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Compiled by: Don Wiss
Recipes from: Aruna Viswadoss (av9y/

From The Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery, 1971 edition
Sago. An easily digested form of starch, sago is derived from the pith in
the trunks of the sago and other tropical palms. After the tree is felled
the pith is powdered, and the dried sago flour is later treated with water
and worked into a paste. This is granulated by being forced through sieves.
The granules acquire a spherical form as they fall into a shallow iron pan
held over a fire. They are known commercially as pearl sago.

Sago is an important native food, and the wild sago derived from a Floridian
palm-like plant is used as a food by the Seminoles. Sago has an agreeable
flavor more delicate than that of tapioca, and it is an invaluable adjunct
to the invalid dietary. Sago is combined with milk, cream, and eggs and made
into a tasty and nutritious puddings. It is used like tapioca (which see).

Tapicoa Substitution
I looked around the Indian shops here in NYC and found mostly tapioca, which
the stores would happily sell as sago. (Tapioca ranged from $.99 in the
Indian shops, to $3.60/lb at a health food store that does its own bulk
packing, to $5/lb at Dean and DeLuca.) So I asked Aruna about substitution:

  re: tapioca as sago substitute. Yes, it will work. I have tried
  it. The soaking times may differ slightly. Otherwise they are

Buying Sago
In the Indian grocery stores sago is usually called "sabudhana" in Hindi and
"javvarisi" in Tamil. One cup of dry sago is more than sufficient for 2 and
sometimes 3 persons. You get 3 cups per pound. In all these sago refers to
sago pearls.

Of the Indian shops here, one, Little India Stores, did have sago and will 
handle mail orders. They had two types. The small ones were white and the 
larger ones dirty white. So I asked Aruna what the differences were:

  After coming here, I choose what is available; back home, my Mom
  would use the small ones for salty things, and the big ones for
  sweet things. I think the soaking times are different. I have
  not used the big ones here as I have not found them here. Buy a
  small packet each and soak a little of each in water to see which
  absorbs water faster; my guess would be the smaller one, but can
  never tell because if the bigger one is made in a different way,
  it might absorb water much sooner. The test after 2 hours of
  soaking is to take one "grain" of sago and squeeze it between
  your thumb and forefinger. If you can feel a hard center, it
  needs more soaking.

You can find sago at A search in sago also turns up a cheese 
made from cow's milk. But it misses one sold in bulk, so you also have to 
do a search on sabudhana.

Sago Kichdi (a savory and filling snack)
Start with pearl sago, soak it in water for a couple of hours,
drain well and mix it with salt and turmeric powder.
Next, we chop some green chillies, curry leaves, lots and lots of
cilantro, powder some roasted peanuts, chop some red onions; heat
a little veg. oil, add black mustard seeds, and cummin seeds.
When these crackle, add crushed peanuts, and the rest of the
chopped stuff except cilantro. Add a bit of salt and turmeric and
cook till onions are soft and golden brown. Add some crushed
boiled potatoes, and the drained sago. Add cilantro. Mix and
cook for about 4 or 5 minutes till the pearls turn transluscent.
Add lime juice after removing the mess from heat and when
slightly cooled down.

Sago Kheer (a sweet)
Start with pearl sago, soak it in water for a couple of hours,
drain well.
Take the drained sago, and cook it in milk. When cooked, add sugar,
powdered cardamoms, roasted nutmeg powder, cashews and raisins
roasted in clarified butter. Serve in mugs with soup spoons (this
is like a sweet soup, tastes yummy; use full fat milk for a perfect

Sago Vada (fried patties)
Start with pearl sago, soak it in water for a couple of hours,
drain well.
Then mix with mashed potatoes and crushed peanuts,
minced and roasted onions, ground green chillies and cilantro,
salt, and made into patties that can be deep-fried.

Sago Pancakes
   1 cup sago pearls
   1-1/4 cup rice
   1/2 cup shallots or red onions -- chopped
   1" piece ginger
   10 green chillies (minced); use less if you choose
   curry leaves

Soak rice and sago pearls separately in water for at least 1 hour
each. Grind the rice first. Next grind the sago separately very
well. Mix both with onions, minced ginger, green chillies, and
curry leaves. Add salt. (If you want a batter flavor, saute the
veggies in a little oil, cool, and then mix with the batter).
Make very thin pancakes / crepes (depending on the thickness of
batter) on a hot skillet, drizzle oil around the pancake. When
roasted, flip it over and cook the other side. Serve with a

Sago Pakodas (deep fried tea snack)
   1 cup sago pearls (the smallest size if available)
   1 cup rice flour
   1 cup corn meal
   1-1/2 cups yogurt
   1/2 cup cilantro chopped
   1/2 cup chopped onions
   1/4 cup cashews
   2" piece ginger
   oil for deep frying

Soak sago in 1/2 cups of yogurt and 1/2 cup water for about 2
hours. Mix the rest of the ingredients with this. Knead
briefly to mix well. Heat oil in a wok or a frying pan, and
when hot enough, take a handful of the mixed dough, and
using your thumb, index and middle fingers, pinch off small
portions of the dough directly onto the hot oil.
When golden brown, and crisp, remove from oil, drain on paper
towels, serve with tea as a snack.

Sago Bondas (snack fritters)
  350 grams sago pearls (12 1/3 oz)
  200 grams lightly diluted yogurt (7 oz)
  piece of ginger
  3 green chillies
  asafoetida powder

Soak pearls in lightly diluted yogurt.
When soaked for 10 minutes (room temperature -- yogurt) grind
it to a nice fluffy solid tight batter with a piece of ginger,
3 green chillies, salt and asafoetida powder. Do not add any
water while grinding this.
Heat oil for deep-frying, and drop this batter by tablespoons
into hot oil. Serve hot. This was from an old Tamil cook-book.

Sago Cheedai (deep fried savory snack)
This has a long shelf life and is a savory snack eaten like
snacks such as sesame sticks, etc. Cheedai's are made in many
ways using different ingredients; this one uses sago.

  400 grams Parboiled rice (14 oz)
  400 grams sago
  100 grams roasted gram flour (3 1/2 oz)
  1 teas cummin
  1 small coconut -- freshly grated
  oil for deep-frying.

Soak the sago and the rice separately in water for about 1/2
After draining most of the water, grind them both together with
salt till very smooth. [almost like butter smooth]. Do not add
too much water while grinding. It should have the consistency of
slightly softened butter. Add the rest of the ingredients, Add
some coarsely crushed black pepper if you want, and knead the
dough gently to mix everything together. The dough must be solid
enough to be able to make small marble sized balls [1 to 1 and a
1/2 centimeters in diameter roughly; the idea is that these are
small. Also, don't worry about making the surface of the balls
completely smooth; they must have a crack or two but still be
Heat oil, add the dough balls a batch at a time, and fry till
Drain, let cool, and store in air-tight containers.
Keeps for up to a month or two.

Note on roasted gram flour: One can get skinless roasteds gram
in Indian stores [it is basically one type of chickpeas, roasted
with their skin on, and their skin is removed later; the
roasting is traditionally done in super hot sand; I think the
gram itself is soaked in water before being roasted. We use this
in chutneys, as a snack by itself, and in making other snacks.].
One has to use a spice-grinder to powder it, and then sift it to
get a really fine end product; use this in cheedai. Gram flour
is wrong; it is raw skinless chickpeas powdered. Their flavor,
texture etc are very different.

Mom used to make pop-sago -- a snack with no fat, no spices
other than the salt and chilli powder we sprinkle on once done;
it is a popped version of sago; tastes good. Have no idea how to
make it. Will ask her when I call her next.

Sago Dessert
1. Roast 1 cup of sago in 1/5 cup of ghee. [I never said it was
low-fat :-\] Roast till you get a nice flavor from the sago, and 
its color changes from white to a light golden brown.
2. Heat 1 cup of water til it comes to a rolling boil (might be
more or less; did not measure.... but roughly a cup).
3. Add the sago, ghee and all.
Keep stirring.
4. Take 1 and a half cups of sugar.
5. Powder 1/3 teaspoon cardamom
6. Chop 1/4 of a fresh pineapple. [luckily I had some; I have
no qualms about using the canned stuff despite the loss of
flavor] [of course peel it clean it before you chop it into small 
7. Once the sago pearls turn transparent, and look cooked [they
should not have a tough center; you can press one ball to make
sure], add the sugar, cardamom, and another tablespoon of ghee.
8. Add the chopped pineapple pieces with their juices, mix well.
9. Keep on high heat stirring constantly for a couple of minutes.
10. When it solidifies a bit (it will become tighter as it
cools), serve it immediately, or wait till it gets very cold, and
then serve it.

[Option: Add 1/4 cup of dry shredded coconut fried in ghee with
the sago]

Sago Gruel
Gruel is not a sweet pudding. It is sago cooked in water, cooled
a bit, and mixed with buttermilk, asafoetida, and some green
chillies minced with cilantro and salt.

Sago Vadagams (wafer preserves)
There are recipes for sago pappad-like-things called vadagams.
You sun dry sago cooked with spices and store it for months on
end; deep fry it like chips whenever you want.

These are used like pappadums -- deep fried in oil, and served as
a side dish.

The following recipe can be easily halved or quartered. The
resulting vadagams can be kept for a year or more in air-tight
containers; make sure to always use a dry hand or spoon to get
the wafres out for frying.

  1.4 Kg Sago (3 lb)
  200 grams Green chillies --- [you might want to reduce it if you
      do not want it hot]
  1/8 litre salt
  1/2 litre sour buttermilk
  3   Limes
  1/2 teas Asafoetida --- [sounds like a lot but you need this
      for all those wafers]
  6   litres (approx) Water

[Note: Back home, these things are made in really large
quantities because they are expected to last a whole year, and
considering that there used to be so many joint families, it
makes sense]

Soak the sago in a mixture of buttermilk and 2 litres of water.
Soak for about 45 minutes or so.. Do not soak it too long. Boil
the rest of the water vigorously. Pour the soaked sago into it
and go on stirring to prevent lumps from forming. Cook into a
thick gruel.
If you want the wafer to be beady, then do not soak it, but boil
all the water and buttermilk together and add the raw sago to it.
Go on stirring and cook.
Grind green chillies, salt and asafoetida into a very smooth
paste. Mix with the gruel. Squeeze lime juice through a filter
and mix well. Taste the gruel and add salt, or chillies or
buttermilk if desired. The gruel should not be too thin. If you
place a spoon of it on a plate, it should spread out a bit, but
stay where it is.
This thing is best done in Summer coz that is when you dry your
wafers. Spread a thick plastic [transparent sheet] or a thick
damp white cloth on a clean surface covered with a clean cloth or
mat. Keep weights on all four corners. Take the gruel in a large
spoon and pour into small circles about 2" in diameter. Dry in
the sun one whole day, take it inside in the evening, and dry
again for another half day depending on how hot sun is in your
part of the world. [Keep spice loving kids away from this as this
is the best way to eat this gruel; the top is almost dried up and
crusty, while the inside is still soft and moist. Remember the
time we used to devour entire rows and columns and blame it on
the neighbor's kids....] Now invert the cloth over a clean plank,
sprinkle water, and pull out the wafers and dry the other side.
Dry them thoroughly [they must be crisp enough to break when
crushed; if they bend and look rubbery, they need more drying]
Keep in air-tight tins. If you had used a plastic sheet, no
water sprinkling may be necessary; try pulling the wafers out; If
they do not respond, sprinkle water over them and try again.

Another note: If you do decide to get involved in this process,
it is a good idea to start this in the wee hours of the morning
when the sun is not up yet; that way, you do not get sunstroked
or burnt. Also, I have often wondered about the possibilities
of using a food dehydrator to make this thing. Since I do not
own one, I have not Food-dehydrator vocab or experience to come
up with ideas on how to make sago [or other] wafer preserves
using it.

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