The comfort food of all a Tamilians (may be other South Indians too) is Thair Saadam, or simply, homemade yogurt with steaming white rice.
The most basic form of this recipe, which is often fed to children by loving mothers and grandmothers, contains nothing else. Just the yogurt and the rice… not even a pinch of salt.
And then the recipe gets more and more sophisticated by adding a little of this, a dash of that, and before you know it, you have a masterpiece.
Thair saadam is a dish unlike any other.
In this version however, we eschew the milled, de-husked, bad-for-everyone villain we call rice and substitute it instead with the trusty cauliflower, the one veggie that’s willing to bend over backward in its quest to feed and please.
Carb count: You’re beginning with a base of 500 grams of Cauliflower Rice containing 25 grams in carb, some of it fibre. The spices are carb free. The yogurt contains about 25 grams. Heavy cream has none! So that’s a total of 50 gms of carb for a dish that serves a minimum of 4 people. 12 gms per serving. Not too expensive for comfort.
One head of cauliflower, about 500 gms, broken by hand into florets, including the stem. Really, all you’re throwing away are the leaves.
– 2 tbsp cooking oil
– ½ tsp mustard seeds
– 1 tbsp channa daal
– ½ tbsp urad daal
– 1 or 2 dry red chillies, split apart
– A pinch of asafoetida (optional, depending on how authentically Tamilian you’re trying to be)
About 10 curry leaves (some people don’t like curry leaves but I love them, especially if they’re slightly crispy)
– 500 gms yogurt
– Two heaped tbsp heavy cream (this is my secret ingredient, makes it really creamy)
– A baby’s pinch of salt
– About 10 pomegranate pods
Boil some water in a large saucepan, and when the water is bubbling, drop the florets in so they’re covered. Leave them in for exactly five minutes. Time it or the cauliflower gets soggy. It should be ‘al dente.’
Remove and drain thoroughly, in a colander. You can pat the florets dry if u can’t wait for them to drain naturally.
Alternatively, if you have a steamer, you can steam the cauliflower florets. I don’t have one, sadly.
Now put the cauliflower in a food processor for a whirl or two till the florets resemble rice.
If you don’t have a food processor or are just too lazy to clean up, simply grate the cauliflower florets by hand. It tastes the same.
Toss in the mustard seeds when the oil looks like it’s steaming, and cover with a steel plate as they pop. The firecrackers will subside soon.
Lower the heat and add the channa daal. It turns colour quickly, so be careful. No more than 30 seconds.
Now toss in the urad daal, curry leaves and asafoetida, frying all of it gently, until golden brown.
Mix the spice-leaves with the grated cauliflower gently. You don’t want the florets to turn into mush.
Separately, mix the yogurt and the heavy cream.
Now all the ingredients together and toss gently as you would a salad, where you’re afraid of breaking the leaves.
Flatten the Thair Saaadam in the bowl (for aesthetic reasons) and sprinkle the pomegranate pods on top.
Mango pickle. My mom actually ate Thair Sadaam with jam, pretty disgusting as it goes, but hey, there’s no accounting for taste.
So what’s Upma you ask.
According to my Kaveri Mami (now concocting delicious South Indian veggie dishes in that kitchen up in the sky), Upma was the quickest way to shut me up when I was wailing with hunger as a 5-year old. Something she could whip up in minutes, delicious, and most certainly healthier than Bourbon or Nice biscuits. Heaven forbid, the chicken puff.
Upma is traditionally made with semolina, a kind of coarse wheat product, very high in carbs and low in fibre. But Kaveri Mami (who took care of me and my brother when my mom was out working) knew nothing of the horrors of gluten, or the allergies produced by wheat.
I know better. And if there’s any doubt in your mind, here’s the calculation:
100 grams of semolina contain 73 grams of carbs and very little fibre / 100 grams of steamed and shredded cauliflower contains 5 grams of carb and half of it is fibre.
This recipe can serve 4 people generously, along with some accompanying vegetable or meat dish. There are totally about 80 carbs in all of it. Divide that by 4 and each person is only consuming 20 carbs per meal.
I don’t have a steamer – so i boil water and throw in cauliflower florets with the stem and let it bubble for precisely 5 minutes. Take it out and drain.
500 grams of gently parboiled cauliflower (or steamed), shredded in a food processor or by hand, till it looks like rice
1 smallish carrot, peeled and chopped into fine pieces
A handful of green beans, about 8, de-veined, chopped in cubes
A handful of peas
1 medium onion, should fit in the palm of your hand, chopped in slinky slivers
1 green chilly, get rid of the seeds and then chop it finely
1 tbsp chana dal or split, skinned Bengal gram
½ tbsp urad dal
½ inch ginger grated or chopped finely
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 sprig of curry leaves
3/4 cup of split cashews or if you’re not a spendthrift, a cup of raw peanuts
2 tbsp oil or ghee
Salt to taste
-In a largish saucepan, heat the oil or ghee
-Add mustard seeds and wait for them to pop
-Quickly add the two types of dal and the cumin and brown gently, not too much, not too little
-Add the nuts and hover over them so they don’t get over-browned, especially if you’re using the cashews. Peanuts are a bit hardier.
-Toss the onions in and fry them till they’re browning. You want a crispy texture.
-You are ready for green chilly and the curry leaves.
-Fry for a minute.
-Add the cauliflower and fry all of it until it looks done, mixing thoroughly.
I personally don’t think you need to serve this with anything else… but you can be inventive. It tastes as good with a chicken curry as it does with eggplant. This quantity of Cauliflower Upma serves two with some accompaniment, or one, if that’s all you’re eating.
The very low carb and very delish answer to hunger pangs
When I get home from anywhere, I head straight to the fridge. I’m always hungry. Even if I’ve just eaten a meal.
So it has become very important for me to have something low in carbs, something guilt free, something that satisfies my hunger quickly so I don’t call Basha Stores (down the street) for home delivery of a tub of ice cream along with some salted cashew nuts.
I came up with this recipe and Bagya, my left-hand woman (yes, I’m left handed) and I have found ways to perfect the taste bit by bit, and each edit just makes it better.
You too can add more of something or cut something else down to change the taste. For instance, if you like the taste of blue cheese, you can add some to give it that uniqueness. Not everyone likes blue cheese… but I do.
Oh, and one more thing, you can substitute the raw peanuts with raw cashews or almonds or even walnuts. The taste will change accordingly, but cashews especially, taste yum. Of course, the cost will go up.
Carb count: Believe it or not each cookie contains about 1 gram of carbs. That’s it. And so you can wallop 10 of them with melted Gruyere and it’s not going to affect a thing!
You’ll get: 55 cookies!
– 200 gms raw cauliflower florets, steamed lightly
– 2 eggs
– 50 gms Romano cheese grated
– 50 gms raw peanuts (or almonds or walnuts)
– 50 gms buckwheat flour
– ½ tsp baking soda
– Salt to taste
Pulverise the peanuts (couldn’t resist the alliteration) in a food processor and once it’s nice and crumbled, the consistency of breadcrumbs, kind of, toss in all the other ingredients and spin around. It’s nice to have something to chew, so don’t make it too mushy.
Taste to see if it’s to your liking. Unlike sweet cookie dough, this ‘raw’ tasting may not be a great experience, but visualise the end product, all cooked and crispy. You may need to adjust for taste – according to what you like. More cheese?
Roll out the dough as thinly as you can and then using a cookie cutter or the cap of a bottle, make cookie-like circles.
When we’re in a hurry, we just use our palms to flatten out the cookies and plop them on the sheet and you get a sort of home-made cookie.
Grease a baking tray and lay out the cookies, spaced apart, and cook till brown. Flip them over till the other side is cooked too. It’s nice if a few of them are crunchy. Be sure to pay attention so they don’t get blackened and awful.
Should take about 10 minutes in a preheated oven, set at 180C.
Store in a jar.
These cookies actually keep for about 10 days. But I’ve never been able to leave them alone that long.
Nothing. Or some other kind of cheese, zapped in the micro for 10 seconds. Or liver pate. Or peanut butter. Or pickle if you’re feeling pickly.