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A recipe for poornalu, with love from an Andhra home

The sweet-savoury snack, with an interplay of textures and flavours, is complete in itself 

A batch of poornalu. (Photo by Sampath Srinivas)
A batch of poornalu. (Photo by Sampath Srinivas)

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Sweet and savoury flavour pairings have a timeless appeal. Think sea salt chocolate, boondi-sev and an addictive sweet treat from Andhra Pradesh named poornalu or poornam boorelu. It is stuffed with chana dal and jaggery, spiced with cardamom, coated with a savoury batter, deep fried in oil, and served with a dollop of ghee.

It is a melt-in-the-mouth festive snack that—just as idli, dosa and sambar—unites several communities and states. Known as sukkinunde in Karnataka, suzhiyam in Tamil Nadu and sugiyan in Kerala, it signifies joy and celebrations. In Andhra homes, it is prepared during makar sankranti in January and Varalakshmi Vratham in August. In Tamil Nadu, it’s made during Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi. In north Karnataka, it’s prepared during Lakshmi puja. “I have seen many people having it for breakfast too,” says Usha Mani, a homemaker from Chennai. And, then there are those like me who crave it through the year, and occasionally makes a few to relish with a side of nostalgia.

I hail from Andhra Pradesh and we prepare this sweet-savoury snack with a stuffing of boiled chana dal, sweetened with jaggery and spiced with a hint of cardamom. This mixture is divided, rolled into golf-sized balls, dipped into a thick dosa batter and deep fried. It yields a snack which is complete in itself with a crispy exterior and soft centre, encapsulating an interplay of textures and flavours. Regional recipes vary as they travel across state borders, and every family adds a twist, enriching the story of a simple food item. “My mother-in-law prepares this during Saraswathi puja. The filling is made using coconut, because she is averse to chana dal, and the coating contains maida and rice flour,” says Mani. Meanwhile, Radha Jahagirdar who hails from North Karnataka shares, “I learnt to prepare it from my mother. She made the filling with chana dal and jaggery, and used besan for the coating.”

The delicious snack comes with health benefits too. The batter is made with urad dal which contains minerals such as folic acid, iron, magnesium and calcium. It is also rich in vitamin B and proteins. “Chana dal is a good source of protein and healthy carbs, while jaggery has natural minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and insoluble fibres. It is a healthier option than sugar,” says Chaitali Bose, a dietician based in the US. 

The chana dal filling is also used to make bobbatlu, obbattu or puran poli, which is like a sweet paratha, and is an all-time favourite during festivals like ugadi, vishu and gudi padwa.

“We get a lot of orders for traditional food items for celebrations like weddings, engagements, birthdays and housewarming ceremonies. Poornalu is one of the mandatory items on the menu. Recently, we have been making kesari (semolina and jaggery) filled poornalu as per requests,” says Sampath Srinivas, owner of the most popular Andhra Restaurant, Spicy Venue in Hyderabad.

By now, if you are craving poornalu, here’s a recipe from my home.
For the stuffing or poornam
Half cup chana dal
Three-fourth cup jaggery (can be changed as per preference)
Half teaspoon cardamom powder

For the coating
Half cup raw rice
One-fourth cup urad dal
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying
Ghee for serving

1. Soak rice and urad dal for 5-6 hours. Add salt while grinding and grind to a smooth paste. It should be a tad thicker than idli batter.
2. Soak chana dal for 2 hours and pressure cook for 2 whistles. Drain the water thoroughly and coarsely mash the dal
3. Heat a pan, add jaggery and two tablespoons of water, keep stirring till all the jaggery dissolves.
4. Spoon over the coarsely mashed chana dal and mix by stirring continuously. Cook until the water evaporates and the texture is thick and lumpy.
5. Take it off the flame, add a pinch of cardamom powder and mix. Keep aside to cool. Once cooled, make ladoo-sized balls, each with about a half-inch diameter.
6. Heat oil in a kadai. Dip the balls in the rice-urad dal batter while ensuring that the batter is evenly coated. Deep fry in small batches until golden brown. Serve warm with melted ghee.

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