Thursday, September 21, 2006

Fond Memories - Masaal

poori masal

Poori with Masaal

Have you ever tried to recreate a dish based on memory? Perhaps a dish that you ate when you were a child; when the foodie in you was still nascent and you liked a dish simply because it tasted good and and didn't care about how it was made; a dim memory from the past where you remember only vaguely what the dish tasted like but do remember vividly that you absolutely loved the dish.

Perhaps it was the way the dish was presented, perhaps it was the taste or the texture, maybe it was the ambiance of the place where you ate. Maybe it was the love with which the food was prepared or a combination of all of the above.

Whatever the reason, some dishes etch a permanent place in our memory and time and again we reminisce about these dishes with a nostalgic sigh. We fondly try to recollect the tastes of these dishes, the textures on our palate, try to guess the ingredients, try to figure out the recipe and make futile attempts to reproduce them in our kitchen.

We remember, we toil, we taste, add some spices, taste some more, stir, fry, mix and finally pronounce it done. But no, the elusive taste eludes us. The dish looks and smells just like it did in our memory, but the taste is just not the same.

Now, imagine this situation when the memory you are dealing with is not even your own!! Sounds like a plot from Arnold Schwarzenegger sci fi movie? Well, a few years into our marriage that is exactly the position I found myself in. My husband had this memory of eating what he claimed to be "the best" Poori-Masaal at a restaurant in Coimbatore when he was growing up. Since then, he had been longing to eat this dish and recreate those fond memories.

He described to me this "Masaal" that is served with pooris. It is not Masala...that is the stuff they serve with dosas. This is Masaal, and as any staunch coffee-drinking, idli-loving south-indian will tell you- Masaal is the accompaniment to pooris.

I tried to make this dish as described by him. It was not a success. I persisted. With every attempt it got a bit closer, but it was always a step short - missing something, too sour, not tangy enough, wrong flavor, etc...until one day, he finally pronounced it "Just perfect...just the way I remember it! "

For many years since then, I have made this recipe to the utter satisfaction and joy of my hubby. I too love the combination of flavors in this dish and like it better than the usual masaal that I used to make.

Several years later, we found ourselves sitting at a table at that famous restaurant in Coimbatore awaiting our order of Poori Masaal. The suspense was killing me. I would finally get to taste this "Masaal" that I had labored so many years to mimic.

When the dish finally came, it looked nothing like my version does. We took a tasted nothing like my version either. My husband could not hide the look of disappointment on his face. The memory he had of the dish did not stand up to the real version. All those years of anticipation, all those memories of that wonderful taste, and the final product was nothing like it.

Maybe what he had reminisced about was his carefree youth - content with today, expectant of tomorrow. Memorable meals are often those where the food is savored more because of that particular moment in time, the emotion of the hour and the company at hand.

This story has a happy ending however... hubby pronounced that he liked my version more than the version in the restaurant and I have since stuck to my recipe! So, here it is:


4 medium-sized potatoes
3 small red onions
3 ripe tomatoes
1 inch pieces of ginger
2 green chilli (or 1)
1 sprig of curry leaves
1 tsp oil
1/2 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp sambhar powder
1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
salt to taste


  1. Boil the potatoes. Peel and chop into small cubes.
  2. Slice the onions lengthwise into thin slivers.
  3. Chop the tomatoes and green chillies. Grate the ginger or chop very finely.
  4. Heat the oil in a saucepan
  5. When it gets hot, add the mustard and cumin seeds.
  6. When the seeds begin to pop, add the curry leaves and the green chillies and ginger.
  7. Add the onions and saute well.
  8. Add the turmeric powder, the sambhar powder and salt. Add the chilli powder if using.
  9. Add the tomatoes and fry well. Cover the pan and let the tomatoes stew.
  10. Add 1/2 cup of water and when the water comes to a boil, add the potato pieces.
  11. Simmer till the potatoes are heated through and incorporated.
  12. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with piping hot pooris, a wedge of lime and some slices of raw onions.

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At Thu Sep 21, 07:04:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Priya said...

Atlast, you have posted :-) ..and what a wonderful write up !!
You are so true in concluding that its the mood you are in that etchs permanently, memories about random situations that would have otherwise.. remained random :-)
And I should say, whenever I'm cooking I am most probably trying to recreate something that my mom made !! hehe

At Thu Sep 21, 09:35:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said... beautiful!!

At Fri Sep 22, 12:02:00 AM 2006, Blogger Nandita said...

You are right about tastes and smells. A smell can take me back to someplace else in a fraction of a second...

I must ask my hubby from Chennai about this 'masaal'. I'm hearing about this for the first time here :)

At Fri Sep 22, 04:38:00 AM 2006, Blogger PizzaDude said...

Nice post!!

At Fri Sep 22, 06:52:00 AM 2006, Blogger Foodie's Hope said...

About time you posted!!:))
At first I thought Masaal was a typo, didn't know abt it!! Thanks and easy ,good looking enough to make it with poori! Will do, thanks!!

At Fri Sep 22, 07:40:00 AM 2006, Blogger Latha said...

Aaaah Saffron, Finally! I have been waiting for your post for so long! :-)

Lovely post about something as simple and as delicious as Masaal.
You're right about the fact that, there are some of those simple comfort foods that remain permamnently in our memories, kind off a nostalgia down memory lane!
Anyways, We call this Poori and Palya in Bangalore and it is made very similar but looks more yellow.
Keep the posts coming!

At Fri Sep 22, 07:45:00 AM 2006, Blogger Vani said...

Very nice write-up. Loved your style of writing.

At Fri Sep 22, 07:49:00 AM 2006, Blogger shammi said...

Oooh, you're back! Hurrah! I feel for your hubby... sometimes memories shouldnt be forced to face up to reality :) But I'm very happy your story has a happy ending. I'm going to try your masaal this weekend. Will ofc let you know how it turns out!

At Fri Sep 22, 08:43:00 AM 2006, Blogger Ashwini said...

That makes you a pretty good cook Saf! Creating a dish your hubby loved :-)
But isn't it good to have other halves who are as passionate about food as we are?!

At Fri Sep 22, 09:17:00 AM 2006, Blogger Menu Today said...

Delicious "Masaal":-)Post . Thanks for sharing your memories and Masaal recipe.

At Fri Sep 22, 09:41:00 AM 2006, Blogger Krithika said...

Have been waiting for your post ! Masaal looks delicious !

At Fri Sep 22, 11:09:00 AM 2006, Anonymous jayshree said...

Nice post with yummy looking Poori-Masaal.

At Fri Sep 22, 11:14:00 AM 2006, Blogger Monisha said...

I agree with your discovery that food is intertwined with time and also with emotions, similar to what is triggered by an aroma or a song. Over time, our tastes evolve but our memory remains the same, and hence the conflict.

Thank you for capturing that essence so beautifully and for the recipe of the Masaal from a memory !!

At Fri Sep 22, 12:21:00 PM 2006, Blogger Chandrika said...

Saffron, what a beautiful write up!!! Am so happy it ended well!
:-)) I am in the process of collecting all the old recipes from my mom, grandma, aunt and everybody who shared a bit of my childhood, as the nascent foodie devil in me has awoken and is growing to be more demanding day by day, in a strange land...

Btw, my mom makes this masaal, but uses garam masala instead of sambar powder...

At Fri Sep 22, 12:23:00 PM 2006, Anonymous trupti said...

I have been waiting for you to post someting and I am so glad I checked your page today...I absolutely LOVE your blog. Please, keep it coming with interesting anecdotes like you usually do!

Cheers from Newfoundland,

At Fri Sep 22, 12:26:00 PM 2006, Blogger Chandrika said...

Oh I forgot to mention this in my previous comment...Your photos are absolutely breathtaking like a lovely cook book...Sometimes, I stop by to just savor your photos and satisfy my love for photography...The angle, the elements, the colors in your photographs are simply superb! Thank you for the visual treat...

At Fri Sep 22, 01:09:00 PM 2006, Blogger Meena Kandlakuti said...

nice photos and yummy dish..i like anything spicy and that with puri's wow!!..thanks for sharing..i like all photographs and recipes in your blog.

At Fri Sep 22, 03:18:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It feels so good to read your post, and see your ever so good looking photos again. Thank you for the recipe,that photo is gooooood !

At Fri Sep 22, 06:46:00 PM 2006, Blogger Nabeela said...

what a con-incidence! I did the exact same thing...but with my own memory...and I have the perfect poori masala recipe that I find good for me :)
I'll be publishing the recipe very soon

At Sat Sep 23, 10:13:00 AM 2006, Blogger Saffron said...

Priya Thanks! yes, it is strange isn't it? even when you try hard to recreate something that someone else made, you still end up with a very different product!

Anon gee, thanks!

Nandita Aren't tastes and smells such powerful senses? do let me know if Masaal is popular in Chennai as well.

pizzadude Welcome to my blog! and thanks.

Foodie's Hope thanks!

latha palya is what I used to call it too, before I was educated about its correct name!!!

Vani Thanks!

Shammi Yes, I'm back!!! Do let me know how it turns out.

Ashwini indeed! It wouldn't be so much fun otherwise would it? if the other half didn't relish with as much gusto!

MT, Krithika, Jayashree Thanks y'all!

Monisha Amen!

Chandrika are too kind! thanks!

Trupti Thanks! Now, if I could only overcome my laziness and most more frequently....

Meena We like spicy stuff with pooris too. Helps to offset the oil from the frying. Do give this a try and let me know.

Archana Thanks for the compliments!!

Nabeela How interesting! do post your recipe soon!

At Sat Sep 23, 01:14:00 PM 2006, Blogger Vaishali said...

...because of that particular moment in time, the emotion of the hour and the company at hand

Beautifully worded!

At Sat Sep 23, 03:37:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SH.. nicely written.. curious to know the hotel name since you never mentioned it-- was it "Annapoorna"?? Atlast you pleased your hubby:) I never tried adding sambhar powder..will give a try:)

At Sat Sep 23, 11:48:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Linda said...

Hi SH... am making a reciprocal visit to your lovely blog!

I think the story you told is almost better than the recipe, hmm? ;)

Best regards from Massachusetts.

At Sun Sep 24, 04:53:00 AM 2006, Blogger Mahek said...

where have you been
i have been checking out on your blog as and when i got time
thanks for being back.

At Sun Sep 24, 11:31:00 AM 2006, Blogger Kitchenmate said...

Masaal... looks absolutely yummy and mouth watering photos as usual.. I used to make similar kind with more green chillies except for sambar powder & chilli powder. looks yummy, i am definitely going ti try this, hubby being the poori lover anyways!

At Sun Sep 24, 07:51:00 PM 2006, Blogger Prema Sundar said...

Hi Saffron,
Puri with masaal looks good.
I usually make masala ,like the filling inside dosa. This massal is more or less similar except for sambar powder and tomatoes. Now I know the diff between both. thanks for sharing the recipe.

At Sun Sep 24, 10:10:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Hiren said...

Nice write up. This blog seems to be a labour of love because it is so comprehensive and well presented. I can fianlly get my wife interested in blogging. That would take care of both wishes and dishes.

At Mon Sep 25, 12:00:00 PM 2006, Blogger Saffron said...

Vaishali bowingThanks much!

Priya How did you guess?? yes, it is Annapoorna!

linda Welcome! you think so? Thanks!

Mahek Yes, I'm back :)

KM do give it a is different from the usual masala and is a very good combo with the pooris.

Prema you are welcome! this is a nice change from the other kind of masala.

Hiren Welcome to my blog! Labor of Love indeed! unfortunately although the desire to spent more time on the blog is there, practicality and life gets in the way :)

At Mon Sep 25, 06:14:00 PM 2006, Blogger vasilisa said...

Hi, I have just discovered your blog and it is a treasure...

And this dish looks so delicious -- I want to try and make it.

Can you tell me what is sambhar powder? and where can I get it.

Also, I'm pregnant right now and can't take any spice -- would it taste good without the chilli peppers?

At Mon Sep 25, 08:06:00 PM 2006, Blogger Saffron said...

Vasilisa Thanks! welcome to my blog. Sambhar powder is a spicy powder made with coriander seeds, red lentils, cumin seeds, red chillis along with some other spices. It is similar to a curry powder but more flavorful in my opinion :)

Sambhar powder is available at most indian grocers or online from most indian spice vendors. Here's a link to one from

and sure, you can leave out the chilli peppers if they bother you.


At Tue Sep 26, 12:36:00 AM 2006, Blogger HariPriya said...

finally u have posted..eagerly waiting for ur posts..the dish looks soo nice..thnx for sharing

At Tue Sep 26, 11:40:00 AM 2006, Blogger princessyogi said...

SH, You have posted my all time favorite comfort food ..puri and masaal (alu-puri) :). Yummy!!! The pic is great.

At Tue Sep 26, 02:06:00 PM 2006, Anonymous mandira said...

Found my way to your blog and I'm hooked! Great pictures and I loved your stories. My favorite is the rasam pot closely followed by Masaal! Great stuff. Will definitely give Masaal a try. Thanks for sharing.

At Tue Sep 26, 03:10:00 PM 2006, Blogger indosungod said...

Saffron, Your Poori Masaal defintely looks much yummier than the "Annapoorna" version. It was our favorite haunt during our college days and I make it a point visit it atleast once whenever I go back, not for the taste but for the nostalgia of those carefree days.

At Fri Sep 29, 08:06:00 AM 2006, Blogger Anusha said...

Hi Saffron, Your blog is my favorite....anything new, different its your blog I look into first. Awesome pictures and recipes. My hubby seems to give more credit to you...than my cooking skills and I totally agree. I have tried most of your recipes.
The maasal reminds me of what my patti used to make. Now another reason to make poori's....Thanks!!!

At Thu Oct 05, 02:23:00 PM 2006, Blogger Devamrutham said...

This is the first time I am visiting your blog and you completly drew me into all the pages with those wonderful pictures. I always believe presentation is very important. Your pictures, recipes and the description are superb!!!!

Keep up the good work and I will be a regurlar visitor to your blog from now on......

At Sun Oct 08, 08:16:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean....I used to eat veggie pufs at a small restaurant near my college almost everyday for 2 yrs...and when I went back after a year looking forward to those "fantastic" pufs.....they just didn't live up to the taste that lingered in my memory!!!
Good for you that you helped re-create something that hubby loves.

At Wed Nov 01, 12:20:00 AM 2006, Anonymous gayathree said...

Thank you very much for this wonderful recipe.You have presented everything very wonderfully.I shall visit your blog often.Mouth watering recipes.

At Mon Nov 20, 03:11:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


i loved this , at first i thought it was supposed to be poori masala ..! thanx for the lovely post

At Tue May 01, 08:35:00 PM 2007, Anonymous Priya Prasad said...

I was tired of making this masaal with traditional yellow color and was craving for spicy masaal as I get in my hometown.

When I saw your picture, I should say that I was mesmerized.

Dint wasted anytime for searching more blogs, tried this recipe and the result was amazing.

Masaal came out sooooo good, that I personally felt this is the best Ive ever had.

Once again, Thanks for sharing.

At Thu Jan 03, 04:39:00 PM 2008, Anonymous ABY said...


The Masaaal is awesome. Masha Allah. I loved it even though I am still waiting to taste it in dinner...the final product looks n feels tasty :)) Being a coimbatorean, I am happy to taste something which was compared to our food again...!!

Thanks once again.

At Wed Aug 20, 10:44:00 PM 2008, Blogger Cafe Talkers said...

Hey. Good for you, your hubby liked your version better than the original one. And I agree certain tastes do linger on for quite sometime :).

At Mon Oct 20, 05:55:00 PM 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mom is from Coimbatore and she makes masaal for puris. I would like to give u the recipe.
-Boil potatoes, peel skin and set aside.
-Heat oil in a wok, add a small piece of cinnamon, 2-3 cloves, slit green chillies, curry leaves, jeera and sliced onions. Fry till onions turn soft (u can make onions translucent and soft by adding salt when the onions are cooking).
-To this add a lil' bit of grated ginger and turmeric powder.
-Now take the potatoes and mash it into small pieces into the wok. Mix it and then add water. Cover with lid and let it cook for a while. Adjust salt. As the masaal cooks, it will thicken.
-Add coriander leaves and enjoy with puri.

At Fri May 27, 04:07:00 PM 2011, Blogger Priya Munukutla said...

You writing is simply Beautiful.
I had this thing with Masala dosa which I had when I was little kid in Tirupathi. After long hours of waiting for darshan, I was so hungry that I just loved it and even now I order Masala Dosa but never tasted like that day.

Love you Blog,


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