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Kurma, What should I do so that my sabudana khichari does not become like a sticky paste?
Mohita, Bangalore, India

AnswerGood morning Mohita,
Here is my recipe for sabudana khichari, with extensive notes. Read it carefully and give it a try.


Sago Pilaf (Sabudana Khichari)

Known as sabu or sabudana, sago and tapioca are both used similarly and interchangeably in Indian cooking, especially as a light-meal choice for Ekadasi grain-fasting days. There is sometimes confusion about which is which because the white beads of sago and tapioca can look identical. But they are from quite different sources.

Tapioca is processed from the tubers of the cassava plant, while sago is obtained from the sago palm.

To make things more confusing, packaging and distribution companies sometimes refer to sago as tapioca, and vice versa. It probably makes no difference if you're making a sticky tapioca pudding, but for this recipe I recommend sago. The main reason is that sago has to be soaked for a longer period of time than tapioca, and is less temperamental to deal with.

And in this dish, where every pearl has to be separate, it's essential that you don't over-soak it, or it will turn out like a sticky paste. Another potential problem is that sometimes sago or tapioca is partially pre-cooked, although there is no indication on the packaging. That variety is unacceptable for this recipe.

My advice is to purchase your sago from an Indian grocery supplier. Chances are it'll be the right stuff, and quite suitable for preparing Sabudana Khichari. Sago, like tapioca, comes in different grades - small, medium and large pearls. The grade required for this recipe is medium - the pearls should be the size of black peppercorns. If you want to take your chances with tapioca, then note carefully the following differences: Indian sago has to be washed once in cold water, then drained. Hot water (not boiling) is then poured over the sago until the water just reaches the surface of the sago, and is left, covered, for 2 hours. It will completely soak up all the water, double in size, and become separate and fluffy.

If using tapioca, follow the same procedure, but it should not be washed, and just soaked in cold water for half an hour only.

There is one other very important thing you should know about preparing this dish. Sago, like tapioca, is very heat-sensitive. If you try to fry the soaked pearls of sago in the hot spiced oil or ghee, it will turn into a sticky, gluggy mass, which is impossible to separate. Instead, fold the sago carefully into the warm seasoned oil after the pan has cooled a little. If you need to re-heat the dish, do so on the lowest possible setting, stirring constantly. Having said all that I invite you to try the recipe.

Sago soaking time: 2 hours
Preparation and cooking: 15-20 minutes
Makes enough for 4-6 persons

1¼ cups Indian sago
4-6 tablespoons oil or ghee
1 cup potatoes, cut 1.25cm (½-inch) cubes
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
12-15 curry leaves
1-2 hot green chilies seeded and minced
¼ teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon sugar
½ cup freshly-shredded coconut
1½ cups roasted peanuts, very finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh
coriander leaves

Wash and soak the sago as described above. It is very important to pour only sufficient hot water to just reach the surface of the sago, otherwise it will become sticky. Leave for 2 hours.

Gently rake the fully soaked pearls of sago between your fingers to separate them. Heat the oil in a wok or deep-frying pan over high heat. When the oil is hot, drop in the potatoes and fry them for 3-5 minutes or until they are golden brown and fully cooked. Remove them with a slotted spoon, and set them aside.

Reduce the heat to low, and allow the oil to cool a little. Drop in the cumin seeds and fry them until they darken a few shades. Add the curry leaves and green chilies, sauté them for half a minute, then remove the pan from the heat. Allow the oil to cool a little more, then sprinkle in the turmeric. When the pan is fairly cool, but not cold, drop in the sago, salt, sugar, coconut, peanuts and potato. Stir well until the sago is an even yellow colour from the turmeric-flavoured oil. Sprinkle on the coriander leaves, and serve immediately. If you want to re-heat, follow the directions as above.

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