Lately, jackfruits have grown increasingly popular due to their hypoglycaemic property. The flour made using unpalatable jackfruit fibers storms into the kitchens across the globe. Nevertheless, jackfruit trees were the most commonly grown trees in South India. We grew up relishing sweet jackfruit bulbs during summer vacations. Every summer reminds me of the ceremonious preparation of jackfruit at my grandmother’s kitchen that was filled with a unique fruity fragrance. Even today, we don’t miss to relish these sweetest luscious fruit bulbs and the most delicious fruit dessert, jackfruit payasam (chakka pradhaman), every summer.
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 supreme deity, Sun God. So we can also prepare wheat pongal instead of rice pongal and offer to Sun God on this Pongal festival.
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.
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.
During dynasty rule in China, the royals consumed black rice for tremendous health benefits particularly for greater longevity. Hence the ancient Chinese literature mentioned it as the Emperor’s Rice or the Fortune Rice. In those days black rice was forbidden to the general public. It was even considered an offence to consume black rice or grow their crops without royal permission. So black rice 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 parts of world. Black rice was brought to South India by the affluent business community in Chettinad. They still take pride in including an exotic kavuni arisi sweet (black rice pudding) in their lavish wedding banquets even today.
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 .
It is a common practice that we carry a box of assorted sweets, chocolates, or dry fruits when we visit our friends or relatives. Likewise we also receive such gifts from our guests and we usually finish them all in a couple of days, but the milk sweets remain untouched for few days. Ever since I read a slogan encouraging veganism “cow’s milk is for calves, not for humans”, I began to feel that it is our greed to use cow’s milk, and hence we have no right to waste milk or milk products. So I always look for efficient ways of using left-over milk, curd or milk sweets, and I find carrot halwa as the most delectable transformation of milk sweets.
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, so I could barely identify the flavor of these tiny seeds. But when I started using them in larger quantities while making desserts like payasam, the flavors became so conspicuous that it has a nutty flavor similar to sesame seeds and a mild sweetness similar to peanuts.
We grew up relishing sweet fruity beetroot pachadi served in every wedding feast, it was an unforgettable experience for us to relish the beautiful reddish-purple puree infused with the flavors of native fruits. Nowadays, this traditional fruit dessert has not been included in the menu prepared for the feasts, and beetroot jam is replaced by vanilla ice cream with fruit salad.
Paruthi paal is a cottonseed milk dessert popular in the villages near Madurai, my home town. People, esp. the villagers, prepare a nutritious dessert using cottonseed milk, a traditional vegan milk. As a part of my college education, I served as an NSS (National Service Scheme) volunteer. We used to camp in the surrounding villages during summer vacation to understand the living conditions of the people and also help them improve their standard of living. We were always greeted with a glass of delicious paruthi paal in almost every household in those villages. Normally they used to grind a large quantity of cottonseeds everyday and used as a fodder feed particularly to milking cows. Apparently cottonseed milk is beneficial to lactating mothers as well. Others consume this dessert during summer to keep them cool.
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.
Indians usually celebrate every new beginning by distributing sweet boondi laddu. We follow a tradition of serving sweet boondi to our guests to celebrate the arrival of a new born in our family. I usually make a payasam during every festival and special occasions. On this New Year I follow the same tradition of serving tapioca pearls payasam garnished with sweet boondhi (chickpea flour pearls) to my family.
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.
Kummiyanam is a nutritious dessert prepared with rice, assorted legumes & palm jaggery for Aadi Iruthi celebrated by the people living in & around Tirunelveli. We offer kummiyanam to the lamented souls while remembering them in the Aadi month, a Tamil calendar month usually falls between 15th of July & 15th of August. In this month we remember the departed men on the day of amavasyai (no moon day) and the departed women on aadi irudhi (the last day of Aadi). Ironically, Japanese also visit the cemeteries during the same period to pay tributes to the departed souls.
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.
Panchamirtham is the sacred fruit salad offered as naivedyam to deities at home, and also used for abishegam (bathing deities) in Hindu temples across Tamilnadu. The most renowned Palani panchamirtham is prepared using unique bananas that are exclusively grown near Palani hills. It is offered to the Lord Murugan in Palani temple and also to devotees as prasadam. You can check out this video to see how panchamirtham abishegam is performed to the deity in a temple.
Ice apple pudding (nungu payasam) is a delightful dessert nowadays featured in the menu of premier restaurants here to treat the people with impeccable taste. Lately it is also served in the wedding banquets particularly in South India. Ice apple pudding is a creamy dreamy dessert with enticing flavors of saffron, cardamom and ice apple (nungu or palm fruits) considered as a perfect finish to a sumptuous feast. You may click here for my other payasam recipes.
Hot sunny days always remind me the summer vacations spent during my childhood days indulging in ice pops (Popsicle) like paal-ice, semiya ice, javvarisi ice, thengai ice, pazha ice, panchamirtha ice, etc. Indian popsicles are so flavourful that we could find delicious chunks of native fruits like mango, grated coconut, chopped nuts, slimy tapioca pearls or smooth vermicelli while relishing chilled pops. Nowadays it is hard to find ice pops with Indian flavours, those milky ice pops are replaced by creamy ice cream, chocolate sticks, etc.