Farmers used to invest their time, money and everlasting efforts in their farmlands to grow healthy high-yielding crops and they eagerly look forward to the harvesting season. They regard every harvest as a sign of prosperity as they reap the benefits only at the time of harvesting. So farmers here celebrate the harvest festival, Pongal, for 4 days with fun & fervour. They thank the Sun, earth & also the animals that helped them blessed with abundance by offering pongal to Sun God, and also by treating their cows, bulls & other domestic animals including elephants with sugarcane, banana, sweet pongal, etc.
The year 2020 has made us all stronger physically, emotionally & spiritually and also made us richer by unique experiences. We have learnt many invaluable life lessons that would guide us sail through even the difficult phase of our life. Now I feel it is appropriate to follow our traditional way of celebrating New Year with sumptuous repast of various flavours like sweet, bitter, pungent etc. This tradition encourages us to accept and adapt to every season, every flavour and every change in our life gracefully.
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.
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 for the sole purpose of cleansing the souls of pilgrims in sacred temples like Puri Jagannath Temple. 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). Chhena Poda is one such Mahaprasad prepared in this temple kitchen, the largest in the world.
We celebrate a plethora of festivals continuously between August & November every year. Every festival is celebrated distinctively in various regions across India. It is quite astonishing to find how the cuisine, culture, and customs vary from one region to other. Kosambari is a traditional lentil salad popular in South India (particularly in Andhra, Karnataka and some parts of Tamilnadu) with little variations. This salad is offered to deities in this festive season and also served to guests at the wedding banquets or festive gatherings.
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 it was a customary that 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 people of all walks of life .
I wish all my readers a blessed New Year full of happiness and health! 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 traditional boli that I enjoyed in my childhood days but I never had the courage to try. There are a number of varieties of boli prepared by South Indians, but the traditional boli is the most delicious boli I ever tasted in my life. Those boli were made thin, flaky, papery & large and stuffed with mashed sweetened lentils. It is really challenging to prepare perfectly shaped boli as it is made thinner than any other boli and hence it turned out to be a larger boli. Nowadays it is hard to find these traditional boli in the sweet shops here, they are usually made thick, chewy, greasy & small which I feel unpalatable.
Elders in our families are unable to withstand to watch the children blowing out candles on their birthday as lighting up lamps is considered auspicious here and it symbolizes brightening up the people’s lives. Earlier traditional lamps (kuthu vilakku) were treated as supreme deities at home, but statues & pictures gradually gained the special status rather than those lamps. Nowadays we gift lamps to our friends & relatives for wedding or for house-warming ceremony wishing them happy & prosperous life. We also prepare edible lamps & light them during Thirukarthigai festival.
“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 snack on crunchy murukku as it takes longer time to chew and also it makes us feel full, 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.
Sweet saffron rice (zarda pulao) is a Persian rice dish, and it was the most sought-after pulao among the royals during the Mughal era dated back to 16th century. Noor Jahan, the multi-talented Mughal empress, devised new techniques to stain rice grains with edible dyes. Zarda pulao was made using such rice grains of various colours and it became so popular that it was served to the guests at the royal weddings & banquets. She brought revolutionary changes in every art form, she designed dresses with silver or gold-threaded brocades, cutlery & crockery engraved with rubies & emeralds, and she also commissioned magnificent buildings including a tomb for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg which is regarded as a draft of Taj Mahal.
Navarathri is a festival of worshiping the goddesses Parvathi (for creative power), Saraswathi (for wisdom) & Lakshmi (for wealth). Navarathri celebrations in Tamilnadu is incomplete without offering sundal (legume salad) to deities. I like to make karamani (black eyed beans) sundal for the soft skin & creamy texture. Today I used karamani of mahogany, peach & white colors and prepared 4 types of sundal.
Lord Ganesha is worshiped by Hindus in the same manner God Janus is regarded in Greek mythology. It is interesting to find the striking similarities between the two as they both hold the honor of being the first god worshiped in every ritual. I also like to start my day by listening to the hymn, Vinayagar Agaval, written on Him by the 14th century poetess Avvaiyar sung by the late legendary singer M.S.Subbulakshmi.
Poppy seeds payasam is a delicious and nutritious dessert popular in Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh. Earlier I had been using poppy seeds scantily as a thickening agent along with coconut, so I could not identify the flavors in these seeds. But when I started to use them in larger quantity while making payasam, the flavor became so conspicuous that I could notice its nutty flavor similar to sesame seeds and also its sweetness as that of peanuts.
We normally celebrate every new beginning with sweets, but we follow a tradition of serving sumptuous meal consisting of 6 tastes viz., sweet, sour, bitter, astringent, salt & pungent on our New Year usually celebrated on the 14th of April. This tradition is being followed in our society to encourage us to embrace each season of a year. So we never miss to include bitter neem flower pachadi to our elaborate lunch meal specially prepared on the occasion of Chithirai Vishu every year.
Whenever I heard the word payasam, I was visualizing jaggery payasam (made using rice & lentil) aka anna payasam during my childhood days. It was a delicious staple dessert prepared in our family whether to treat our guests, or ourselves on our birthdays/ festivals, or simply to offer to deities at home on Fridays. However we gradually switched to other payasam made of rice adai, vermicelli (semiya), tapioca pearls (javvarisi), jackfruits, etc. Nevertheless we still follow the tradition of feeding the traditional anna payasam to babies in front of the deities at home or in a temple when solid foods are introduced to them for the first time.
Turmeric rhizomes are inextricably intertwined with our culture & traditions, all our religious rituals are performed only in the presence of turmeric powder. Even the family ties are religiously acknowledged by tying a turmeric smeared thread around the wrist or neck (for women) before the deities, priests & other elders. Women used to observe fasting until the sacred turmeric thread is tied around the neck when they get married and also on the day of Karadaiyan nonbu usually falls in the middle of March.
Pongal is the harvest festival celebrated in Tamilnadu by worshiping Sun & earth to express our gratitude for the entire year’s harvests. On this day we still follow the traditional method of cooking rice in brass, stainless steel or earthen pots. We decorate the Pongal Paanai (pot) with kolam drawn using rice flour & turmeric powder and tie the ginger or turmeric sprouts around its neck. Pongal means boiling over, it signifies prosperity & abundance, and hence it is considered auspicious to have boiled over while cooking pongal. We use Pongal paanai rather than electric cooker or pressure cooker as spilling over happens only when cooking pongal in pot.
Kadamba sambar is a traditional flavorful South Indian curry prepared with assorted (kadambam) vegetables & tubers usually served with rice. It is popularly known as idi sambar (meaning pounded sambar) in Tirunelveli & Kanyakumari regions, as the spice powder was earlier prepared by pounding in a large stone mortar (ural) using a 3-feet long metal-tipped wooden pestle (ulakkai).
Neivilangai has always been featured in our family’s Deepavali menu every year. (You may check out our other Deepavali recipes here.) These melt-in-mouth lentil flour laddu are popular among Indians & Sri Lankans also. North Indians use Bengal gram flour or wheat flour, whereas south Indians use green gram flour or black gram flour for making delicious laddu.
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 traditional laddu made using pan-roasted rice & palm jaggery. Our grandmother used to prepare these laddus for Deepavali that falls in October or November, and my aunts used to keep them for us 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 of lentil flour.
Although Navrathri in south India is synonymous with savoury sundal, traditionally sweet payasam is also offered for neivedhyam during Navarathri. I have prepared ada pradhaman, a creamy dessert popular in Kerala & southern Tamilnadu. Onam sadhya menu is incomplete without ada pradhaman. I still remember the delicious ada pradhaman prepared by my aunt lived in Nagercoil and I thank her for introducing us such a sweet delicacy.
This is my first post in the second year of blogging. On this first anniversary I thank WordPress team for their fantastic support, readers & fellow bloggers for their amazing encouragement and my family, relatives & friends for their kind cooperation, invaluable assistance & honest reviews. I also thank Lord Ganesha by posting the most appropriate recipe, a recipe for Modhagam that we usually offer to Him on his birthday (Ganseh Chathurthi). In this process of sharing our family recipes in here for the past one year, I have been learning much more than what I learnt through the years of my cooking experience. And now I am so glad to share a new method that I found very helpful for making soft silky dough for modhagam.
Kummiyanam is a nutritious dessert made of rice, assorted legumes & palm jaggery prepared by the people in Tirunelveli, Nagerkoil, or Kanyakumari. It is offered to the lamented souls while remembering them in Aadi month (a Tamil calendar month usually falls between 15th of July & 15th of August). In this month we remember departed men on Aadi amavasyai (no moon day) and women on aadi irudhi (last day of Aadi). Likewise, I heard Japanese visiting cemeteries during the same period to remember the departed.
Aadi Perukku is a festival of fertility & prosperity celebrated in south India for over 500 years. It was mentioned in Sangam Tamil literature, Paripadal, written in the 14th century about the celebration of this festival.
Sweet pongal, popularly known as sakkarai pongal, is one of the most common neivedyam (food offering to deities) prepared not only in temple kitchens but also at our homes. We find sakkarai pongal as one of the most delightful prasadams served almost in all the Hindu temples in South India. So I set this prasadam as the benchmark for my sakkarai pongal, then I tried various methods to perfect the recipe for the same and finally succeeded to my heart’s content.
Chitrannam is a platter of different rice varieties usually prepared on the day of Aadi perukku ie. 18th day of Aadi month in Tamil calendar. It is believed that whatever we do on that day would grow manifold, so farmers used to sow their seeds expecting a good yield, businessmen venture into new business, and people in every walk of life eager to start something new.