Puttu is a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine, and is also enjoyed in parts of India and countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere where migrants have settled down.
It is typically made with rice flour – either from white or red rice mixed with some steamed all-purpose flour. In northern part of Sri Lanka, puttu is frequently made using toasted red rice flour. You can find this product online or if lucky, in a well-stocked Indian grocery store.
A simple dough is made using the chosen flour(s), bit of salt and hot water. The dough is then broken into tiny bits (much like coarse bread crumbs, perhaps a bit larger) either by hand, or using a food processor. The latter is a much easier if you use the pulse function.
Once the dough bits are formed, they are steamed in a special puttu equipment or regular steamer. If you use the special equipment, you get the traditional cylindrical pieces of puttu with each cylinder separated by a thin layer of grated coconut. More common steamer option yields equally delicious soft, fluffy puttu with a light touch of coconut that can be enjoyed in myriad ways.
Puttu can be eaten with some sweetened coconut milk (paal puttu), any spicy curry, coconut (pol) sambol, seeni sambol or spicy scrambled eggs. As kids, we also enjoyed puttu with ripe mango, banana or jackfruit (similar to durian fruit), especially for breakfast. So, if you have made up your mind to make it, enjoy it with whatever is on hand. It will be delicious.
Rice and Wheat flour Puttu
1/4 cup toasted red rice flour
1/3 cup steamed* all purpose flour
1/2 cup toasted** wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (or bit more) hot water
1/2 cup freshly grated or thawed frozen grated coconut
1. Mix all flours and salt.
2. Slowly add just enough hot water to the flour mix to be able to form “crumbs”. Be careful not to add too much – you are not trying to create a dough that comes together in a ball like a pizza dough. You are just wetting the flour enough to form crumbs.
3. If using special puttu equipment, alternate about a handful of dough crumbs with a teaspoon of grated coconut till the top of the cylinder. Place it on the steamer base with hot water and steam the puttu till steam escapes from the top. This should take about 7-10 minutes.
4. Alternatively, if you are using the more commonly available steamers, line the steamer top with a white kitchen towel and place the dough crumbs in a donut shape, leaving a gap in the middle for steam to circulate through (to hasten the cooking process). Sprinkle with grated coconut. Cover and steam for 10-15 minutes till dough is cooked through.
* Steamed all purpose flour – Line the top portion of your steamer with a kitchen towel. Place about a cup of all-purpose flour. Cover and steam for about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat, cool and sift using a sieve. As the flour gets steamed, it will tend to clump up. Just break it up and sift.
** Toasted wheat flour – Heat a pan under low heat. Toast the wheat flour in the pan for about 5 minutes till you notice a distinct toasted flour smell. Be careful not to let the flour burn.