A few days back, a reader, Vini, wrote to me saying she made kozhakottai (modak) from a recipe I had shared for ‘uppu kozhakottai‘ in Beyond Curries. She said that the dough was very sticky but the taste was very good. My dough is never sticky so I was surprised. A few mails back and forth revealed the reason. Vini used ‘Thai jasmine rice’ whereas I use ‘Kolam’. Thai rice is a glutinous variety and renders a naturally sticky dough. Vini’s mail, combined with the festive fervor of Vinayaka Chaturthi, prompted some fun and action in the TT household. Since I happened to have jasmine rice as well it was easy to compare and ‘study’.
More modaks than ever, using three varieties of rice – jasmine, basmati and kolam – were made, to see how the quality would be affected. Studies of such noble kind bring out the best in people. Mr.P volunteered to scrape any amount of coconut, Jr.H and Jr.P chipped in by foregoing lunch and dinner, volunteering to live on modaks for two whole days. Sniff, sniff……, I was overwhelmed. My family will do anything for a worthy cause – in this case, ‘the perfect kozhakottai’!
I could not have thought of a better translation in English. After all, these are gluten-free, vegan, and use the same cooking technique as momos, right from the shaping!
Recipe: Vella kozhakottai [Gluten-free momos filled with rice and jaggery]
Yield : 20-25, each about an inch in size
Cooking time: 5 minutes for dough, 5 minutes for filling, 20 minutes to form moulds and fill, 10 minutes to steam. [50 minutes to be precise]
For batter and dough:
Rice – 1 cup
Salt – 1/8 tsp.
Oil – ½ tsp., if needed
Water – 1 cup to soak rice, and ½ or 1 cup extra depending on rice used
For the Stuffing:
Fresh, scraped coconut, without any browns from the kernel – 2 cups
Organic jaggery, scraped into small pieces – ¾ cup
Water – 1 tbsp.
To make the batter:
Soak 1 cup of rice in one cup of water for at least 3-4 hours. Drain, set aside the water, and grind or blend the drained rice into a smooth, lump free batter, adding the strained water only if needed. I always push the batter through a soup strainer to be sure that there are no grains. Grainy batter ends in lumpy dough.
To make the dough:
If using jasmine rice, bring half a cup of water to the boil, adding 1/8 tsp. of sea salt. If using basmati or kolam, or other less starchy rice, bring one cup of water to the boil, adding 1/8 tsp. of sea salt and a tsp. of oil. Use a heavy bottomed vessel. I use my small pressure cooker as the handle makes it easy to hold the vessel while stirring. A vessel without a handle can be a pain.
Reduce heat to low and pour the ground rice batter into the boiling mixture, stirring all the while. I am a right-handed person so I pour with the left hand, and stir with the right. Cook, the batter, stirring and turning it over. Slice and push the ladle while cooking so that the batter is cooked evenly. This takes 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat Scrape any dough stuck on the ladle back into the vessel quickly. Cover the vessel and set aside for 5 minutes to allow the residual steam to cook the dough. Remove the cover and turn the dough onto a large plate to knead the dough. Allow it to cool till you can handle the heat. I like to work while the dough is still warm. Grease your hand with a touch of oil, not more, and knead a smooth, pliable, but not sticky dough. Use a touch of oil only if needed. Normally, you should not need more than ½ teaspoon.
Cover with a wet cloth or air tight lid. This helps the dough relax and steam cook to perfection.
Make the stuffing:
Heat a heavy wok. Reduce heat. Pour water. Add the jaggery and stir well till melted.
Add the scraped coconut and mix the coconut into the jaggery evenly. Cook till the mixture turns sticky, about 5 minutes or till done. Do not let the jaggery burn. Set aside to cool.
Shape the kozhakottai:
Pinch a little dough, and form a smooth ball about ½ inch in diameter.
Touch oil and grease your fingertips. Flatten the ball into a thin circle, about 2mm at the most. Place half tsp. of the stuffing in the center of the circle, leaving about half an inch of dough on the edges. Gather the edges into a cone around the stuffing, making small pleats as you go. The dough being very pliable, this is quite easy but needs a little practice. If you cannot pleat, just gather and roll between your palms to form a sphere. The taste will not be affected.
Prepare a steamer. Line the steaming vessel with plantain leaf and place the modaks on it, without crowding them together. Steam for about 10-15 minutes, checking for done-ness after 10 minutes. Cool completely.
These are delicate while warm. I like them best fresh, but they stay good for a day. It is not advisable to store longer.
Steaming without a steamer:
Pour water in a wide and deep vessel upto an inch. Bring to a boil. Place a stainless steel vegetable strainer that fits in the mouth of the vessel. Line with cleaned plantain leaf. Place the momos, or kozhakottais inside, without crowding them over. Cover the vessel with a dome shaped lid and steam for 5 minutes with the lid on moderate heat, and another 5 minutes on low heat, or till done. If done, the modaks which were white would have turned pale and shiny. Cool completely before serving as they will be sticky while hot.
The jasmine rice resulted in the softest modaks, and texture-wise I liked these modak the best. It was the easiest dough to handle. Basmati modaks won hands down because of the flavour. Kolam was least favoured among the three. Not because it was not good, but it did not measure up to the quality of the jasmine rice or the basmati. All the modaks remained soft the next day too.
Modaks are also made with superfine rice flour, and I used that method for a long time. A few years back, it was my sister who told me to try using the batter method, which she in turn learnt from a friend at work.
The first time I used this method, I realized the difference in textures. Having been soaked and ground, the rice has more moisture and remains softer than the ones made with home-made flour. You have to try this at least once to know the difference, and you will be hooked.
Vini tells me this one definitely scores over the flour method she followed earlier. She also brought to my attention that I had mentioned the cooking time for the dough as 12-15 minutes. I am afraid I have made an error. For a cup of dough the cooking time is only 2-3 minutes.
I use this recipe for my steamed momos too. They turn out equally good, though you must prepare yourself for the change in taste.
The photographs were shot with Simone’s theme for photography challenge this month. The theme is ‘all white’. I tried some colours too, but tried playing with tones and shadows which is why I used silver. Silver also gives the festive look.