Before the colonial rule our ancestors used to serve classic refreshments like Ayurvedic lemonade (panakam), buttermilk, spiced-milk, elixir, etc. to their guests. Later it became a tradition to serve beverages like tea or coffee to our guests. Nowadays tea breaks have become the order of a day in every institution across India. Every conversation, whether an important official discussion or a trivial gossip, begins with a sip of refreshing cardamom ginger tea or masala chai. Apparently tea shops turn out to be a place for making friends, discussing international, national and local news and also a place for finding solutions for social issues.
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.
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.
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.
Basil seeds (sabja seeds) are one of the most sought-after summer ingredients in Asia. According to Indian Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), basil seeds are useful to lower the heat of our body. So it is a good idea to add basil seeds into our diet during summer to keep us cool & hydrated. This summer I have baked a loaf of egg-free banana bread using soaked basil seeds as a substitute for the egg.
Raisina hills is the prominent landmark in India where our President’s housing estate (Rashtrapathi Bhavan), Parliament house, Prime Minister’s office and other government offices are situated. Dal Raisina is the signature dish prepared by the elite chefs in the Rashtrapathi Bhavan kitchen specially for VIPs & foreign dignitaries. Dal Raisina is a sumptuous lentil curry prepared by brewing assorted lentils & aromatic spices in lavish amounts of butter & heavy cream in slow fire for long hours. Recently it was cooked for unprecedented 48 long hours specially for the guests present during the swearing-in ceremony of our Prime Minster and his cabinet of ministers held at Rashtrapathi Bhavan.
The search for perfect curry powder began in my family when we caught the whiff of mouth-watering parotta salna (flaky flat breads with spicy curry) emanating from the “parotta shop” on our way back home from school. After several trials of various curry powders available in the local market, my brother found Karunanidhi curry masala closely racing behind the one used in parotta shops. It came handy to elevate my mother’s biryani, vegetable kurma, etc. to a whole new level. I still remember the aroma of this curry powder in her kitchen while preparing savoury dishes.
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.
Earlier elders in our family were of the opinion that baking cakes is a painstakingly strenuous procedure, and hence nobody in my family dared to bake cakes at home. We usually devour the cakes bought from the renowned bakery in our locality. During Christmas we had opportunities to relish home baked cakes like dark brown fruit cake, pale yellow semolina cake, etc. shared by our friends & neighbors. Those days home-baked cakes were so special for people like us as it was rare to find such soft scrumptious old-fashioned Christmas cakes even in the city’s premier bakery. Later we all bought the oven and bake spongy cakes at home even with local flavors. Here I have baked an eggless fig upside down cake using whole wheat flour & foxtail millet flour.
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. Susiyam, Munthiri kothu & Bonda are the traditional dumplings prepared in my family for Deepavali festival.
If I feel exuberant and joyful I would like to please my palate with a delectable meal, and on the other hand when I feel anxious and stressed I would like to cook an elaborate meal as it succors to shift my focus of attention in a positive manner. In either case, my family gets benefited by enjoying a palatable meal meticulously prepared by me. 🙂 Here I have prepared cauliflower peas masala, rajma curry, mushroom pulao, chapathi, and gulab jamun for dinner.
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.
Mango pachadi is a sweet, sour & spicy jam prepared to welcome the Tamil New Year. It is a delicious side dish for rice and goes well with any kuzhambu or rasam. Also we serve this dish with the traditional ulutham paruppu sadam or black gram rice.