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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).
Tapiocoa 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 interchangeable.
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 chilies, curry leaves, lots and lots of cilantro, powder some roasted peanuts, chop some red onions; heat a little vegetable 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 translucent. 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 taste).
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 chilies 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 chilies (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 chilies, 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 chutney.
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 chilies
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 chilies, 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. Cheedais 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 hour.
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 intact].
Heat oil, add the dough balls a batch at a time, and fry till brown.
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 till 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 cubes]
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 chilies 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 chilies --- [you might want to reduce it if you do not want it hot]
1/8 liter salt
1/2 liter sour buttermilk
3 Limes
1/2 teas Asafoetida --- [sounds like a lot but you need this for all those wafers]
6 liters (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 liters 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 chilies, 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 chilies 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 because 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 vocabulary or experience to come up with ideas on how to make sago [or other] wafer preserves using it.