Lately, jackfruits have grown increasingly popular due to their hypoglycaemic property, and 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. Each 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.
Feng li su (pineapple cake) is a classic Taiwanese dessert inexplicably intertwined with their culture. They follow a tradition of wishing their nears & dears good fortune by gifting a box of feng li su, especially during their New Year. My husband’s colleagues in Taiwan never missed bringing us a box of feng li su during their visits here. When I first saw these cute little cakes I was of the impression that they can be baked only by a skilful professional, and I did not believe that I could bake them in my kitchen as these gorgeous delicacies pampered our palates with the burst of milky flavour & crumbly texture.
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.
The year 2020 has made us all stronger physically, emotionally & spiritually and also made us richer by unique experiences. We have learnt many invaluable life lessons that would guide us sail through even the difficult phase of our life. Now I feel it is appropriate to follow our traditional way of celebrating New Year with sumptuous repast of various flavours like sweet, bitter, pungent etc. This tradition encourages us to accept and adapt to every season, every flavour and every change in our life gracefully.
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.
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.
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.
During dynasty rule in China black rice was consumed exclusively by the royals for tremendous health benefits particularly for greater longevity. Hence it was mentioned in ancient Chinese literature as Emperor’s Rice & 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.
Anjarisi pongal, a rice dish made using 5 varieties of rice, is a traditional pongal served in sumptuous Chettinad wedding feasts. They usually prepare anjarisi pongal or anjarisi payasam using black kavuni arisi, varagu arisi (kodo millet), rava (sooji), javvarisi (sago) and raw rice. But I tried using indigenous rice varieties well known for their nutritive values especially for low-GI property like white kavuni arisi, varagu arisi, moongil arisi (bamboo rice), mappillai samba arisi (red rice), and kaikuthal arisi (hand-pounded rice) for making delicious and nutritious pongal.
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.
Elders in our families are unable to withstand to watch the children blowing out candles on their birthday as lighting up lamps is considered auspicious here and it symbolizes brightening up the people’s lives. Earlier traditional lamps (kuthu vilakku) were treated as supreme deities at home, but statues & pictures gradually gained the special status rather than those lamps. Nowadays we gift lamps to our friends & relatives for wedding or for house-warming ceremony wishing them happy & prosperous life. We also prepare edible lamps & light them during Thirukarthigai festival.
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.
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.
Generally I prefer to bake moist spongy cakes and drizzle them with honey, fruit juice, or chocolate syrup before serving, and they are healthier guilt-free cakes than the ones served with buttery sugary frosting available in the bakery or restaurants. Now I have baked a spongy cake using cornmeal & wholewheat flour glazed with jackfruit pulp dotted with cucumber seeds.
I feel it is more beneficial to take cornmeal than cornflakes for breakfast, so I prefer to make gluten-free cornmeal puttu and protein-rich green gram sundal for breakfast. Puttu is usually prepared using rice flour, but you may refer the table below to find out how cornmeal serves good for making puttu.
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.
Whenever I heard the word payasam, I was visualizing jaggery payasam (made using rice & lentil) aka anna payasam during my childhood days. It was a delicious staple dessert prepared in our family whether to treat our guests, or ourselves on our birthdays/ festivals, or simply to offer to deities at home on Fridays. However we gradually switched to other payasam made of rice adai, vermicelli (semiya), tapioca pearls (javvarisi), jackfruits, etc. Nevertheless we still follow the tradition of feeding the traditional anna payasam to babies in front of the deities at home or in a temple when solid foods are introduced to them for the first time.
Although Navrathri in south India is synonymous with savoury sundal, traditionally sweet payasam is also offered for neivedhyam during Navarathri. I have prepared ada pradhaman, a creamy dessert popular in Kerala & southern Tamilnadu. Onam sadhya menu is incomplete without ada pradhaman. I still remember the delicious ada pradhaman prepared by my aunt lived in Nagercoil and I thank her for introducing us such a sweet delicacy.
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.
Panakam is a traditional ayurvedic lemonade offered as neivedyam to deities at home on the day of Sashti Viratham (fasting) observed by Saivites and also on the day of Rama Navami celebrated by Vaishnavites. Rama navami is celebrated on the birthday of Lord Rama and Kandha Sashti Viratham is usually observed on the Sashti thithi of every month and is also observed for seven consecutive days in the month of Iyppasi after Deepavali.