It is customary here that kids are introduced to syllables of the first language and they begin to write the alphabets on an auspicious day of Vijayadasami, likewise grown-up children are encouraged to enroll themselves in a music, dance or any other art school today. Now I do feel the same as I resume my blogging after a lull of quite a few months, and I post a simple recipe for a rich and intriguing keerai masiyal which was served to us when we dined at a restaurant in Madurai, my home town, just before the onset of pandemic.
Rice flakes is a traditional breakfast cereal consumed in almost every part of India. Earlier my grandmother used to make upma using freshly beaten rice flakes, but we, as children, liked to snack on aval (rice flakes) along with milk & sugar in the same way cornflakes, an American counterpart, is typically devoured. Rice flakes is generally used as the substitute for rice or other grains for making snacks, sweets, desserts, and many other dishes. However I prefer to make delicious potato poha often for breakfast as it is a light but a hearty meal, and poha is a popular Maharashtrian dish prepared with plenty of onion (kande pohe), or with boiled potato (batata pohe), or garnished with grated coconut (dadpe pohe).
Pongal, a harvest festival, is celebrated here to thank the Sun God. Sun is regarded as the creator and sustainer of life on earth, and worshipping the Sun is an age-old practice still followed in India. We could find several hymns praising the Sun god in our scriptures and also several temples enshrining the Sun god (Surya) as the primary deity across India. Suryanaar temple is one of the Sun temples in south India (Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu) where wheat pongal is offered to the deity. So we can also prepare wheat pongal instead of rice pongal on this Pongal festival and offer to the Sun God.
It is a new year and a new decade, I begin to ponder about the ancient Indian philosophy that advocates exemplary ways of life for individuals as they are still relevant even in this decade. Our ancient scriptures proposed a rajasik way of life for kings (being the protector of people) and sathvik way of life for commoners, and the rajasik qualities are strong, tenacious, self-driven, egocentric, energetic & trendy, whereas the sathvik qualities are natural, pure, calm, creative & virtuous. Obviously it will lead to an undesired outcome when a protector tries to adopt sathvik methods or vice versa. Now we are all living in a free world, nevertheless it is imperative to follow both rajasik & sathvik ways to protect the interests of individuals. So I feel it is necessary to inculcate the qualities of sathvik & rajasik into each of our thoughts, words and actions and practise them at right proportions in different times. Hence it is useful to include both sathvik & rajasik foods into our diet. Here I have shared the recipe for kesari (sooji pudding) that promotes both the rajasik & sathvik qualities within us.
Bisi bele bath was a speciality dish prepared in the kitchen of Mysore palace a few centuries ago, and it is still a popular rice dish in Karnataka. Bisi bele bath is a hearty meal prepared by stewing rice, lentils & vegetables along with a spice powder in tamarind juice just like any other sambar sadam, kootanchoru, or kadamba sadam. But bisi bele bath is made special by adding fresh peanuts and/or fresh beans along with other vegetables, a unique flavorful spice powder made with the distinctly aromatic Marati moggu (kapok bud) as the star ingredient, and also by adding generous amount of ghee. It is divine when spicy bisi bele bath is served viscid & hot (as the name [bisi means hot] suggests) in the cold winter night along with warm curd rice.
Rose cookies (rosette cookies) are traditional Christmas cookies prepared in Scandinavian & a few European countries and also in most of the Southeast Asian countries. In India rose cookies are prepared for Christmas and also for Diwali, and they are known as achu murukku in Tamilnadu, achappam in Kerala, gulabi puvvulu in Andhra Pradesh, and Rose De Coque in Goa. Traditionally rose cookies are dusted with icing sugar and served with tea or coffee.
Horsegram crops are usually grown in drought-hit parts of India particularly in South India, and both the beans & hay are used as fodder mainly for horses. Since horse gram is considered a nutritional powerhouse, it is normally recommended for workmen or sportsmen who involve themselves in physically challenging activities, but for others it may be consumed in small quantity. So I used to make horse gram dosa specially when my son participates in sports activities, and I also like to include horse gram into our diet during winter or monsoon as it is useful to keep our body warm in this season.
Hummus, an ancient Arabic appetizer, is now available in every supermarket around the globe as it took the western world by storm a few decades ago. Traditional hummus is nothing but the creamy blend of chickpeas paste & sesame paste. Now there are different flavors of hummus available in the market to satisfy the ever growing demands of consumers across the world. Sabra is the most popular American brand for dips/ spreads namely Mediterranean hummus & Mexican guacamole. Wingreens is one of the few Indian brands selling hummus and they all like to sell the “original” hummus only.
Greens curry is one of the most favorite curries not only for Indians but also for the foodies around the globe. Greens curry is a traditional winter curry prepared using different leafy greens & paneer (cottage cheese). Palak paneer is the most commonly prepared curry using palak (spinach) whereas saag paneer is prepared using mustard leaves popular mainly in Odisha, West Bengal, Kashmir & Punjab.
It is the peak of the festive season here, Diwali is in the air, young girls & boys are on a shopping spree buying clothes, accessories, electronic gadgets, fireworks, etc. to celebrate this Diwali grander than the previous years. Men are looking forward to spend this weekend with his near & dear. Women are toiling away in the kitchen to treat her family & guests with scrumptious goodies. We usually prepare coconut burfi a couple of days before Deepavali as it is made using fresh coconut meat that won’t stay fresh longer.
Sneha is the Sanskrit word for oils extracted from plants & animals, and it also means “friendly” in Tamil, Hindi, and other Indian languages. Apparently oil is viewed as a friendly substance and it plays a vital role in Ayurveda as it purifies, calms, and nourishes our mind & body. It is no wonder that we follow the tradition of taking oil bath (ennai kuliyal) using sesame oil & heating up an oil pot (ennai chatti kaya vaipathu) with peanut oil for frying sweet/ savory stuffs on the day of Deepavali as it signifies purification, peace & prosperity. My mother usually makes deep-fried mundhri kothu/ suseeyam (sweet) and vadai / bajji (savory) on Deepavali.
Prasadham (food offerings) served in Hindu temples are generally prepared to please the palates of devotees. But there are some exceptions, it is also served in sacred temples like Puri Jagannath Temple for the sole purpose of cleansing the souls of pilgrims. It is believed that one can attain moksha (salvation from sins/ rebirth) by partaking the prasadam offered in this temple, hence the offerings in here are known as Mahaprasad (supreme offerings).
A majority of my ancestors were farmers, they mostly grew rice & lentil crops in their farmland. Unfortunately, my maternal grandfather became the last agriculturist of our family due to several reasons such as scarcity of water, lack of manpower, declined profitability, etc. Earlier there were large amounts of nutrient-rich broken rice and broken lentils kept inside kudhil (a gigantic earthenware used to store foodgrains) in my grandfather’s house. Since those small uneven particles of rice & lentil (kurunai) could not be sold in the market, they were used by our grandmother for making upma, payasam, kanji, dosa, etc. She used to make kurunai dosai often as she found it as one of the fastest ways to use up those leftover kurunai.
It is a festive season here, we celebrate a plethora of festivals continuously between August & November every year, and every festival is celebrated distinctively in different parts of India. It is quite astonishing to find how the cuisine, culture, and customs vary from one region to other even within South India. Kosambari is a traditional lentil salad popular in South Indian states (particularly in Andhra, Karnataka and some parts of Tamilnadu) offered to deities in this festive season and also served to guests at the wedding parties & other functions.
Naan is a traditional flatbread made using the dough enriched with ghee (clarified butter) & curd (yogurt) and cooked at a high temperature inside a clay oven called tandoor. Lately, naan dough is prepared just like any other bread dough using leavening agents such as yeast, baking soda, or baking powder and baked like pizza over a hot stone kept inside the oven. Earlier the dough was simply left covered for several hours allowing the process of fermentation to take place naturally.
Saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the world, was used by Indian queens a few thousand years ago to decorate their forehead with a design such as sun, moon, crescent moon, or star. In those days saffron was ground into a paste along with ghee and used as kumkum, hence the name kumkum flower/ kunguma poo. This tradition of applying kumkum is still practiced by almost every Hindu woman even today, but saffron paste is replaced by kumkum powder made of turmeric.
It is a common tendency of people here that they pamper their guests whom they respect the most with sumptuous feasts to express their special affinity towards them. So the way food offered to guests is obviously regarded as a scale to measure their closeness. During my childhood days I often found people getting offended during family functions, particularly weddings, as they felt humiliated at the banquet hall (pandhi) which incidentally became the starting point (place) of most of the family feuds. Nowadays to avoid such unpleasant situations, people hire hosts/ hostesses who give an artificial smile at every guest, treat them all with due respect, and eventually ensure the equality.
It was a myth widely circulated in the 80s that coconuts are the main sources of cholesterol causing artery blocks. Nevetheless my mother started reducing the use of coconut meat greatly, used coconut milk sparingly, and stopped using coconut oil once for all. But my grandmothers continued to use coconuts profusely, and they even found a dish insipid if coconut meat is scantily added into it. In those days coconut meat was used in almost every vegetable preparation, coconut milk used for making scrumptious payasam, and coconut oil for frying crunchy snacks like thattai, murukku, banana chips, etc. We relished theeyal mostly in our grandmother’s house as this recipe calls for good lashings of coconut meat fried in coconut oil.
It is really tough for every mother to meet the dietary requirements of highly active & energetic teens today as she needs to serve them 4 meals a day that satiate their hunger, nourish them adequately, and importantly, please their palate. Since it is almost near to impossible to prepare healthy hearty delicious meals four times a day, it is a good idea to prepare a dish that can be reused for the next meal and also made appealing to them.
During dynasty rule in China black rice was consumed exclusively by the royals for the tremendous health benefits particularly for greater longevity, and hence it was mentioned in ancient Chinese literature as Emperor’s Rice & Fortune Rice. In those days black rice was forbidden to general public, it was even considered an offence to consume black rice or grow black rice crops without royal permission, so it was widely known as the Forbidden Rice. At the dawn of communism in China people were granted to grow Forbidden Rice crops, soon Emperor’s Rice reached the hands of ordinary people, and in due course black rice cultivation was spread to different places around the world. Initially black rice was brought to south India by the affluent business community in Chettinad. They take pride in including an exotic black rice (kavuni arisi) pudding in their lavish wedding banquets even today.
Ever since the humble beetroot juice turned out to be an indispensable dietary supplement for the elite Olympic medalists and accordingly attained the special status of superfood, the benefits of taking beet root juice became more conspicuous to the general public than before. Nowadays beauticians recommend to take a glass of beetroot juice daily in the morning for the glowing skin, dietitians consider this juice as an excellent liver detox, fitness trainers suggest it for endurance, cardiologists & pulmonologists prescribe plain beetroot juice for building robust heart & lungs, all owing to its magic ingredient called nitrate.
Basil seeds (sabja seeds) are one of the most sought-after summer ingredients in Asia as these seeds are believed to lower the body heat according to traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurveda also. You may check out the other health benefits of these sensational basil seeds here.
Raisina hills is the prominent landmark in India where our President’s housing estate (Rashtrapathi Bhavan), Parliament house, Prime Minister’s office and other government offices are situated. Dal Raisina is the signature dish prepared in the Rashtrapathi Bhavan kitchen for VIPs & foreign dignitaries. Dal Raisina is a sumptuous lentil curry prepared by brewing assorted lentils & aromatic spices in lavish amounts of butter & heavy cream in slow fire for long hours. Recently it was cooked for unprecedented 48 long hours specially for the guests present during the swearing-in ceremony of our Prime Minster and his cabinet of ministers held at Rashtrapathi Bhavan.
Jerusalem is one of my favorite cookbooks written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi for their traditional recipes (you may download the e-book here). There are a number of vegetarian recipes that Indians could very well try without demur owing to the fact that most of the ingredients are easily available here. Incidentally I found an exceptional cake recipe using fenugreek seeds, the commonly used Indian spices, in this book.
The search for perfect curry powder began when we caught the whiff of mouth-watering parotta salna (flaky flat breads with curry) emanating from the “parotta shop” on our way back home from school in the evenings. After several trials of various curry powders available in the local market, my brother found Karunanidhi curry masala closely racing behind the one used in parotta shops. In those days curry powders were sold in small packs of 5 or 10 grams and it was recommended to add a pinch of curry powder even for the large quantity of curries. Nowadays curry powders are available in 50 or 100 grams and it recommends to use 2 teaspoonfuls (10 grams) of curry powder.
It is horrendous to gorge oneself on extremely bitter balls”, this was the thought we all had in unison when we were asked to swallow marble-sized neem balls in an empty stomach early in the morning. Our grandmother tried various methods by sprinkling tiny sugar crystals over these emerald green balls, and promising us a “paal” icecream stick (creamy milky ice cream) in the afternoon or a movie show in the evening, etc. But all her tactics usually went in vain as older children escaped from her clutches easily and young kids just spat them all out.
Although Thai cuisine boasts of a wide range of meatless preparations, every vegetable salad, soup, or curry is tinged with fish sauce/ oyster sauce/ dried shrimps/ shrimp paste. People claiming themselves as vegetarians in Thailand are actually pescatarians, they don’t take any meat but seafood. It may be required for vegetarians/ vegans to order food from live counters (or roadside vendors) rather than buffet restaurants so that we can insist them to avoid using seafood as flavor enhancers while preparing a vegetarian food.
Reading Panchangam (an almanac prepared based on Indian calendar system) is an age-old custom followed every year on the day of Tamil New Year celebrated in the middle of April. A few centuries ago royal priests were summoned to read a new Panchangam in the king’s court mentioning important dates of the year and also foretelling the calamities like flood, war, etc. Even today every TV channel telecasts the speech rendered by astrologers predicting the next prime minister, rain fall, gold price, etc. that are of great interest to all walks of life .
Oil bath, almost a forgotten weekly routine followed by every South Indian family until 3 or 4 decades ago, offers pretty much the same benefits of Ayurvedic massage. Nowadays people prefer to visit Ayurvedic clinic for massaging therapy, and spend a few hours & a few bucks there, but they take oil bath at home only on the day of Deepavali festival every year as a religious ritual.
Channa kulambu was one of the few curries I enjoyed during my childhood days. In those days it was prepared using small black chickpeas and white chickpeas were sparingly used for the reasons still unconvincing to me. Eventually I switch to large white chickpeas for their soft, melt-in-mouth texture and prepare even more delicious kulambu (curry), or sundal (salad). Nowadays I like to prepare chettinad style aromatic channa kulambu using white chickpeas, drumstick pods & eggplants to savour the beautiful aroma of drumsticks & delicious flavor of channa.