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Sago secrets

June 15, 2009

A cold, drizzly afternoon meant that we decided the give the luminous festival at the Opera House a miss and stay indoors instead. I decided to use the sago I had soaked earlier in the day to make a tasty little savoury treat called sabudana (sago) vadas.
I love eating sago, particularly the savoury Indian versions…but have always struggled to cook it in a way that left the grains light and fluffy. Most of my efforts left me with a sticky, gluey paste. After much experimenting I stumbled across the secret to good sago be it savoury or sweet – “soaking”. Now if you read cookbooks, they will tell you to soak the sago overnight. If you have tried this you will know that after half an hour of sitting in water sago will turn into mush. The trick is to rinse out the sago in some water and drain it immediately. Then leave it to sit for at least an hour. If you can leave it for longer, even overnight it will get better. I stir it with a fork a few times while it is sitting and sprinkle another couple of tablespoons of water over it after about an hour. If you are leaving it to sit for a few hours, cover the bowl so it does not dry out, and perhaps even store it in the fridge if it is a warm day. The sago seems to draw in the moisture from its outer layer, right into the centre if left long enough. If you bite through one grain you will see that it will be soft all the way through and no longer have a hard core.

Have a look at the picture – this is after about 4 hours of “soaking” and after I have just sprinked some more water on it. My sago has increased in volume by about a third – the bowl was less than half full when the sago was dry.

And that is the key to perfect sago.

Sago Vadas
2 cups “soaked” sago
1 cup mashed potato
1 tablespoon grated or finely minced ginger
Fresh green or red chillies finely chopped (I used about 5 hot ones, but that is the way I like it)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chillie powder (optional)
1 teaspoon cumin lightly crushed
1 tablespoon curry leaves or corriander (or both if you have them) finely chopped
1/2 cup of onion finely chopped.
1/4 cup of crushed roasted peanuts


Mix all of the ingredients together. The potato will help bind the ingredients. Make small balls with the mixture, about the size of a golf ball or smaller. Flatten slightly. Deep fry in hot oil (I used rice bran oil as it is good at high temperatures) until golden/light brown. You should end up with something that is very crunchy on the outside and silky smooth on the inside.

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