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Sevai is a type of Southern Indian rice noodle that can be eaten plain or used as a base for more elaborate Indian cuisine. Indian home cooks typically make sevai out of parboiled rice extruded through a specialized pasta press. Sevai gets its texture from rice paste that has been further softened in a steamer. These noodles are usually eaten with small amounts of oil, and they are popular in many Indian homes as part of both dinner and breakfast.
Santhakai refers to another method of making these kinds of rice noodles. Instead of rice, santhakai is usually made from wheat or a type of flour called ragi. The process of making it from scratch is very similar to that of making sevai. In some areas of India, the terms are used interchangeably for the same types of noodles. Indian cuisine experts maintain that the two are separate dishes because of the difference in raw ingredients.
Rice noodles are common in Indian diets because of their versatility and ability to mix well with different flavors. Together with vegetables, noodles are one of the staples of traditionally vegetarian Indian cuisine. Lemon and coconut are favorite flavor choices for sevai.
To make rice sevai from scratch, the home cook starts by boiling rice, then soaking it until it is soft enough to be mashed into a paste. Although dried, prepared sevai may be found in specialty Indian stores, experienced Indian cooks recommend starting with rice, claiming the flavor of the resulting sevai is more authentic. Creating rice paste for sevai is the most labor-intensive part of the process, but mixing and kneading are essential to having a good end result.
Many Indian home cooks grind the soaked rice, then cook it until it resembles a very thick paste that looks similar to bread dough, which they then cool slightly and knead. At this point, salt is mixed in for flavor and oil is added to prevent the paste from sticking to the insides of the steamer or pasta machine. The home cook then rolls the dough into small round or oval balls that are easier to fit through the extruder.
Before the balls of paste can be run through the pasta extruder, they need to be steamed for about 15 minutes. This step is an important one for giving these rice noodles their unique texture. The finished noodles can then be mixed with added flavoring such as grated coconut, curry, lemon zest, and sesame oil.