Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Rama, is kicked off with a grand celebration of Deepavali this year. Yesterday the residents of Ayodhya lit 551,000 lamps and illuminated the banks of River Sarayu. Even this pandemic could not dampen our festive spirit, special arrangements have been made across the nation to celebrate this Deepavali happier, healthier & safer than ever before. This year I have tried to replicate my grandmother’s Deepavali platter consisting of traditional Tamilnadu sweets & savories, and it reminds me of the festive feasts relished during my childhood days. Now I post a recipe for Manoharam, a sweet delicacy popular in southern districts of Tamilnadu, and you can also find my other Deepavali recipes here.
It is a new year and a new decade, and I begin to ponder about the ancient Indian philosophy that advocates the exemplary qualities for individuals that are still relevant even in this decade. Our ancient scriptures proposed a rajasic way of life for kings (as the protector of people) and a sattvic way of life for commoners. It may lead to an undesired outcome if a king adopts sattvic methods or the commoners follow rajasic practices. The rajasic qualities are tenacious, self-driven, energetic & trendy, whereas the sattvic qualities are natural, pure, calm, creative & virtuous.
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.
It is the peak of 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 according to Ayurveda oil purifies, calms, and nourishes our mind & body. Since oil signifies purification, peace & prosperity, it is no wonder that we follow the tradition of taking oil bath (ennai kuliyal) & heating up an oil pot (ennai chatti kaya vaipathu) on the day of Deepavali. Generally we use sesame oil for oil bath, peanut oil for frying savory stuffs and ghee for making sweets. My mother usually makes deep-fried mundhri kothu or suseeyam (sweet dumplings), vadai or bajji (savory dumplings) and ukkarai fried in ghee for every Deepavali.
In this new year, I aspire to rise up, glide above my comfort zone and hanker after the recipes I never dared to try before. Now I have tried the traditional boli that is fairly difficult to prepare. Generally, Indians prepare different varieties of boli or poli with soft or flaky skins and powdery or moist fillings, but I find the traditional one, popular in Kanyakumari & Nagercoil regions, is the most delicious boli. They were usually made thin, flaky, papery & large, and stuffed with a sweet dry filling (paruppu pooranam).
“Can you crunch murukku?” is one of the commonly asked questions when oldies meet each other during the festival of Deepavali. It is regarded as a blessing (or as a sign of good health) if one could relish crunchy murukku even at an old age. There is an old saying in Tamil “norunga thindral nooru vayathu vazhalam” (meaning crunching ensures longevity). It is considered healthy to take crunchy snacks for 3 reasons: It takes longer time to chew them, thus it makes us feel full (even with fewer calories), and hence greater satiety.
Dumplings are not only traditional but also universal, they are ubiquitous in almost every cultural cuisine in various forms be it boiled, baked, steamed or fried. Chinese dim sum, Italian ravioli, Nepalese yomari, Jamaican fried dumplings, Polish potato plum dumplings, British herb dumplings, American apple dumplings, etc. are some of the old-fashioned adorable dumplings that still delight the gourmets across the globe. Susiyam, Munthiri kothu & Bonda are the traditional dumplings prepared in my family for Deepavali festival.
It is a bizarre phenomenon that some of the vegetarians here, particularly elders, avoid taking the foods spiced with fennel seeds. They do not like to use them in their recipes as they feel these spices are meant to go with meat based recipes only. Nevertheless we all like its sweet flavor and I like to add it into spicy vegetable kurma & paruppu vadai (lentil patties) for the strong flavor. I like to relish hot masala vadai & creamy coconut chutney along with a cup of cardamom tea on a rainy day.
Vegetable bajji are nothing but the fritters available in every cuisine across the globe. Crispy fritters are commonly prepared using the batter made of corn starch & all purpose flour. But we, South Indians, prepare fluffy fritters by deep frying the slices of locally grown vegetables dipped into the Bengal gram (chickpea) batter. Nevertheless, people with sensitive stomach prefer to avoid taking these fritters as gram flour causes flatulence & indigestion. So I have added powdered ajwain (omam seeds) that are commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat stomach ache, indigestion, gastritis & flatulence. Besides, I have replaced baking soda with dosa batter that aids in digestion of gram flour and is useful to make the bajji fluffy. I have also added little ghee into the batter for the delicious aroma.
Neivilangai is a melt-in-mouth lentil flour laddu popular among South Indians & Sri Lankans. Generally North Indians use Bengal gram flour or wheat flour whereas South Indians use green gram flour or black gram flour for making delicious laddu. Neivilangai has always been featured in our family’s Deepavali menu every year. You may check out my other Deepavali recipes here.
Thattai (meaning flat disc) are inexorably delicious crackers prepared in our family for Deepavali. It is so astonishing to find numerous varieties of thattai made all over India using various lentils, grains & spices, and hence it has varied flavour, texture or colour in every state, every district and also in every family. These crispy savory discs have been given different names in different regions viz., thattu vadai in Salem, thattai murukku in Tamilnadu, nippattu in Karnataka, chekkalu in Andhra Pradesh, papdi in North India.
Porivilangai is a South Indian laddu made using pan-roasted rice & palm jaggery. Our grandmother never missed to prepare these traditional laddus every year for the Deepavali festival that falls in October or November. My aunts used to store those delightful laddus for about 6 months till our visit during summer. In those days these flavorful porivilangai were made into hard orange-sized balls but now I have made small soft laddus that can be stored only for few days. You can also check out the recipe for a similar laddu called Neivilangai made using lentil flour.
Medhu vadai or ulundha vadai is a gluten-free savoury doughnut prepared using black lentils (urad dal). Any feast or festival in South India is incomplete without serving soft vadai with crispy golden skin. Nevertheless medhu vadai is a commonly prepared evening snack in our family particularly during monsoon.
Vadai are the most popular lentil patties prepared during Deepavali in South India. We prepare aama vadai using Bengal gram and ulundha vadai using black gram. We soak the left-over vadai in thayir (yogurt) and relish them as thayir vadai the next day.
We take inji legiyam, a digestive jam, the day after Deepavali as we all enjoy a sumptuous feast consisting of sweets & savories during this festival. It is also known as Deepavali legiyam or Deepavali marundhu. A teaspoon of legiyam taken in the morning on an empty stomach helps improve the digestion. So we can take this legiyam after the feasts enjoyed during festivals or weddings. It is also beneficial to children or sick people to increase their appetite.