Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Black Puttu Rice Halva

This is my contribution on Mother's Day 2014, for Khuch Khatta Khuch Meetha aur Khuch Theeka

Rice has been a part of the Indian food culture forever. Especially in South India, rice dishes are eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
There are so many different varieties of rice; some specific to the success of a dish. Basmati for biriyani, jeeraga samba for vegetable pulao, parboiled for dosa, ponni rice for idlis, red rice for health, and black rice for desserts.
Besides Indians, black rice is used by Thai, Phillipinos, Chinese and Indonesians.
The Thai and Indonesian variety are different to the Chinese variety. The former two are thin, medium to long grain, a lighter purple with brown and white mixed in; the latter are small grained and plump and all a dark purplish black. The Thai version produces a more glutinous halva, while the Chinese variety gives me perfect results.
I get the best Chinese rice sold under the brand name Forbidden or Lotus Rice in American grocery stores. There are some available in the Chinese stores too but for some reason it is not the best kind. The rice is available through mail order too.

Chinese legend has it that black rice was actually known as Forbidden Rice because it was only eaten by the Emperors. It is very nutritious when eaten in small quantities. While I found recipes for the rice cooked whole, both as a staple and a dessert, I didn't find one for the kind of dessert given below, thus inspiring me to share something different.

My search for an unusual recipe to share took me through several family cookbooks, an Internet search and then satisfied with the need for this recipe I got the ingredients and made it and took the usual photographs to share.
An interesting tale goes with the history of this dish. We called it black puttu rice at home. I guess it got that name as originally people must have made puttu with the flour. (For those of you unfamiliar with puttu it is a dish where rice flour is steamed and then mixed with sugar or jaggery, ghee and grated coconut and served as a breakfast dish in South India).
My mother used to have the black rice ground and with the resulting light purplish powder she would make a wonderful halva. Black puttu rice halva was a top family favorite.
The problem was getting the rice. When we were young and rice was rationed, it was difficult to get black puttu rice anywhere. Sometimes the rice would be available in Madras, brought from China via Singapore, or so the story went! When a relative came from Madras we children would wait eagerly ...not so much for the relative, but to know if his luggage held a few cups of carefully concealed black rice. We discussed this in whispers with our mother who shushed us with 'the look' in her eyes. Our father would not tolerate any wrong doing and would throw both relative and black puttu rice out!
When the relative came out from the guest room with a newspaper wrapped bundle of two cups of black puttu rice, my mother would exclaim in surprise that she never thought it would get through. Inspectors used to board the train in those days and search luggage to make sure no rice was carried out of Madras State. We children couldn't have been happier and our love for the relative would increase on the spot!
The servant would be sent to the mill with strict admonitions that the rice had to be ground after white rice only, nothing else and the servant should not take his eyes off the miller who might quickly conceal a table spoon or two for his personal use!
We would wait impatiently till it was brought back and watch as the purple flour was sieved and spread on a sheet of newspaper to dry.
The next day my mother would sit down on a cane stool to make it, a small kerosene stove on the floor in front of her (she did this with all the dishes that took a long time). Soon there would be a heavenly aroma wafting around the house, driving our salivary glands crazy, flooding our mouths with anticipation of the taste no other sweet preparation had. Finally, finally it would be ready and we would each have a scoop of the halwa in a bowl. One of my brothers would always urge my mother not to scrape out too much from the cooking pot, but to leave him the bottom portion. For those of us who know about that part, it is common knowledge that it is the best. My brother would patiently scrape the vessel clean before he handed it over to the maid and disappeared with his 'loot'.
My father would eat the halva silently. He must have loved it too, because to everybody including the relative's relief, it was the one dish he never asked questions about! I think the first spoonful made my father decide it was too late to do anything but enjoy!
My mother would heat and re-heat the halwa each day and it's taste would improve.
Our Anglo-Indian friends made a cake with the rice at Christmas time called 'Dol-dol'.
Genetics pre-disposes us to love certain tastes more than others...the last time I made this halva I cautiously gave the 5 and 3 year old grandchildren a taste. They don't like most Indian sweets. They nibbled the first bite, looked at me and said, "More!"
I couldn't have been happier...the right genes have been passed on!

Here then is the recipe for the halva we loved and still do.
My American version includes the usual tips and short cuts.

1 cup black puttu rice flour

2 level tbsps cornstarch (or maida)

1 small can...5.6 ozs coconut milk plus 1 can water. (available in Chinese, Thai & Vietnamese supermarkets)
(At home this would be made with two extracts of milk from a freshly grated coconut).

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup Splenda sugar substitute

OR 1 1/2 cups sugar.

1 tbsp ghee

Almonds to decorate, elaichi powder.

Mix cornstarch with water in a blender or food processor.

Add black puttu rice flour,coconut milk and sugar and mix well.

The consistency should be that of smooth buttermilk (not too thin not too thick). Add a little more water if necessary. The mix should be lump free.

Place in a thick bottomed pan and bring to boil….reduce heat to make sure halva isn’t getting scorched.

This will splutter and if your pan isn't deep enough, put on a oven mitt while stirring to avoid getting burnt!

When it is thick (halva consistency) and begins to leave the bottom of the pan, add ghee.

What is halva consistency?

It is when the black puttu halva falls from the spoon like a mass.

Mix well and trasfer to a bowl.

Decorate with blanched, sliced almonds.
Store in refrigerate, re-heat every day and enjoy.

For those who want a shortcut, the shortest one I can think of for this recipe is: Find a Thai restaurant that has 'black rice pudding' or 'sticky rice pudding' on the menu and enjoy it there. Warning: call ahead to make sure your serving is available and reserve it as in our area it is usually 'sold out' by the time we get to the place.
Use the Chinese rice for best results, as whenever I've used the Thai rice, I get a different consistency in the end result.


lan said...

i haven't read the full post and will be back to read all later. but you have me at halwa and puttu:-))

lan said...

such lovely memories and stories within stories! just the reading was enough for me. never had black puttu. this reminds me of the black halwa we used to have but is quite time consuming to make. i like your short cuts as always and will be on the lookout for black rice flour.. meanwhile i am going to get a taste of the thai black rice pudding:-))

whitefieldbb@gmail.com said...

Thanks lan. I've discovered there's a a story with all 'great' recipes and just the writing of these tales evoke such clear pictures of happy cameos of the past.

Cynthia said...

I love you too GA!

You know I have never cooked black rice before... the next time I go to the US, I will bring back some and try it.

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