Farmers used to 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. 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 Sun, earth & also the animals that helped them blessed with abundance by offering pongal to Sun God, and also by treating their cows, bulls & other domestic animals including elephants with sugarcane, banana, sweet pongal, etc.
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.
During dynasty rule black rice was consumed in China exclusively by the royals for the 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 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. Initially 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 also the traditional Chinese medicine basil seeds are useful to lower the body heat. So we can add basil seeds into our diet regularly during summer to keep ourself cool & hydrated. You may check out here to know the health benefits of these sensational basil seeds.
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 dared to bake cakes at home. We usually devour the cakes bought from the reputed bakery in our locality, and we also had an opportunity to relish home-baked cakes on every Christmas shared by our neighbors & friends. Home-baked cakes are undeniably special & precious as it is rare to find such soft scrumptious old-fashioned Christmas cakes like dark brown fruit cake, pale yellow semolina cake, etc. even in the city’s premier bakery.
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.
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 along with coconut, so I could not identify the flavors in these seeds. But when I started to use them in larger quantity while making payasam, the flavor became so conspicuous that I could notice its nutty flavor similar to sesame seeds and also its sweetness as that of peanuts.
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.
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.
We normally celebrate every new beginning with sweets, but we follow a tradition of serving sumptuous meal consisting of 6 tastes viz., sweet, sour, bitter, astringent, salt & pungent on our New Year usually celebrated on the 14th of April. This tradition is being followed in our society to encourage us to embrace each season of a year. So we never miss to include bitter neem flower pachadi to our elaborate lunch meal specially prepared on the occasion of Chithirai Vishu every year.
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.