Astronaut Fuel

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by Pavan Kaushik – Since my childhood, outer space has fascinated me. Like every other kid, I wanted to be an astronaut too. This all started with one of my first experiences with space, an episode of a Tom and Jerry cartoon show. That episode revolved around outer space and had a scene on rocket science food. Tom adds a drop of “rocket science” liquid on a tiny tablet and it magically results in a 12 course grand meal in an instant. Yes, it was naïve of me to believe that that was possible.

But now in retrospect, as I embark on a 48 hour train journey, this magical food is going to be my staple source of nutrition. You obviously can’t make crockery appear out of thin air, but the idea of making a balanced meal by just adding a magical liquid to a tiny mass has been a shared idea across numerous civilizations of humankind for millennia.

I just added a “magical liquid” to a fiery-red, sand-like powder. Within minutes, the sand mixture transforms into a crumbly mixture of awesomeness. The Kannada folks call it ಗೊಜ್ಜು ಅವಲಕ್ಕಿ/ಹುಳಿ ಅವಲಕ್ಕಿ/ gojju avalakki/huLi avalakki. It loosely translates to a sour, spicy, sweet stew of flattened rice flakes. Avalakki or flattened rice flakes are made by cooking, flattening, and dehydrating rice grains. This process cooks the rice grain and creates innumerable empty cavities. The dehydration step prevents spoilage and increases shelf life. The moment you add the “magical liquid” of water, the flake is rehydrated as the water fills up all the cavities and fluffs it up. The final result is a fully cooked rice grain within minutes with no actual cooking involved.

To make gojju avalakki, you dry roast chillies, tamarind and some local spices and grind it along with jaggery to a powder. To this, one can add oggarane/ಒಗ್ಗರಣೆ (hot oil infusion) which often contains legumes, peanuts etc which adds micronutrients, fat and protein. Adding crumbled rice flakes balances the meal with starch. This meal is almost ready to eat, all it lacks is water. After adding water, the entire spice mix springs up to life to make a sumptuous meal.

Aval nanchudu of Kerala cuisine is a sweeter cousin of gojju avalakki. Rice flakes are mixed with jaggery, coconut, bananas and local spices to make a completely different meal from the same theme. Dahi Poha is the Bihari cousin which uses fresh spices, and caramelized onions. When you use pressed oats and barley along with nuts and milk, you end up with the famous Swiss muesli.

Despite the diverse cuisines we have in this world, humankind has converged onto a similar theme of converting local grains into precooked flakes and mixing them with everything nice that’s locally available to make a fantastic balanced meal that can be made in an instant just like rocket science food.

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