Bring back the good old eenthu pidi

Eenthu pidi
Photo: Russel Shahul

Eenthu pidi, a porridge once familiar in Malabar, is making a slow exit, all because the eenthu flour with which it was once made often may join the list of extinct edibles. If eenthu pidi is a mystery, then the eenthu flour got from the seeds of the eenthu pana or palm should surely be a myth.

Do not mistake eenthu for eenthappazham or dates, that all too familiar fruit.

Decades ago, the eenthu pana or cycas tree was found all over Kerala, especially in the Malabar region and in some parts of Central Travancore. An endangered species today, the plants belonging to the family of palm trees brought forth seeds in abundance which when powdered was used extensively in Malabari kitchens. How the tree found its way to near extinction is a mystery not many have sought to unravel.

Old timers remember playing with the leaves of the eenthu pana. As kids, they used to fold its edges and makes houses. The eenthu leaves were very much like that of the coconut palm. Marriage pandals were made with the leaves of the palm. Traditional healers made use of the tree and its leaves to treat arthritis and swellings.

The local folks found in the strong trunks of the palms ideal fencing material. The palms were used to separate and demarcate plots. But when the concrete wave swept in, it swept out the palm fences. That could perhaps be one of the reasons which saw the near death of the tree. Its trunks were not wanted any more and old-time Malabaris attribute this as the sole reason for its death.

Eenthu/Cycadale/Queen Sago Palm

There were snacks and special dishes aplenty which folks in Malappuram and Kozhikode used to make with eenthu. Eenthu patties and savouries would take pride of place during Ramzan feasting, when believers were sure to take a bite of the protein-carb-rich snack. Savouries and eatables made from eenthu seeds were a must after the day’s fasting was done.

Eenthu seeds are small, just about the size of a gooseberry. Dried and powdered, the seeds would then be transformed into puttu and pidis. To this day, the eenthu pidi is quite a Malabari delicacy.

How to powder the seeds

Powdering the seeds is no cakewalk. They go through several processes before they are dried and powdered. Once the seeds are dried, the core is taken out and the shell thrown away. The nuts are then soaked in water for several hours, up to six, perhaps. The water is then thrown out along with the scum and froth. This process is repeated up to seven times. The nuts are then dried thoroughly and powdered. The eenthu flour is mixed with rice flour to make pidis and even payasam (pudding).

Eenthu/Cycadale/Queen Sago Palm

Now for the pidi

Take ¼ kg of eenthu flour and mix it with salt, a spoon of red chilly powder, a bit of turmeric powder and a spoon of garam masala. Combine the powder and the ingredients and make a soft dough by adding warm water. The dough should be kneaded as it is done for pathiri, another Malabari delicacy. Make small balls of the dough. Drop the balls into boiling water and cook them. Keep stirring gently. Once the balls are fully cooked, they surface. These are the pidis. The pidis can be cooked along with half-cooked meat till the meat softens and the pidis absorb the masalas.

Chicken-pidi special

- Mix ½ a kg of chicken with salt, chilly powder, garam masala and turmeric powder. Set aside for a while.

- Pour oil into a pan

- Now, sauté a piece of crushed ginger, eight cloves of garlic, a hundred chopped shallots, two big onions chopped and two chopped tomatoes.

- Add the chicken pieces to this and cook for 15 minutes on a low flame.

- When its almost done, add eenthu pidis, cover the vessel and cook for five minutes more.

- Add half a coconut scraped and fried, along with curry leaves and coriander leaves.

- Cover once again and cook for five minutes more.

- Garnish with fried shallots and curry leaves.

Chicken-eenthu pidi is ready. 

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