of oil, industrial size tub of Nivea, the nathnu book (a directory of everyone in our community, names, addresses, ages, etc. The perfect tool for match-making aunties).
We’d start at the back and carefully unfurl the droopy disc neatly down, until every inch of the saris was covered with now papper (rice flour poppadoms) ready to be sun-dried. Every couple of hours I would have to go and turn around, and being the youngest I was often voluntold for this job. The whole operation usually took two days of ideally intense sunshine. But once fully dried, they were deep-fried to form these incredible crunchy but fluffy poppadoms.
Below is my recipe for a Gujarati khichi, and it’s wonderfully simple. You can make into poppadoms/papper (saris not required, but weather dependant,), or just devour on its own.
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp sesame seeds
1 green chilli crushed
bicarbonate of soda (tiny pinch, no more than quarter of a tsp)
150g rice flour, plus extra for dusting if needed
Little oil for greasing the steamer
Drizzle of oil to serve
- In a pan add the water, salt, cumin, sesame seeds, chilli and bicarbonate of soda. Bring to a boil.
- Start gradually adding the flour, a tablespoon at a time and stir with a wooden spoon, until all incorporated, with no lumps and has a doughy consistency. Add a little more flour if it’s too wet.
- Transfer onto a plate and divide into 8 balls, patting down slightly and pressing your thumb in the middle gently (not going all the way through).
- Using a metal based steamer, oil the base, add boiling water, then add the dumplings, cover and steam for 10/15 minutes.
- When done, carefully remove the khichi and serve with a drizzle of oil.
To make into poppadoms, divide each dumpling into two, and keep in the steamer with the lid on, but heat off, as you work through them. Outside on a table or safe (won’t be accidentally stepped on) area, lay three clean tea towels down with paper weights, or of course random household items. You’ll need to roll the balls in-between two sheets so not to stick, I use Beeswax Wraps. Place the dough in the wrap and roll out to a thin round (don’t worry if not quite round!). This is the tricky part, they are very delicate so if you can drape one over the rolling pin to place outside on your tea-towel, great. If not just carry the wrap with the poppadom on to the tea-towel and gently prize off. Let them sun-dry for two days, they will shrivel and go slightly darker. Keep them in an air-tight container for a couple of months in a cupboard. Whenever you are ready to use, deep fry them in hot oil (test a small piece first).