Podi, bursting with flavour, is that magic ingredient that transforms a dish. During the COVID-19 crisis, families found inventive ways to cook with it
Podis have always been a constant in South Indian kitchens. Be it the idli podi, sambar/rasam podi or the paruppu podi, aromatic powdered blends of spices and lentils, elevate a meal and make cooking easier. A surge in demand for podis through the lockdown has resulted in some intruiging new recipes.
“Everyone wants to eat nutritious meals, which is why curry leaf and moringa leaf powders are popular and were constantly on demand during lockdown,” says Parul Bhatt, who markets her homemade range of spice powders via social media. She makes curry leaves and moringa leaves podi, tea masala and methia masala in small batches.
“Tea masala is a herbal preparation, which can be added to tea or milk; it is beneficial during the winter months as it could protect us from cold and cough,” says Parul, who started making these powders for her family and friends, and later launched Parul’s Magic range of podi and pickles.
The lockdown rendered Murali Rajagopalan, a wedding caterer, jobless for many months. He decided to venture into podi making, realising demand for the product was high and launched Aarohana Foods in June 2020, with a special focus on keerai-based powders. “My wife and I began experimenting on how to process and preserve the nutrient value of greens and blend them into coarse powders. Our idea was to extend the shelf-life of different types of keerai. After much trial and error, we nailed the final product,” explains Murali.
“Our podi range is made of araikeerai, ponnankanni keerai and agathi keerai,” says Murali, who prepares 13 types of ready-to-use podis.
He procures the greens from three different farms that practise natural farming, cleans and dries them in the shade, combines them with roasted lentils and spices and grinds them. “About 85% of the nutrients of the greens will be intact even after processing. We use more of pepper and less of red chilli, in the traditional style. We make the powders only after we get orders so that they remain fresh and last longer,” says Murali. He says his products can be stored upto three months.
Octogenarian Radha Parthasarathy, founder of Sri Annapoorani Food Products says that the pandemic halted the demand for sathu maavu which her company prepared to be supplied to schools.
“We were making two to three tonnes of sathu mavu (sprouted multigrain powder) every month, which were distributed to 3,300 school children in Chennai through various CSR initiatives by corporates,” says Radha, who founded Annapoorani Public Charitable Trust and brought together the women of Thandalam near Arakonam and trained them in making podis, vadams, millet dosa mix and sathu maavu.
“We source raw materials from farmers in consultation with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University,” says Radha, adding that profits from the sale are divided among the women. Pre-mix powders for Kanchipuram idli, thavala adai, mor kulambu, pepper kulambu, and puliyodharai are among their popular products, apart from tea masala and curryma podi.
Chef Shri Bala, who launched her line of podis a year ago, says the demand doubled during lockdown. Customising the product to suit the customer’s requirement is her USP.
“Some families prefer less spice, some prefer it hot. Also, I avoid ingredients that customers are allergic to,” she explains. Shribala says demand has surged for rasam and curry podi (used for non-vegetarian gravies) over the past few months. She is currently working on aingaya podi, a combination of five health-promoting herbs, that detoxify and boost immunity.
To get the maximum use out of these powders, the trick is to experiment with them. Cook-book author Mallika Badrinath says that podis can be used in the kitchen as multi-purpose spice powders. For example, try sprinkling garlic-flavoured idli podi over a vegetable stir-fry to add flavour. She also suggests making an easy rice dish with minced onions and garlic, garnished with a podi or two of one’s choice.
Says Parul, “Moringa powder can be mixed with dosa batter or roti or paratha flour. It can be sprinkled over roast potatoes too. Similarly, it can be used to spice up any stir fry. Raw moringa powder can be used in multiple ways, in your smoothie, juices or in butter milk. Methia powder, which is ready-to-use pickle powder, can be sprinkled on vegetable salad.” Options are endless for the creative.