My grandmother’s sister lovingly referred to as Shanta Ajji lived in the west coast of the US during the later part of her life. During our brief sojourn in New Jersey, I remember indulging in long conversations with her over the phone when she would discuss her week’s activities but, more significantly, I remember her keen interest in my love for cooking; patiently educating a novice with the intricacies of authentic South Indian recipes (mostly involving the Madhwa Cuisine) and breaking down the complexities that haunted my ignorant mind. My culinary knowledge those days hardly amounted to anything but I possessed an enthusiasm and fervor(fortunately I still do) that prompted the above mentioned phonecalls where we tackled a gamut of recipes.
The next summer, we road tripped along the West Coast, allowing ourselves to be awed by the brilliant grandeur of Las Vegas, the opulent mansions of Beverly Hills and the magnanimity of the Grand Canyon. It also entailed a short halt at San Jose to visit Shanta Ajji when she affectionately handed to me a copy of a cookbook written by her. The book is brimming with details of food that she laboriously & lovingly prepared for her family. She is sadly no more, however and unstintingly, this tome occupies a cherished place in my heart and the kitchen. The recipe I share with you today is hers, has been adapted from her cookbook and has managed to spice up mundane weekdays in the most delicious and soul-satisfying ways.
Sandige HuLi is essentially a sambar or a stew that has swimming in its rich, coconut-laden gravy, little spheres made of lentils. In Kannada, these steamed spheres are referred to as ‘Sandige’ and the gravy itself is referred to as the ‘huLi’. The Madhwa dish garners a celebrity status of sorts and it lies in the fact that it is traditionally conjured up on the day before a wedding takes place(a ceremony called the Devarasamaradhane) and is served as per custom on a banana leaf coupled with hot rice and ghee. Together with the flavours emanating from the leaf, they create a gastronomical experience that is nothing short of divine.
Let’s move on to the recipe without further ado. Do try it and let me know how you like it.
RECIPE FOR SANDIGE HULI
Special equipment- An Idli cooker
For the Sandige or the Lentil Spheres
1 cup Toor Dal/Dried Pigeon peas(flat, yellow coloured lentils)
1 tsp fresh, grated Ginger
4 Green Chillies(feel free to reduce the quantity if you think it is too spicy)
1/2 cup Cilantro/Coriander leaves, roughly chopped
A pinch of Hing or Asafoetida
1/4 cup fresh, grated coconut
Salt to taste
For the HuLi
1 tsp Oil
1 tsp Urad dal
1 tsp Chana Dal
1.5 tsp Cumin seeds/Jeera Seeds
8-9 Byadgi MeNsinkai(Dry and wrinkled red chillies, please see Note)
1 Green Chili
1/2 cup Cilantro/Coriander leaves
A pinch of Hing/Asafoetida
2 tbsp Toor Dal/Dried Pigeon peas(flat, yellow coloured lentils)
3 tsp Coriander Seeds/Dhaniya seeds
1/2 cup fresh, grated coconut
3/4-1 tsp thick tamarind paste
1 tsp Jaggery
Salt to taste
For the tempering
1 tbsp sunflower/vegetable oil
1.5 tsp Mustard Seeds
A handful of Curry leaves
3 dried red chillies
A pinch of Hing/Asafoetida
–To make the SanDige or Lentil Spheres, soak 1 cup of the toor dal for 3 hours atleast and drain the water.
-Keep aside 2 tablespoons of the soaked lentils and transfer the remaining into a blender/food processor along with the other ingredients:ginger, green chillies, cilantro, coconut and salt. Grind to a coarse paste using a tablespoon or two of water only if necessary.
-Make spheres from this coarsely grounded mixture, measuring the size of a lime. It can be shaped into spheres or elongated into an oval.
-Meanwhile get your Idli Cooker ready. Add enough water to the cooker, so that it doesn’t touch the idli stand and let it come to a boil. Grease the idli cavities with oil and place the sanDige in the cavities. Cover with the lid and steam for around 12 minutes.
-Once done, carefully remove from the cooker and let them cool.
-To make the huLi, in a small pan, heat 1 teaspoon of oil. To this add, urad dal, chana dal, byadgi chillies , a pinch of hing and cumin seeds. Fry them for a few minutes on low heat until the lentils turn golden brown. Once done, transfer to a plate and cool completely.
-Add the cooled mixture to a blender/food processor along with 1 Green Chili, Cilantro,
the 2 tbsp of soaked toor dal, Coriander Seeds/Dhaniya seeds and fresh, grated coconut. Blend into a smooth paste, adding approximately half a cup of water as well.
-Now, take a large, deep bottomed vessel and to this, add the paste along with 2 cups of water. Also add salt, tamarind paste and jaggery. Mix it all together and allow to come to a boil. Put off the stove and add the sanDige.
-For the tempering, add the oil in a small pan(tadka pan) and heat it. Once heated, add the mustard seeds, they wil splutter immediately. To this add the washed and dried curry leaves and dry red chillies. Fry till they’re crispy, around 20 seconds, and add to the sambar.
-Serve hot with rice and ghee.
-Byadgi MeNsinkai is a long, dry red chilli that has a wrinkled appearance. They are not too spicy but feel free to alter the quantities as per your needs. The smoother dry red chilles, called as Guntoor can be very spicy so try to procure the Byadgi variety itself.
-The SanDige or steamed lentil spheres can be eaten as a snack as well, perhaps with a side of ghee and coconut chutney
-The dish tastes even better the next day(provided it is refrigerated) since the sanDige’s would have absorbed all the spices from the sambar.