Geeta came to the Gore family as a young girl to work as a general help around the house. She would lay the table and clean the lentils. She’d put the clothes out to dry and the washed utensils in their place. When she had nothing else to do, she’d make garlands with my great grandmother or learn rangoli patterns. A gutsy young girl then, she broke an engagement her father insisted upon when she got to know that the groom wanted dowry. Life hasn’t been particularly smooth for this pleasant-faced 50-odd year old, even after that. The strain shows on her face now—lines have appeared where one can imagine smooth, glowing skin. And yet, she flashes a smile models would kill for. Today, she runs her own house and makes traditional namkeens for someplace (a cooperative, I imagine).

On my Bangalore trip last month, she was asked to come over and help around a bit. Every morning, she’d come freshly bathed, flowers in her hair and the warmest smile on her face, and take over the kitchen. Fighting language barriers (I barely understand Kannada, she can speak a smattering of Hindi/Marathi) she managed to tell me how much I look like my maternal aunt and ask me what kind of food I crave for. On the last day of my stay there, a jar of deep, earthy brown paste appeared on the table. One whiff and it tantalized my senses. This is what it was:


This tangy-sweet-spicy paste with a liberal sprinkling of peanuts, roasted Bengal gram, and curry leaves forms the basis of the quintessential puliogare or tamarind rice. A paste like this can be made in larger quantities and stored in a jar, ready to be heaped onto waiting mounds of freshly steamed rice and ghee. Or, if feeling fancy, into a slightly more elaborate version like I did in my kitchen.


Here’s the recipe for the paste (the best I could figure from her gesticulations and my own taste buds).

Geeta’s Puliogare gojju:
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of tamarind extract
  • ½ cup jaggery
  • 1 tbsp. sesame seeds
  • ½ tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. red chilli powder
  • A handful of roasted peanuts
  • 1 tbsp. split Bengal gram (chana dal)
  • 8-10 curry leaves
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 4-5 dried red chillies
  • A pinch of asafetida
  • Salt to taste

Method:

  1. Place the tamarind extract and jaggery in a thick bottomed pan and bring to a boil. Turn down and simmer until it thickens—it should be somewhat the consistency of smooth peanut butter.
  2. Meanwhile, dry roast the coriander, cumin, and sesame seeds until fragrant. Cool slightly and grind to a paste. Add this to the simmering tamarind extract.
  3. Season with salt and red chilli powder.
  4. Heat oil in a separate pan. Add the mustard seeds, split Bengal gram, peanuts, and the torn dried red chillies. Fry for a wee minute until the lentils turn pink. Throw in the curry leaves and sprinkle the asafetida. Pour this tempering over the tamarind extract and stir well.
  5. Cool and store in an air-tight jar. Serve with freshly steamed rice and ghee.

Alternatively:

  1. Fork up a large cupful of freshly steamed rice and rub in some of the puliogare gojju. Try not to get too enthusiastic or you’ll end up with puliogare-flavored rice paste.
  2. Heat oil (or ghee) in a wok and make a tempering of mustard seeds, a little asafoetida, turmeric powder, dried red chillies, and curry leaves. Throw in the rice and adjust seasoning.
  3. Fry for a few minutes until well-combined.
  4. Serve piping hot!