Farmers 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. Obviously, 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 Mother Nature (pancha boothangal/ five elements) that helped them blessed with abundance by preparing Pongal in an open space outside their house and offer it to Sun God. Also they bathe their cows, bulls & other domestic animals including elephants and treat them with sugarcane, banana, sweet pongal, etc.
Bisi bele bath was a specialty dish prepared in the kitchen of Mysore palace a few centuries ago, and it is still a popular rice dish in Karnataka. It is a hearty meal prepared by stewing rice, lentils & vegetables along with a spice powder in tamarind juice just like sambar sadam, or kadamba sadam or kootanchoru, a counterpart in Tamil cuisine. This Karnataka specialty dish is made flavourful by adding fresh peanuts 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 the spices tempered in ghee. It is divine when a spicy Bisi bele bath is served hot (as the name [bisi means hot] suggests) & viscid and hence the perfect meal for cold winter nights.
A long time ago I read through an eye-opening piece of information published in almost all the newspapers & magazines about the special menu meticulously planned by the top chefs to ease the tension during the talks between Indian premier & Pakistan president at Agra summit in 2001. It made me to realize for the first time that the food we ingest not only nourishes our body but also influences our mind, mood, or thoughts as well. It also struck me that it is possible to tame the tantrums played by kids, or to channel the teens’ minds to set their goals by serving mind-calming foods. Apparently every mother could play a crucial role for the physical, mental & emotional well being of her children by serving appropriate food to fulfill their needs.
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 the 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 colors and it became so popular that it was served to the guests at royal weddings & banquets. The empress brought revolutionary changes in every art form. She designed dresses with silver or gold-threaded brocades, cutlery & crockery engraved with rubies & emeralds. She also commissioned magnificent buildings including a tomb for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg which was actually a draft of Taj Mahal.
Born into a family of vegetarians I am totally clueless about the flavors of meat of any kind and hence I used to wonder what makes people to have cravings for meat. So I have been looking for vegetable substitutes for meat, and then started trying out the most popular meat-based recipes like biryani, kebab, kurma, etc. using those vegetable substitutes. Earlier I used fleshy soy meat for making biryani. Lately, I came to know that raw jackfruit is a better substitute than textured soya for its fibrous meat-like texture and mildly sweet flavour, and I have tried jackfruit biryani.
Biryani is a medley of rice, vegetables (or meat) & spices popular in India, Srilanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries in south Asia & central Asia. Traditionally biryani is cooked over hot coal in a sealed cooking pot allowing the aroma of spices permeated into both the vegetables (or meat) & rice. This method of cooking in low heat is known as “Dum” process. Now I have prepared Paneer Dum biryani over stove top, but we can also cook dum biryani using slow cooker, or bake it in the oven.
Pulao is a simple but a delicious rice dish. We usually prepare pulao with colorful vegetables like fresh green peas, diced carrots, corn kernels, broccoli florets, etc. It is so captivating to see the rice dish dotted with colorful veggies. Hence it can be served to the children and also to the guests at the family gatherings. Now I have prepared an aromatic green peas pulao garnished with fresh coriander leaves.
Aadi Perukku is a festival of fertility & prosperity being celebrated in South India for over 500 years. The 14th century Sangam Tamil literature, Paripadal, described the celebration of this festival elaborately. It gives us a glimpse of how our ancestors celebrated this festival and also how they revered the Mother Nature in those days. It is quite enthralling to read those old verses mentioning about the rivers passing through our neighbourhood. You may read those Sangam Tamil verses here.
Tamarind rice is a traditional rice dish popular not only in Tamilnadu but also in other states in South India and are called as puliyodharai, puliohare, or puli sadam. Puliyodharai stays good & tastes divine even if it is kept without being refrigerated for 3 or 4 days. Earlier people used to pack tamarind rice and carry it in large quantities for their family trips and it was regarded as the ideal food for travel.
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.
We serve Chitrannam, a platter of rice dishes, as a lunch meal for the Aadi Perukku festival that we celebrate on the 18th day of the Aadi month of the Tamil calendar. Traditionally, we prepare tamarind rice (puliyodharai), lemon rice (elumichai sadam), coconut rice (thengai sadam), and sweet Pongal (Sarkarai Pongal). You can also check out my traditional chitrannam recipes here. Nevertheless, I prefer my chitrannam platter to be colorful and flavorful. So I have prepared spicy red tomato rice, aromatic green mint rice, nutty brown sesame rice, sweet yellow candied rice, and creamy white curd rice. Besides, they are easy to prepare with commonly available ingredients and we can even pack these rice dishes for children’s lunch boxes.
Ulundham Paruppu Sadham (Blackgram rice) is a unique rice dish popular in Tirunelveli and surrounding regions and this rice is typically served with ellu thuvaiyal for lunch. We usually serve this nutritious meal to young girls during their cycle every month and also to pregnant women as blackgram is beneficial to strengthen their hip bones. Nevertheless it can be served to kids, men & old people alike.
Interestingly Indian Biryani & Italian Risotto share some similarities: Seeraga samba rice & arborio rice are of same texture and they are cooked al dente in both the recipes. Seeraga samba rice is a quintessential ingredient of biryani in south India for its wonderful flavor, it also absorbs the flavors of all the spices used in it, and it does not gather into thick lumps.
Thuvaram paruppu sadam (rice with split pigeon peas) is a traditional flavorful one-pot meal popular in Tirunelveli. I like to prepare our favorite thuvaram paruppu sadam for lunch on a lazy weekend as it does not require much of a planning. It is so delightful when we pour coconut oil lavishly over the rice and relish with crunchy appalam & vadagam.
Citrus fruits are beneficial to boost our immunity, energy and also our mood and they aid in detoxification & digestion, this was the main reason that lemon rice was earlier prepared & packed for short travels. So even today we can pack this traditional rice dish for children’s lunch box as it helps to keep them active & energetic all through the day.
Generally vegetable biryani served in restaurants are greasy, overly spiced, and made of semi-cooked rice tossed with few vegetables. Hence I prefer to make simple flavorful delicious vegetable biryani at home, and I like to add textured soya for making protein-rich delicious biryani. Soy biryani is a wholesome meal and is usually served with refreshing raita.
Kootanchoru is a traditional one-pot meal prepared for lunch, and it is a complete meal with the carbs, protein, vitamins & minerals. My grandmother used to prepare this flavorful rice dish at our family gatherings especially in the summer vacation every year. She preferred to use the locally grown vegetables like drumsticks, drumstick leaves, raw banana, raw mango, jackfruit seeds, etc. and served us kootan-choru with home-made fried appalam & vadagam. I still remember the mixed flavors of vegetables, spices and deep-fried vengaya vadagam emanating from her kitchen when we all played in the courtyard. The main attraction for the kids in those days were the nutty jackfruit seeds & the mango seed encapsulated by tangy fleshy mango.