It is a centuries-old custom still practiced on the day of Vijayadasami that the teachers or parents introduce the syllables of the first language to the kids. We guide them to write the alphabet on a bed of sands as a tradition. Furthermore, we encourage the children to enroll in music, dance, or other art schools on this auspicious day. Now I do feel as if this were the first post when I resume my blogging after a lull of quite a few months. So I have shared a simple Chettinad recipe for a rich and intriguing keerai masiyal. I relished this dish when we dined at a restaurant in Madurai a few months ago before the onset of the pandemic.
Saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the world, was used a few thousand years ago by Indian queens to decorate their forehead with motifs such as sun, moon, crescent moon, or star. It 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. Nowadays we use turmeric powder instead of saffron for preparing kumkum powder, and we prepare a beverage, Saffron Latte, using saffron.
“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 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 pop) 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.
I began to realize the significance of detoxification only when I started taking a course of detoxification in an Ayurvedic clinic. Detox is as important as giving nourishment to our body. It is essential to keep not only toxins but also toxic thoughts & toxic people at bay for our well being. Since Ayurveda is more effective for detoxification, it is a good idea to include detoxifying herbs & spices by incorporating ayurvedic concepts into our detox diet. In this post I have outlined the Ayurvedic concepts and shared a few of the recipes for Ayur detox.
There were plenty of healthy snacks like boiled peanuts & Palmyra sprouts, roasted corncobs, and locally grown fresh berries & fruits sold in our school canteen. We relished them as much as the deep-fried snacks like puffs, samosa, chips, or sugary snacks like candies, chocolates, ice cream, ice pops, etc. during intervals or at the time of dispersal.
The larger population of the world generally prefers to preserve their bountiful seasonal fruits, vegetables & other fresh produce by freeze-drying them. But we, Indians, prefer to sun-drying our fresh herbs, berries & spices. We have been using sun-dried (dehydrated) ingredients for culinary and medicinal purposes for over 1000 years. Ayurveda, Siddha, and other Indian medicine systems prescribe medicines prepared using sun-dried herbs or fresh herbs. We use dried herbs for making powders & tablets (chooranam) and fresh herbs for external applications, or for making decoctions, etc. We also prepare delicious vatha kuzhambu, a traditional South Indian kuzhambu, using sun-dried vegetables, berries, or fruits and serve with rice.
Spiritual leaders in India used to stress the importance of including white pumpkin into our diet regularly as it is considered Saatvik (meaning ethical, pure & vital) conducive for practicing yoga & meditation. Food plays an important role in achieving deep meditation because each food generates different effects on different parts of our brain. Saatvik food, esp. white pumpkin juice, is recommended to calm the mind and to experience meditation.
Few years ago I had a serendipitous encounter with an amazing fruit kudampuli while I was looking for a gut-friendly substitute for tamarind used in south Indian cuisine. Kudampuli (Garcinia Cambogia or malabar tamarind) is a rich source of an interesting chemical compound hydroxycitric acid (HCA). HCA is well known to the western medicine for its astounding property to convert food into energy and also hinder the accumulation of fat in our body. Thus HCA extracted from Garcinia Cambogia is mostly used in the manufacture of weight loss supplements. They are recommended to treat obese particularly diabetics.
Generally, we prefer to welcome every new beginning with sweets, but we follow a unique tradition of preparing an elaborate meal of different flavours (arusuvai virudhu) on the occasion of Chithirai Vishu (New Year) celebrated on the 14th or 15th of April every year. It is actually an Ayurvedic tradition to stimulate all the parts of our palate by taking a nourishing meal of six flavours like sweet, sour, bitter, astringent, salt & pungent. This also encourages us to embrace each season, or every change in our life gracefully. So we never miss to include the bitter ingredient, neem flower that blooms plentifully in this season, into our New Year feast (Vishu sadhya). We prepare the traditional veppampoo pachadi, a confluence of all the six tastes, using neem flowers and many other ingredients.
As a child I hated few things imposed by my grandparents during our visit every summer. It was disgusting to find all our clothes reeked of bitter neem oil as they were washed using neem detergents. We also disliked to gobble up extremely bitter balls made of neem leaves paste forcibly given by our grandmother. But now I have been yearning for such eco-friendly chemical-free detergents suitable for my washing machine, and also I feel guilty to give de-worming tablet to my son as I am unable to persuade him to take the home-made herbal substitute available plentiful around us. Nevertheless I feel contented that I can prepare delicious soup using neem flowers that possess almost same properties as that of neem leaves.
Indian medicine systems recommend all the ingredients that have an astringent flavor such as banana blossoms (vazhaipoo), pomegranate, red gram (toor dal), Indian blackberry (naval pazham), etc. for women’s health as they keep our uterus strong & healthy. Consuming cooked banana blossom with curd or yoghurt is believed to be one of the most efficient ways of treating excessive bleeding during menstruation as it increases the level of progesterone. So it a good practice to serve vazhaipoo paruppu usili (lentil crumble) with yoghurt curry (mor-kuzhambu).
Since moringa trees (murungai maram) are primarily grown for their seed pods (drumsticks), moringa flowers (murungai poo) are hardly available in the market. So we prepare murungai poo poriyal in small quantity exclusively for a lactating mother in our family. We need to cook the buds & young white blossoms gently, so we can use them in salad, soup, or use them as garnishes for a curry. Nevertheless, we don’t recommend women to take these nourishing flowers during pregnancy as it may lead to miscarriage.
Chukku malli kaapi is a classic South Indian digestive elixir prepared using dried ginger & other spices, herbs and palm jaggery. Siddha and Ayurveda recommend to take fresh ginger in an empty stomach in the morning & dried ginger later in the night for the improved digestion. So we usually take fresh ginger juice or ginger jam (lehium) before breakfast & dried ginger classic elixir after dinner. Besides, we can serve the same elixir as a home remedy for common cough, cold & sore throat after infusing it with appropriate medicinal herbs & spices.
Thoothuvalai (Solanum trilobatum) is a quickly spreading herb usually props up in our surroundings after a good spell of rain. It is a medicinal plant used in Indian medicines Ayurveda & Siddha to treat respiratory problems like asthma, cough, cold & flu. So we can add these herbs into our diet during winter or monsoon. Here I have prepared thoothuvali chutney that can be used often for breakfast.
Omam kuzhambu is a traditional kuzhambu prepared using aromatic spices with medicinal properties. Omam is beneficial to treat indigestion or flatulence. Hence I like to prepare omam kuzhambu when we return home from a vacation, or after attending a wedding ceremony for few days. I usually serve it with hot steaming rice & roasted papad (sutta appalam), when we crave for a home-cooked food that soothes our stomach. Now I have prepared a meal with omam Kuzhambu, dal (paruppu), stir-fried ladies finger (vendakai poriyal), spicy veg gravy (chettinad masala kootu) & sutta appalam and served for lunch.
Indian gooseberries (amla) were mentioned in Sangam Tamil literature 2000 years ago for their anti-aging properties. The king Adhiyamaan of Chera dynasty was famous for his munificence and he was regarded as one of the kadaiyezhu vallal (meaning last seven patrons) in the history of Tamil monarchy. In those days amla was a scarcely available fruit and it was believed to have anti-aging properties to prolong one’s life. The king as a patron of literature offered such a rarest & precious nellikani (amla) to an old poetess Avvaiyar rather than partaking it by himself. Avvaiyar rendered beautiful verses after receiving amla praising the magnanimity of king Adhiyamaan (you may click here to read those lines).
Vazhaipoo vadai or banana flower patties are gluten-free snacks prepared with banana flowers & yellow peas. These are delectable flavorsome patties with crispy skin and soft flesh. We can include banana flowers into our diet in the form of patties (vadai), stir-fry (poriyal), coconut curry (kootu), lentil crumble (paruppu usili), soup, or salad.