The nomenclature of dishes can alter the perception of them in the minds of children. It was the same when I was a child; unfortunately, I was quite judgemental about dishes that just didn't sound cool. Pootharekulu was one of those dishes that I pre-judged. Almost each time my grandmother would return from my paternal village - Tadimalla, in the West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, she would carry a large packet of this unique sweet. I never sampled it for quite a while, until one day when I desperately needed a sweet fix and this was the only option. I was all of eight and yet I still remember the first time I bit into a Poothareku. It was the unique textures that blew me away. It was nothing like I'd ever tasted before.
Atreyapuram in East Godavari district, an hour away from Tadimalla, is where this sweet is believed to have been invented. There are more than a hundred families that have made this a cottage industry of sorts. But the sweet has travelled far beyond East Godavari district. There are sweet shops in Hyderabad like Almond House or Amaravathi in Chennai that sell authentic versions of this sweet and then, there are the online delivery platforms too.
Pootha means coating and reku translates to sheet in Telugu. The sweet is essentially a coated sheet. An ultra-thin paper roll made with rice starch that is traditionally stuffed with sugar powder; crafting this sweet almost borders on art. It's not just a laborious process but one that requires great skill. The film or the thin sheet is created with rice batter and by dabbing it with a thin cloth over an inverted pot. The film forms almost instantly on the pot and is removed in quick time and then coated with ghee and filled with sugar
Exactly a year ago, I made my first visit to Tadimalla but missed visiting Atreyapuram. But thanks to Chef T Vinay Kumar - the Executive Chef at Novotel Vijayawada Varun, I discovered another delicious version of this sweet. Chef Vinay is from the region too and believes the dry branches of the trees and the clay of clay pot add to the flavour. As a child he would notice slight variations in the flavour depending on the season and the wood that was burned to make the sheets. He also believes the traditional rice - with more starch, improves the texture while desi ghee and a hint of cardamom elevate the dish. I made a quick stop at Managramam an organic store in Vijayawada that focuses on traditional ingredients and lost recipes. One of the most delicious discoveries was a jaggery version of Pootharekulu that wasn't as sweet as the traditional sugar version. Sweet shops have gone beyond the classic version, you can even get a chocolate version now.
Although the Pootharekulu is frequently served during festive occasions in Andhra, it's not a sweet that many attempts to make at home. The long shelf life (from one to three months) makes it a safe bet to order online. But if you're still keen to attempt this at home, check out Chef T Vinay Kumar's recipe. You will need an outdoor cooking space to attempt this at home.
Recipe Courtesy - Chef T Vinay Kumar, Executive Chef Novotel Vijayawada Varun
Powdered Sugar (150 gm) or powdered jaggery (170 gm)
Cardamom powder - 1 tsp (fine powder)
Cashews - 150 gm
Dry fruits - As required (ensure the cut of the dry fruits should be in fine slices mode)
Ghee - 150 gm (preferable desi ghee)
For the rice sheets
Heavy gluten rice or boiled rice - 250 gm
Water - 500 ml
Soak the rice for good 04 to 05 hrs and make a smooth batter by grinding it with the desired quantity of water, we can dilute the batter based on our need and requirement.
To make the edible rice paper sheet we need to make the clay pot ready with appropriate temperature and smoothness.
A medium sized pit is made on the earth with a proper provision to keep few dry wooden sticks or leaves to generate the heat which is needed to produce the edible rice paper sheets. Once the pit is ready a clay pot will be placed in an inverted mode and the top surface of the clay pot with the greased enough to take off the edible rice sheets.
Once the pot is ready with the appropriate consistent temperature, we can start making the rice sheets- with a seasoned cotton cloth dipped into the batter and evenly spread over the hot clay pot in a single quick shot. Once we are done with the spreading we need to act quickly to take off the sheet once it's done with the cooking process on the clay pot.
Either we can add the ghee, sugar or jaggery and cardamom very next moment we take off the sheet from the hot clay pot or make the sheets at once and roll it over later as per our convenience.
Method Of Making The Poothareeku Chuttalu:
Dry roast cashews or any nuts in a heavy bottom pan on a very low to medium heat. Sauté the nuts until light golden colour; allow them to cool. Grind these nuts into coarse powder or if the cut is in fine slices mode we can leave them as it is and set aside.
Grind sugar and whole cardamom into fine powder; when using jaggery shred the jaggery with a grater. Now take these sliced or grounded nuts and the powdered sugar separately in a bowls and melt the ghee to start the main rolling process of the Poothareeku chuttalu.
Now take two or three layers of Pootharekulu and place them on a wooden or any flat table surface and apply some melted ghee on it. Spread it over gently and add the nuts, sugar and start folding it gently. Ensure we fold them evenly and store them in air tight containers. If we care using pure desi ghee, these Pootharekulu can be stored for about a month in off summer seasons.
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.