There was a separate category of dishes that were created specifically for the purpose of eating while traveling cross country by train during the summer holidays. Note the specific terms, cross country, train & summer.. just the mere mention of the terms is enough to make food go south and inedible. Thus, necessity became the cause of refining these recipes such that they would remain palatable over 3 days, tucked inside a 3 tier Tiffin Carrier. The set varied from community to community, every one had their specific recipes that were primarily made just before setting out for the Railway station. My mother's favorites to pack was a huge grapefruit sized orb of toasted coconut chutney made with freshly grated & toasted coconut, made piquant with pan fried tamarind fruit leather. This was accompanied by Poories (deep fried puffed bread which double up as a plate. As is the case with every true blooded South Indian, no meal is complete without rice. THe unanimous choice was tamarind rice. fluffy separate grains of rice coated with a tangy/spicy tamarind relish and drizzled liberally with cold pressed Sesame oil. The acidity of the tamarind probably kept the rice from going bad as did the fact that the the tamarind relish was cooked up to evaporate as much moisture as possible, leaving behind the spiced up pulp to saute in the oil that it was cooked in.
Since Yogurt rice is part and parcel of every South Indians palate, (with strict instructions to polish it off as quickly as possible) it would be packed along, except instead of Yogurt, the rice was mixed with boiled and cooled milk, with a tablespoon of yogurt stirred in. As you can guess, when the time came to tuck into the feast, sitting cross legged on the blue fake leather berths, the milk had morphed itself into a tangy yogurt, just right to cleanse the palate. —Panfusine
Basmati rice, cleaned, rinsed & drained
Tamarind pulp (extracted from the dried fruit) OR
tamarind concentrate diluted with 1/4 cup water
Sesame oil (the light untoasted variety)
black mustard seeds
dehusked split white Urad dal
dried red Arbol chiles, broken into pieces
Curry leaves, torn
canned chickpeas rinsed and drained (optional)
dark brown sugar
toasted sesame seeds, crushed lightly
Skinned, roasted and lightly crushed peanuts
heat a heavy bottomed pan and the ghee, when it just begins to appear to glisten, add the rice and toast until the rice grains appear to be opaque. Add the water, stir the rice so none of it sticks to the bottom. Cover, turn he heat to the lowest setting and allow the grains absorb all the water & cook. (~20 min). Transfer to a large mixing bowl, fluff with a fork to separate the grains and allow to cool.
Heat the 1/4 cup of oil until it begins to glisten. Add the mustard seeds, Split Urad dal and the broken pieces of Arbol chile. Once the mustard seeds sputter and the Dal turns a golden brown, stir in the asafetida and curry leaves, followed by the drained chickpeas (if you're including it ) . Saute the chickpeas for about 2 minutes before adding the Tamarind pulp (or concentrate). Add salt, lower the heat, and allow the mixture to cook down to a paste.
Once the mixture has thickened, Add the dark brown sugar, toasted sesame seeds & peanuts. stir to combine and remove from the stove.
To make the tamarind rice, add the tamarind relish as per your personal taste to the fluffed up rice. Fold in gently to coat the grains taking care not to mush up the rice. To tone down the sharp tanginess, drizzle with the extra sesame seeds. Serve along with plain salted potato chips (Yes, this was the preferred accompaniment since it was a treat to buy the packets at the Railway stations)