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.
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.
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.
Horse gram crops are usually grown in drought-hit parts of India particularly in South India, and both the beans & hay are used as fodder mainly for horses. Since horse gram is considered a nutritional powerhouse, it is normally recommended for workmen or sportsmen who involve themselves in physically challenging activities, but for others, it may be consumed in small quantities. So I used to make horse gram idli or dosa when my son actively participates in sports, and I also like to include horse gram into our diet during winter or monsoon as it is useful to keep our body warm in this season.
We celebrate a plethora of festivals 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 within our country. 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.
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.
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.
Ever since the humble beetroot juice emerged as an indispensable dietary supplement for the elite Olympic medalists and accordingly attained the special status of a superfood, the benefits of taking this juice became more evident to the general public. Nowadays, beauticians recommend taking a glass of beetroot juice daily in the morning for glowing skin. Dietitians consider this juice as an excellent liver detox, and fitness trainers suggest it for endurance. Cardiologists & pulmonologists prescribe plain beetroot juice for building a healthy heart & lungs. It is all due to a magic ingredient, nitrate, found plentifully in beetroots.
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 .
Women of all virtues are regarded as goddesses in our society even today, we could find men treating his worldly-wise mother as Sarasawathi, the goddess of wisdom & knowledge, his caring wife as Durga Devi, the goddess of strength & protection, and his lively daughter as Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Our prime minister, a devotee of goddess Durga, inducted a righteous woman into his cabinet of ministers as the national defence minister. We could also find several references in our ancient literature that stress the need for the respect of women in unequivocal terms.
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.
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.
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.
My father never missed to treat me with a glass of delicious mixed fruit juice whenever he took me out for shopping during my childhood days. I still remember how I relished this refreshing drink particularly during hot sunny days. This fruit juice can be enjoyed by chewing but not by sipping through a straw as it was served neither diluted like juice nor concentrated as smoothie. My father always preferred to take fresh mixed fruit juice without ice & sugar, hence I got motivated to prepare fruit juice without ice (or ice cream) and to use unprocessed sugar in place of refined sugar. My father also made us to realize that taking the food made of assorted fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, or lentils is essential for children’s growth as it prevents vitamin deficiency.
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.
Ashoka halwa is a protein-rich sweetmeat popular in South India. We offer Ashoka halwa as naivedyam to deities and serve as prasadam particularly during Navarathri celebrations. It is one of my favorite sweets for the beautiful silky texture and the sweet aroma, and I find this as the best alternate for rava kesari. So I like to prepare this melt-in-mouth sweermeat often and serve for the breakfast during festivals and also on special occasion.
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.