Heaven melts in your mouth
Is it paper? It looks like it," said a Bengali colleague when I held out a box of this and asked him to try some, many years ago. I didn't know too well myself but hazarded a guess. As it turns out, my little knowledge was no dangerous thing, and I was right, though not detailed. (The details are further down.)
Last week, we went home for an important party and came back with enough stuff for a party of our own. At least, it seems that way. We brought back several of two varieties of mangoes, home-made mango pickle, sweetu, haatu (to put it in typical Indian English - that's sweets and "hot"/savouries for the uninitiated). Just before we drove out of the city, I visited the supermarket close to home and when I saw these, it struck me that I could use them for Click - Stacks.
I'd always wanted to do a post on pootarekulu but didn't know much about them beyond their taste. Then, some time ago a Telugu cookery show on TV featured the making of this very traditional, very regional and quite tough-to-make delicacy.
And delicate are they! No wonder they are called paper sweet or mica sweet outside Andhra Pradesh. Can you guess what these sweet rolls of thinner-than-tissue sheets are made from?
Starchy rice flour. According to the people featured on the TV programme, a variety of rice called 'Jaya Biyyam', which is found only in and around that village in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh (it could be Aatreyapuram, I'm not sure) is soaked and ground to a very watery consistency.
An inverted earthen pot is heated from inside, and a cloth dipped in the rice paste is spread on the pot and removed almost immediately. The result is a thin, gauzy sheet of starch - like the one that forms around the vent of the pressure cooker sometimes after cooking the rice. You can see it in the first one in the stack.
The sheets (rekulu) are transferred to another surface, to be given a coating (poota) of finely powdered sugar and ghee. It could contain powdered cardamom too, for extra flavour. A few such sheets are layered and folded to form one pootareku.
The miracle, I believe, is one of texture and experience. At first glance, it looks compact - more and more of the same thing folded over and over. I would judge a good pootareku by this: Just bite into it, and it should literally melt in the mouth, leaving a cool, sweet feeling. It shouldn't smell overwhelmingly of ghee, either. (Sadly, supermarket versions smell both of ghee and plastic.) It looks light. It isn't.
I knew only of the white variety of pootarekulu but the TV show also showed a jaggery version and a "modern" version, which came as rather a shocker to me. The modern version, in addition to the jaggery or the sugar, was filled with cashew nuts and raisins. The next 'value addition' could be coloured pootarekulu - if you begin seeing some after this post, you know where they flicked the idea from! Let me know, I could claim some royalty.
An Uncle tells me more about pootarekulu (also known as mallinga madupulu):
They were usually made by families from the Raju community in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.
The tougher but more traditional way of making a pootareku renders it crisp - for this, the sheets in a single unit have to be alternately coated with ghee and sugar, not coated with both as that will make it soggy. (The TV show's guests were preparing them the second way, which Uncle calls the lazy way.)
Uncle didn't know about Jaya Biyyam but said that rice harvested from a crop solely rain-fed (as opposed to one cultivated by flooding the fields) is used to make this sweet (and feed new mothers) as it contains less water.
Here's a recipe if you must absolutely try it, though I doubt the results will even approximate the original.
The first photo is off to join a stack of other treats at Click-Stacks.
Pootarekulu/Pootharekulu Dessert Traditional Sweet Click-Stacks