Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Rama, is kicked off with a grand celebration of Deepavali this year. Yesterday the residents of Ayodhya lit 551,000 lamps and illuminated the banks of River Sarayu. Even this pandemic could not dampen our festive spirit, special arrangements have been made across the nation to celebrate this Deepavali happier, healthier & safer than ever before. This year I have tried to replicate my grandmother’s Deepavali platter consisting of traditional Tamilnadu sweets & savories, and it reminds me of the festive feasts relished during my childhood days. Now I post a recipe for Manoharam, a sweet delicacy popular in southern districts of Tamilnadu, and you can also find my other Deepavali recipes here.
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.
A majority of my ancestors were farmers, my maternal grandfather became the last agriculturist of our family due to several reasons. They mostly grew rice & lentil crops in their farmland. There were large amounts of nutrient-rich broken rice and broken lentils kept inside kudhil (a gigantic earthenware used to store foodgrains) in my grandfather’s house. Since those small uneven particles of rice & lentil (kurunai) could not be sold in the market, they were used by our grandmother for making upma, payasam, kanji, kurunai dosai, etc.
Oil bath, almost a forgotten weekly routine followed by every South Indian family until 3 or 4 decades ago, offers pretty much the same benefits of Ayurvedic massage. Nowadays people prefer to visit Ayurvedic clinic for massaging therapy, and spend a few hours & a few bucks there, but they take oil bath at home only on the day of Deepavali festival every year as a religious ritual.
According to ancient Indian medicine systems Siddha and Ayurveda, tamarind fruit is believed to have numerous healing powers. It is a quintessential ingredient of the commonly prepared south Indian curries like sambar, rasam, or kuzhambu. In a recent study it was found that we can largely reduce the loss of nutrients while cooking vegetables by boiling them in tamarind juice instead of plain water, which we have been following for generations. Besides we also make pungent tamarind soup (puli thanni) and sweet tamarind juice (panakam) that have been customarily served on the day of fasting for its excellent detoxifying property. Obviously tamarind juice or tamarind soup can be included into our detox diet which also aids in weight loss.
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.
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.
I feel sorry for the children today that they are not able to savor our traditional beetroot relish as we did during our childhood days. It was a delightful experience for the kids to relish the beautiful reddish-purple beetroot puree infused with delicious flavors of native fruits served in the wedding feasts. Beetroot sweet pachadi, the most popular fruit dessert, was usually featured in every feast until few years ago. Nowadays vanilla ice cream with fruit salad takes precedence over this traditional fruit dessert.
Appalam making is a leading cottage industry prevalent in my maternal grandfather’s village. As a kid I was completely awestruck watching women & girls in our neighbourhood kneading mountainous dough, rolling appalam at lightning speed, and stacking dried appalam like a tower. Whenever I was upset with my cousins or siblings I used to run to one of those houses and spend endless hours there watching them making appalam while enjoying their warmth & the food. During my mother’s recent visit there, they fondly remembered my childhood favorite appala-poo and prepared them along with appalam specially for me, even though they are not into this business currently.
Kadamba sambar is a traditional flavorful curry prepared with assorted (kadambam) vegetables & tubers. Kadamba sambar 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).
Sodhi is an exotic Sri Lankan curry prepared with lentils and vegetables stewed in coconut milk. Although sodhi is not a spicy curry, it has grown popular among the people living in & around Tirunelveli who usually enjoy spicy curries. Meals with sodhi served at the wedding feasts in our family is a lavish spread of creamy sodhi, pungent ginger chutney, spicy potato fries, crunchy appalam, scrumptious coconut milk dessert (payasam), sweet boondhi and fresh curd as below. Wedding in our family is usually hosted by bride’s family. However bride’s family is treated with a sumptuous meal (maruveetu sappadu) with sodhi the day after marriage, and it is a unique custom prevalent here to signify the confluence of both the families.
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.
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.
Neikadalai is one of my favorite childhood snacks that I relished along with wheat halwa. It brings me back fond memories associated with this delicious savory as our family get-togethers were incomplete without spicy crunchy flavorful neikadalai and soft gelatinous wheat halwa. I still cherish all those happy moments with my father when he brought me neikadalai and Tirunelveli halwa.
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.
Panang kizhangu (Palmyra sprout) is popular among south Indians & Sri Lankans. We usually steam the palmyra sprouts, pound them when dried, and relish the pounded palmyra sprout as a savory snack. Sri Lankans boil these sprouts, dry them, make into a flour and use the flour to make sweet puttu, koozh or add into some non-veg curries as a thickening agent.
Thuvaram paruppu sadham (rice with split pigeon peas) is a traditional flavorful one-pot meal popular in Tirunelveli. I usually prepare our favorite thuvaram paruppu sadam for lunch on a lazy weekend as it does not require much of a planning. Besides I can serve this rice simply as a meal along with appalam or papadam (sun-dried lentil discs) and vengaya vadagam (sun-dried lentil and shallot balls). It is so delightful when we pour coconut oil lavishly over the rice and relish with crunchy appalam & flavorful vadagam.
Puli Kuzhambu or Tamarind Curry is a traditional south Indian curry prepared using garlic & shallots. We can enjoy its taste to the fullest only when the flavors of all the spices are completely infused into the curry. So this curry can be used for 2 or 3 days without being refrigerated (used for 15 days when refrigerated). Puli kulambu tastes divine when served with soft idli or spongy dosa/ uthappam/ appam the next day.
Ulundhu kali is a soft silky ebony sweetmeat specially prepared for girls & women as it helps to strengthen the uterus & hip bones. It is a traditional south Indian delicacy mainly served to young girls (during their cycles particularly in their first cycle) and also to pregnant women.
Kootanchoru is a traditional one-pot meal prepared for lunch by my maternal grandmother at our family gatherings especially in the summer vacation every year. She used to prepare this flavorful rice dish with locally grown vegetables like drumsticks, drumstick leaves, raw banana, raw mango, jackfruit seeds, etc. and she served us kootan-choru with home-made fried appalam & vadagam. The main attraction for kids in this meal are the nutty jackfruit seeds & the mango seed encapsulated by tangy fleshy mango. 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.
Eggplant (brinjal) gothsu is one of our favourite accompaniments for idli & dosa and I usually prepare this for breakfasts on Sundays. It is a very unique gothsu prepared by people living in Tirunelveli and is called as kathrikai kichadi.
Ginger jam is a digestive jam usually prepared the day after the festival of Deepavali. A teaspoon of ginger jam taken in the morning in an empty stomach helps improve the digestion mainly when we enjoyed sumptuous festive feasts or wedding feasts the previous day. It is also beneficial to children as it aids to increase their appetite.