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 is almost a forgotten weekly routine followed by every South Indian family until 3 or 4 decades ago. Surprisingly it offers pretty much the same benefits of Ayurvedic massage. But people nowadays prefer to visit Ayurvedic clinic for massaging therapy, and spend a few hours & a few bucks there. Most of us take oil bath at home only as a religious ritual on the day of Deepavali festival every year.
According to ancient Indian medicine systems Siddha and Ayurveda, tamarind fruits have numerous healing powers. Nowadays, nutritionists recommend to boil the vegetables in tamarind juice instead of plain water to prevent the loss of nutrients, but we have been practising the same for generations. Tamarind is a quintessential ingredient of the traditional south Indian curries like sambar, rasam, or kuzhambu. Besides, we also make pungent tamarind soup (puli thanni) and sweet tamarind juice (panakam) specially on the day of fasting. Obviously, tamarind juice & tamarind soup have excellent detoxifying property and hence they aid in weight loss also.
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.
I am grateful to the creator of the well renowned TV series, The Popeye show, for motivating my son, a picky eater, to have a liking for an insipid spinach even at his tender age. Though he did not like to take spinach with rice, he enjoyed taking plain spinach just like his hero, the great Popeye, gobbled it up! This cartoon show successfully conveyed a profound theory, “we are what we eat”, even to the kids. Hence it made my job easier to convey the importance of taking all the greens including Chinese spinach.
Lord Ganesha is regarded in the same manner as God Janus 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 like to start my day by listening to the soul-stirring hymn, Vinayagar Agaval, written in Tamil (the oldest language) and sung by the late legendary singer M.S.Subbulakshmi.
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, 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.
As a child I hated few things imposed by my grandparents during our visit every summer. It was disgusting to find all our clothes reeked of bitter neem oil as they were washed using neem detergents. We also disliked to gobble up extremely bitter balls made of neem leaves paste forcibly given by our grandmother. But now I have been yearning for such eco-friendly chemical-free detergents suitable for my washing machine, and also I feel guilty to give de-worming tablet to my son as I am unable to persuade him to take the home-made herbal substitute available plentiful around us. Nevertheless I feel contented that I can prepare delicious soup using neem flowers that possess almost same properties as that of neem leaves.
Turmeric rhizomes are inextricably intertwined with our culture & traditions. We perform all our religious rituals only in the presence of turmeric in the form of turmeric powder, kumkum, turmeric pillaiyar, or turmeric thread. We regard turmeric smeared thread as the sacred thread as our family ties are religiously acknowledged only by tying a sacred thread. Turmeric thread is usually tied around the wrist or neck (only for the wife) as a wedding ritual in the presence of priests, other elders and also in front of the deities. Women observe fasting on the day they get married until the sacred thread is tied around her neck. They also observe fasting on the day of Karadaiyan nombu, perform pooja after tying turmeric thread and end their fasting by taking karadaiyan nombu adai.
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 felt bored I used to run to one of those houses. I spent endless hours there watching them making appalam and enjoying their warmth & their 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 South Indian curry prepared with assorted (kadambam) vegetables & tubers usually served with rice. It 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. The banana leaf platter served at our family wedding feasts is a lavish spread of creamy sodhi, pungent inji pachadi, spicy potato fries, crunchy appalam, scrumptious coconut milk dessert (payasam), sweet boondhi and fresh curd as shown 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 is a melt-in-mouth lentil flour laddu popular among South Indians & Sri Lankans. Generally North Indians use Bengal gram flour or wheat flour whereas South Indians use green gram flour or black gram flour for making delicious laddu. Neivilangai has always been featured in our family’s Deepavali menu every year. You may check out my other Deepavali recipes here.
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 South Indian laddu made using pan-roasted rice & palm jaggery. Our grandmother never missed to prepare these traditional laddus every year for the Deepavali festival that falls in October or November. My aunts used to store those delightful laddus for about 6 months 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 using lentil flour.
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.