Amtekayi Uppinkayi| Instant Indian Hog Plum Pickle

Have you had the pleasure of biting into an Indian hog plum? If you haven’t, I would suggest you try to get your hands on some as soon as you can. It is a wonderful thing, this hog plum – it will make your mouth pucker with its sourness and refresh your taste buds like very few other foods will. No wonder it lends itself beautifully to things like pickles, gojju or the South Indian version of a relish, chutney and the likes. Today, I am going to present to you the recipe for a very delicious Instant Indian Hog Plum Pickle.

For the uninitiated, the Indian hog plum is a fruit that becomes available in Karnataka, particularly the coastal regions of Udupi and Mangalore, towards the end of summer. I understand it is also available in parts of Goa and Maharashtra too. The fruit has the scientific name of Spondias Mombin, while it goes by various other local names (‘Amtekayi‘ in Kannada, ‘Ambade‘ in Tulu, ‘Amra Kai‘ in Tamil, ‘Ambazhanga‘ in Malayalam and ‘Adavi Mamidi‘ in Telugu). From a distance, Indian hog plums look similar to baby mangoes, with their glossy green skin and slightly elongated shape – it is for this reason that some people also refer to the fruit as ‘Wild Mango’. Some also call this fruit ‘Ambarella‘.

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Tender Indian hog plums, with an undeveloped seed inside

Taste-wise, the Indian hog plum is not unlike a raw mango – quite sour. However, unlike a raw mango, it has a crunchy texture to it. Hog plums can be tossed with some salt and chilli powder and eaten raw or, like I was saying earlier, be used in dishes like pickles, chutney and relishes. It can also be used as a souring agent in various dishes, in place of green mango or tamarind.

The fruit possesses a number of health benefits, too – it is rich in Vitamin A and C as well as iron. Consumption of the hog plum aids in improving eye health, at the same time aiding in keeping one’s skin and hair healthy. They help in preventing anaemia, and in keeping cold and cough at bay. They are good for regulating one’s body temperature, keeping bad cholesterol under check and in preventing ailments of the gums and teeth. They also aid in controlling indigestion and constipation, as well as alleviating loss of appetite and anorexia. The leaves and bark of the tree are also used in traditional Indian medicine, for the treatment of ailments like diarrhoea, inflammation, cystitis and stomach ache.

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Amtekayi Uppinkayi or Instant Indian Hog Plum Pickle

The last couple of summers, I have been pickling these hog plums, in the same style as my mother makes raw mango pickle. This is an instant pickle – one that is very simple to make and does not require much prior preparation – and can be used immediately. This Amtekayi Uppinkayi (Indian hog plum pickle, in Kannada) tastes supremely delicious, making for a lovely accompaniment to curd rice. You have to try this out, I say!

Here is how I made the Instant Indian Hog Plum Pickle:

Ingredients (makes about 1 cupful):

  1. 20 hog plums
  2. 2 tablespoons salt
  3. 4 tablespoons red chilli powder
  4. 1/2 tablespoon turmeric powder
  5. 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  6. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  7. 1/4 cup oil

Method:

  1. Wash the hog plums well under running water, making sure all traces of dirt on them are removed. Pat dry using a cotton cloth, and sun-dry for an hour or so. Ensure that the hog plums are completely dry before you use them in making the pickle.
  2. Remove the stems from the dried hog plums, and chop them into cubes. Keep aside, in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Grind together the rock salt, turmeric powder, fenugreek seeds, red chilli powder and mustard seeds in a small mixer jar. You can keep the powder as fine or as coarse as you prefer. Transfer this spice mix to the mixing bowl.
  4. Take the oil in a small pan and place it on high flame. When it gets nice and hot, switch off the gas. Pour the hot oil over the hog plum pieces in the mixing bowl.
  5. Immediately mix the pickle gently, using a clean, dry spoon.
  6. When the pickle has come to room temperature, transfer it to a clean, dry, air-tight bottle (preferably glass or steel).
  7. Allow the pickle to soak for a couple of days at room temperature, mixing it up about twice a day for all the hog plum pieces to get evenly coated in the pickling spices. Keep it in the refrigerator after that, to avoid spoiling.

Notes:

  1. Buy tender, firm, unblemished hog plums for best results. It is easier to chop the fruits when tender, including the undeveloped seeds in them. The more mature ones tend to be fibrous, with fibrous seeds, and get difficult to chop and consume.
  2. There is no need to peel the hog plums before using them. Just chop them into cubes or into roundels and use them in making the pickle.
  3. If the hog plum seeds have started becoming fibrous, do remove and discard them before using in the pickle.
  4. I use rock salt (kallu uppu in Tamil) to make this pickle. You may use regular table salt instead, too.
  5. Sesame oil (nalla ennai in Tamil) is the best for making this Amtekayi Uppinkayi. It lends a beautiful fragrance and flavour to the pickle. However, in the absence of sesame oil, you may use any other oil of your preference.
  6. Adjust the quantities of salt, turmeric powder, asafoetida, fenugreek seeds, red chilli powder and mustard seeds you use, depending upon personal taste preferences. The above quantities work perfectly for us.
  7. Since we are making the Amtekayi Uppinkayi with limited salt and oil, it tends to spoil easily. I therefore keep it stored in the refrigerator, when not in use. When refrigerated and used hygienically, the pickle stays well for over a month.
  8. I prefer making this pickle in small quantities and consuming it quickly. You can make it in larger quantities too, but then you will need to be really careful about its storage and use.
  9. Use only a clean, dry, air-tight bottle (preferably steel or glass) to store the pickle. Use a clean, dry spoon only.
  10. This pickle can be consumed immediately after making it, but tastes best after the second day, when it has had some time to soak in the spices.

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Foodie Monday Blog Hop

This post is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop group that I am part of. Every Monday, the members of this group present recipes based on a pre-determined theme.

The theme this week is #ItsPickleTime, suggested by Aruna who blogs at Vasu’s Veg Kitchen. Aruna has a lovely blog that includes some beautiful, traditional South Indian dishes.

For this week’s theme, all of us are sharing summer-special pickle recipes. I chose to showcase the Instant Indian Hog Plum Pickle that we have grown very fond of, in the last couple of years.

I’m also sharing this post with Fiesta Friday #276.

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Kanchipuram Idli Recipe With No Rice| Kovil Idli Recipe

Did you know that idlis – that beloved breakfast of many across the globe – have a dedicated day, all to themselves? March 30 every year is celebrated as World Idli Day! I’m here today with a Kanchipuram Idli recipe for you guys, to mark the occasion. 🙂

The town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu is famous not just for the gorgeous silk sarees manufactured here, but also for the temple of Sri Varadaraja Perumal (Lord Vishnu) that it houses. For several scores of decades now, a special type of idli has been prepared at the temple as an offering to the Lord. This idli – traditionally cooked in a bamboo cylinder (called ‘kudalai‘ in Tamil) on a wood fire – is believed to be a favourite of Varadaraja Perumal. Referred to by various names like Kanchipuram Idli, Kanjeevaram Idli, Kudalai Idli (after the ‘kudalais‘ in which they are steamed), and Kovil Idli (temple idli), this is one lovely-tasting confection for sure.

Today, the Kanchipuram Idli has become a staple in more or less every household, at least in Tamil Nadu. There are several different versions to the Kanchipuram Idli recipe – it is sometimes made with boiled rice (puzhungal arisi), sometimes with whole green moong (pacchai payaru), and with split moong daal (payatham paruppu) at other times. In her famous book Samaithu Paar (Cook & See), Smt. Meenakshi Ammal offers a Kanchipuram Idli recipe using just moong daal and urad daal, with no rice going into it. Yes, you heard that right – no rice. Making no-rice idli is not just a modern fad, this proves, but something that was in vogue even in 1950, when the cookbook was first published! Apparently, this is one very authentic recipe for Kanchipuram Idli, used in several. Tamilian households. Just how fascinating is all this history, eh? 🙂

I make Kanchipuram Idli following the maestro Meenakshi Ammal’s procedure to the T. They turn out brilliant, soft and fluffy, absolutely delicious and flavourful, a hearty and filling meal, perfect for diabetics and weight-watchers. In the restaurants and homes of Tamilnadu, these idlis are typically steamed in bowls made of banana leaves or mandara leaves (‘donnai‘ in Tamil). In the absence of both of these, I tend to cook my Kanchipuram Idlis in areca leaf bowls, commonly available in most Bangalore departmental stores. If you don’t have access to any of the above steaming vehicles, don’t fret – you can still cook the idlis in steel plates, little steel bowls or glasses, and they would still taste absolutely fantastic!

Now, without further ado, let’s check out the Kanchipuram Idli recipe or Kovil Idli recipe, a la Smt. Meenakshi Ammal.

Ingredients (makes 12-15 big idlis):

  1. 1 cup split yellow moong daal
  2. 1 cup urad daal
  3. Salt to taste
  4. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
  5. A little ghee, for steaming the bowls

For the tempering:

  1. 2 tablespoons ghee
  2. 1 tablespoon chana daal
  3. 4 green chillies, chopped into large pieces
  4. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  5. 2 pinches of asafoetida
  6. 2 sprigs fresh curry leaves, roughly torn
  7. 1-1/2 teaspoon dry ginger powder
  8. 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  9. 1 tablespoon roughly chopped coconut
  10. 2 tablespoons roughly chopped cashewnuts

Equipment needed:

  1. Areca/banana leaf bowls for steaming the idli
  2. Pressure cooker

Method:

1. Wash the moong daal and urad daal together under running water a couple of times, draining out all the water from them. Then, add in just enough fresh water to cover the daals. Let them soak for 2-3 hours, covered.

2. When the daals are done soaking, drain out all the water from them. Grind to a smooth batter in a mixer, stopping at intervals to add a little water and scrape down the sides of the mixer. Transfer the ground batter to a large vessel.

3. Add salt to taste to the batter. Mix well. Keep the batter covered in a warm place, undisturbed, for 8-10 hours or till it ferments well.

4. When you are ready to make the idlis, prepare the tempering. For this, heat the ghee in a small pan. Add in the chana daal, and fry on medium heat till it gets brown. Now, add the cashews to the pan, and fry till they turn brown too. Now, switch off the gas. Quickly add the green chillies, coconut pieces, black peppercorns, curry leaves, cumin, asafoetida and ginger powder. Give the ingredients a quick stir with a spoon, ensuring that they do not burn. The rest of the ingredients will get slightly cooked in the residual heat in the pan, and that is enough. Add this tempering to the fermented batter.

5. Add the finely chopped coriander to the fermented batter too. Mix the batter well. It is now ready to be used to make Kanchipuram Idlis.

6. Place about 1-1/2 cups of water in a pressure cooker bottom. Place the cooker on high heat and allow the water to start boiling.

7. Meanwhile, grease two of the leaf bowls with a little ghee. Fill the greased leaf bowls about halfway through with the batter.

8. Once the water in the pressure cooker bottom starts boiling, place a stand inside and place a colander on top of it. Place the two bowls with idli batter in the colander. Close the pressure cooker and steam for about 15 minutes without putting the whistle on.

9. Serve the cooked idlis hot with the leaf bowl intact, with chutney of your choice.

10. Replenish the water in the pressure cooker bottom. Prepare Kanchipuram Idlis from all the batter, in a similar way.

Notes:

1. You can also add in a couple of tablespoons of fenugreek seeds (sabut methi or menthiyam) while soaking the moong daal and urad daal. This makes the idlis softer.

2. This Kovil Idli recipe uses split yellow moong daal and whole white urad daal. However, you can use whole green moong and split urad daal instead, too.

3. Make sure the batter is well fermented before using it to make the idlis.

4. The time the batter needs for fermentation would be different in different locales/weather. In hot weather, the batter might ferment much before 8-10 hours. In cold climes, one might need to leave the batter for over 12 hours to ferment.

5. Once the batter ferments, give it a good stir. You can make idlis with it immediately or keep it refrigerated for later use. If you plan to use the batter later, I would suggest doing the tempering just when you are ready to cook the idlis.

4. The fermented batter stays well in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

5. Any leftover batter (after tempering) can be used to make kuzhi paniyaram.

6. If you are using refrigerated batter to make idlis, make sure you get it out of the fridge well in advance. The batter should be completely at room temperature when you begin to make the idlis.

7. Make sure the ingredients do not burn while tempering, as per the above Kovil Idli recipe. This will alter the taste of the idlis.

8. I used medium-sized areca bowls to steam the idlis, and could fit two into my pressure cooker at a time. You might be able to steam more idlis at a time if using smaller leaf bowls or steel glasses. If steaming in a steel plate, you might be able to fit in only one.

9. You will need to keep adding more water in the pressure cooker bottom in between steaming the idlis.

10. About 15 minutes is usually good to steam Kanchipuram Idlis. A toothpick inserted in the middle of the cooked idli should come out clean – that’s when it is done.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

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Foodie Monday Blog Hop

I’m sharing this recipe with the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for the blog hop this week is #IdliMedley, suggested by Mayuri of Mayuri’s Jikoni. wherein participants are cooking up a variety of no-rice idlis!

Check out the different types of no-rice idlis other members of the blog hop have come up with:

I’m also sharing this post with Fiesta Friday #268. The co-host this week is Julianna @ Foodie on Board.

Chak Hao Amubi| Manipuri Black Rice Pudding (Kheer)

The recipe I am going to share with you today comes from Manipur, an Indian region I have always been fascinated by. Apart from its beautiful valleys and lush forests, sprawling grasslands and caves, the state has a rich cultural heritage too. Manipur is also home to black rice, Chak Hao in the local language, an interesting ingredient I have just begun experimenting with. I chose to use it to prepare Chak Hao Amubi, or a Manipuri Black Rice Pudding (Kheer), and was absolutely thrilled with the way it turned out.

The cuisine of Manipur is very simple, the dishes making use of minimal ingredients. The cuisine is largely non-vegetarian, with quite a few vegetarian dishes on offer too. A variety of local vegetables and greens are used in Manipuri cooking, mostly grown organically. The food is spiced up with local chillies, flavoured with any of the several aromatic herbs that grow in abundance here. The traditional Chak Hao Amubi is reflective of the state’s culinary philosophies too – it is made with minimal ingredients, allowing the nutty flavour of the black rice to shine through. I have made the kheer with a few little variations of my own, though, to suit my family’s taste buds.

Like I was saying earlier, the Black Rice Pudding turned out absolutely brilliant. The black rice, with its unique flavour profile, worked beautifully with the milk and sugar in the pudding. A much healthier alternative to the regular white rice, it lent the pudding a pretty, pretty purple hue too. In terms of both looks and taste, this Black Rice Kheer was a huge hit with everyone at home!

Here’s how I made the Chak Hao Amubi or Black Rice Pudding.

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

  1. 1/4 cup black rice
  2. 1 litre full-fat milk (+ a little extra if needed)
  3. 1/2 cup sugar or as per taste
  4. 2-3 pinches cardamom powder (optional)
  5. About 1 tablespoon ghee (optional)
  6. 5-6 cashewnuts (optional)
  7. 5-6 almonds (optional)
  8. Dried rose petals as needed for garnishing (optional)

Method:

1. Wash the black rice once in running water. Drain out the excess water. Add in just enough fresh water to cover it, and let it soak for 8-10 hours or overnight.

2. Once the black rice is done soaking, drain out the excess water from it. Keep ready.

3. Take 1 litre of full-fat milk in a heavy-bottomed pan, and place on high heat. Let the milk come to a boil.

4. Lower the flame to low-medium. Add the soaked and drained black rice to the milk in the pan. Mix well.

5. Cook on low-medium heat till the rice is cooked through, 25-30 minutes. You will need to stir intermittently, to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan, and scrape down the cream that forms on the sides of the pan.

6. Now, add sugar to the pan. Mix well. Simmer the Black Rice Pudding for a couple of minutes more. Switch off gas.

7. Mix in the cardamom powder to the pudding, after the flame has been switched off.

8. Chop the cashewnuts and almonds into slivers. Heat the ghee in another pan. Reduce flame and add the cashewnut and almond slivers. Allow them to brown slightly, ensuring that they do not burn. Switch off the gas, and add the ghee, cashewnuts and almonds to the Black Rice Pudding. Mix well.

9. Serve the Black Rice Kheer hot, at room temperature or chilled, garnished with dried rose petals.

Notes:

1. Black rice is quite tough, and typically needs a soaking time of 8-10 hours. However, there are some versions that need to soak for just 2-3 hours or so. Ensure that you read the package instructions carefully, to check on the exact cooking proceedure for the black rice you are using. The one I got, from our recent travel to Thailand, needed to soak overnight.

2. Use good-quality full-fat milk, for best results. Here, I have used Nandini Full-Cream milk.

3. Adjust the quantity of sugar you use, depending upon personal taste preferences.

4. To check doneness of the rice, try tasting a couple of the grains – they will still be a bit hard on the outside, but will be soft and cooked on the inside. Like I said earlier, it takes around 25-30 minutes for the black rice to cook in the milk.

5. If you feel the kheer is getting too thick but the rice is not yet cooked, you can add in some more boiled milk. In this case, you will need to re-adjust the quantity of sugar you need.

6. The original Chak Hao Amubi or Black Rice Kheer in Manipur is a very simple affair, made with just milk, black rice and sugar (often, with jaggery or honey as the sweetener). Occasionally, a couple of pinches of cardamom powder are used to liven it up. Using the cardamom is purely optional – I would suggest using it, though, for it adds a lovely touch to the kheer.

7. I have used ghee-roasted cashewnuts and almonds in the Chak Hao Amubi, as well as dried rose petals, to make it more inviting. Using these ingredients is purely optional.

8. I have used only 1/4 cup of rice here, as I wanted the kheer to be runny. You can adjust the quantity of black rice and milk (and sugar, of course), depending upon how thick you want the kheer to be.

9. Check out this old post of mine for another lovely recipe using black rice, and some interesting facts about this very healthy ingredient.

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This recipe is for the Shhhh Cooking Secretly Challenge that I am part of. Every month, the participants of the group cook dishes from a particular part of India, using two secret ingredients assigned to them. This month, all of us over are cooking dishes from the Indian state of Manipur.

I was paired with Bhawana of Code2Cook for this month, who assigned to me the two secret ingredients of black rice and sugar. I decided to make Manipur’s Chak Hao Amubi using these two ingredients. Check out the amazing Vegan Sana Thongba or Vegan Manipuri Paneer Curry that Bhawana made using the two ingredients I gave her – cumin and milk!

I’m also sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #261. The co-hosts this week are Antonia @ Zoale.com and Julianna @ Foodie on Board.

Postcards From The 75th Ayappan Festival, Tattamangalam, Kerala

Tattamangalam, a village near Palakkad in Kerala, is a small place if you compare it to the sprawling cities of today. However, it is quite big if you choose to compare it to the surrounding villages. It is the village where my mother-in-law was born and grew up, a cherished childhood and adolescence, judging from the several anecdotes she has narrated to us of the customs and traditions, the people and the lifestyle of her hometown. I have visited Tattamangalam a couple of times with her in the past and it is, indeed, a quiet and charming place, a world that is far, far away from the hustle and bustle of my own today. However, it is very recently, towards the fag end of 2018, that I got an opportunity to witness the Ayappan festival celebrations that are an annual affair in this village.

For the last 74 years, Tattamangalam has been conducting festivities to commemorate ‘Ayappan season’, the period between Diwali (October-November) till Pongal (January 14), which is when the maximum number of pilgrims visit the holy temple of Lord Ayappa at Sabarimala. These festivities in Tattamangalam, typically held towards the end of every December, are quite grand, I have always been told, including parades by elephants, performances by music artistes, large-scale community meals, frenzied beats of drums and cymbals, and the blowing of trumpets. In December 2018, Tattamangalam celebrated the 75th edition of the Ayappan Festival Celebrations, and my extended family and I figured it was time to pay a visit. I am glad we booked our tickets at the very last minute (we were lucky to even get them, indeed!) and visited, for the festival was bigger and better than ever.

Many families staying away from Tattamangalam had had the same thoughts as we did, I suppose, as we saw an influx of city-dwellers to witness the festivities. I was, naturally, thrilled to see the magnificence of it all, in a relatively less crowded setting at that, and went crazy clicking pictures with my camera. It was lovely meeting my mother-in-law’s old friends and acquaintances, and just walking around the clean village roads, breathing in the pure air. We even managed to do some shopping for the bub in the fair that came up in the village streets, on the occasion of the festival celebrations.

I leave you with some pictures from the celebrations, of the pretty stalls that came up all over, of our walks around Tattamangalam.

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The people of Tattamangalam, making rangolis at their doorsteps, in preparation for the ceremonial procession to pass through the village
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People lighting the lamps, at one of the many serene temples in Tattamangalam
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The ceremonial elephants, being readied for the procession around the village. Check out the anklets are being tied around their legs!
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A chariot being readied, for the ceremonial procession
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The ceremonial elephants, all decked up, being taken for a walk around the village
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Taking selfies, with the majestic tuskers in the background
The ceremonial elephants, saluting at one of the temples in Tattamangalam
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The celebrations are all set to begin, and the men with the drums, cymbals and trumpets pour in to the village
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… And the celebrations begin! Here are devotees dancing and performing pooja on the backs of the elephants.
The sounds of trumpets, cymbals and drums rent the air. I can’t put into words the frenzy and fervour that filled the atmosphere at this time.

 

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Stalls selling earrings, hair clips, toys, bangles, food and what not, lining the streets of Tattamangalam. Oh, my, the village wore a fair-like atmosphere!
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Goddess Bagavathiamman, making the rounds of the village, in her bedecked chariot
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The chariot for the procession, all decked up and ready. Here, women are preparing rangolis on the ground, in preparation for the chariot to make its customary rounds around the village.
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A close-up of the men making the music. You should check out the video on my Facebook page to understand just how magical this was!
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Scenes from the idyllic village life in Tattamangalam. Sigh! I would love to spend a couple of days more soaking in this serenity!
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Two stone elephants adorning someone’s doorstep, in Tattamangalam. They surely caught my fancy!
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The gorgeousness that was the village pond! My mother-in-law used to swim here, apparently, when she was a little girl.
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The famed Kerala nei payasam (kheer cooked in ghee) getting ready for the community meal
A musical performance in the village, to commemorate the Ayappan Festival
The elephants, their duties done, being fed before they were led to their holding places to take rest. This was, as per me, the most amazing thing.

Check out my Facebook album for more pictures from the celebration!

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Tips for travellers:

  1. The nearest railway station to Tattamangalam village is at Palakkad. From Palakkad, it is quite easy to find a cab that will take you to Tattamangalam. The roads are in excellent condition, and the on-road journey takes barely half an hour.
  2. The nearest airport is at Coimbatore. From Coimbatore, it is a roughly 1.5-hour journey on road to Palakkad, with the roads in excellent condition. Local trains also ply between Coimbatore and Palakkad.
  3. There are no great stay options in Tattamangalam, as far as I know, considering that it is but a small village. Your best bet would be to rent a hotel/stay in Palakkad, and hire a cab to reach Tattamangalam.
  4. Please do find out the exact dates and timings for the Ayappan festival timings in Tattamangalam from the presiding body, the Sri Dharma Sastha Utsavam Trust, if at all you plan to witness them.
  5. I am pretty sure there are several villages across Kerala that host similar festivities for the Ayappan festival. Tattamangalam’s celebrations are believed to be among the best, though. I don’t have any information about the festivals that might be conducted in other villages, but we do receive the schedule for Tattamangalam, as it is my mom-in-law’s ancestral place.

I hope you guys enjoyed the visuals! Please do let me know, in your comments!

 

Ezhu Thaan Kootu| Pongal Kootu| Thiruvathirai Kootu

Pongal is just around the corner!

I’m here with a Pongal-special recipe today – one for Ezhu Thaan Kootu or Pongal Kootu, a traditional recipe from Tamilnadu.

About the festival of Pongal

For the uninitiated, Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated in South India, particularly in Tamilnadu. The festival falls in the Tamil month of Thai (typically in January as per the English calendar), which is why it is sometimes referred to as Thai Pongal. Pongal is celebrated on the day the sun enters the zodiac sign of Makara (Capricorn), which usually happens between January 13 and 15. January 15 has been declared as Pongal day, in 2019.

The tradition of celebrating Pongal is believed to be over 1000 years old. The festival corresponds to harvest festivals celebrated in different parts of the country – Lohri in Punjab, Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in Gujarat, and Magh Bihu in Assam. In Tamilnadu, Pongal is a major affair, with the celebrations continuing for 3-4 days. Thanks are offered to the sun for a bountiful harvest, old belongings are disposed of and new ones are bought, and a variety of sweet and savoury dishes are prepared. (Check out this very informative blog post for details on the way Pongal is celebrated in Tamilnadu.)

The term ‘Pongal‘ also refers to ‘Sakkarai Pongal‘ or a rice dish cooked with milk and jaggery to celebrate this festival. Traditionally, the sakkarai pongal is cooked outside, on a wood fire, in a new earthenware pot. A piece of turmeric root is tied around the pot, which is decorated with turmeric (haldi) and vermilion (kumkum) paste. The rice cooking in the pot is allowed to overflow, indicating prosperity and abundance. Venn Pongal (a savoury version of the above rice dish), vada, payasam (kheer), and Pongal Kootu are some other dishes commonly prepared for the celebratory festival feast.

Ezhu Thaan Kootu or Pongal Kootu

Considering that Pongal is a celebration of bountiful harvest, Ezhu Thaan Kootu is an apt thing to prepare for the festival. Ezhu Thaan Kootu is Tamil for ‘a curry with seven vegetables’. This traditional Tamilnadu preparation uses at least seven local, seasonal vegetables – largely raw banana (vazhakkai), pumpkin (pushnikkai), cluster beans (kotthavarangai), potatoes (urulaikizhangu), elephant yam (senaikizhangu), sweet potato (sakkaravelikizhangu), broad beans (avarekkai) and the like. One can add in more than seven vegetables too, but using them in odd numbers (seven, nine or eleven vegetables) is the norm. In today’s times, people make this kootu using a mix of native vegetables and ‘English’ ones (carrots, green peas, French beans and the like).

The seven major elements of the Ezhu Thaan Kootu I made, a while ago

In Tamilnadu, this Ezhu Thaan Kootu is typically served on the day of Pongal, as an accompaniment to Sakkarai Pongal. The savoury Ezhu Thaan Kootu and the sweet Sakkarai Pongal are perfect complements to each other. For this reason, the kootu is often also referred to as Pongal Kootu. Since this vegetable dish is also prepared on another Tamilian festival, Thiruvathirai, it is also called Thiruvathirai Kootu.

This Ezhu Thaan Kootu is a thing of beauty. It is a blend of sweet, salty, tangy and spicy flavours, a great thing to prepare on festive occasions and ordinary days alike. It is a lovely way to clear up your refrigerator of all those bits and pieces of vegetables that have been lounging around. With sweet pongal or plain steamed rice, this kootu pairs up very well. I have it with rotis as well.

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Pongal Kootu aka Thiruvathirai Kootu or Ezhu Thaan Kootu

The Ezhu Thaan Kootu is traditionally prepared in a pan, which takes a bit of time to cook. My mother, however, uses a sort of short-cut method, doing some of the steps in a pressure cooker. I follow in my Amma‘s footsteps, in this regard. 🙂

Now, without further ado, let’s check out the my family recipe for Pongal Kootu aka Ezhu Thaan Kootu, shall we?

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

  1. About 4-1/2 cups of mixed vegetables, chopped (I used red pumpkin, raw banana, cluster beans, carrot, broad beans, elephant yam, sweet potato, potato, French beans, fresh green chana and green peas)
  2. Salt to taste
  3. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  4. 1/4 cup toor daal
  5. A small gooseberry-sized ball of tamarind
  6. 2 tablespoons jaggery powder or to taste

For the spice mix:

  1. 1 teaspoon oil
  2. 1-1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  3. 1-1/2 tablespoon chana daal
  4. 1/2 tablespoon urad daal
  5. 1/2 tablespoon raw rice
  6. 4 dry red chillies or as per taste
  7. 1/4 cup fresh grated coconut

For the tempering:

  1. 1 tablespoon oil
  2. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  3. 2-3 dry red chillies
  4. 2 generous pinches of asafoetida
  5. 1 sprig curry leaves

Method:

First up, we will make the necessary preparations to make the Ezhu Thaan Kootu.

  1. Make sure all the vegetables are chopped into bite-sized pieces. Remove strings from vegetables like French beans and cluster beans, and chop them into 1-inch pieces. Peel veggies like potato, sweet potato, raw banana, yam and red pumpkin and chop into cubes.
  2. Soak the tamarind in a little hot water for at least 10 minutes. Extract a thick paste out of it. Keep aside.
  3. Wash the toor daal in running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the excess water. Now, add in just enough fresh water to cover the toor daal, and pressure cook it for 4 whistles on high flame. Let the pressure release naturally.
  4. When the pressure comes down entirely, get the cooked toor daal out. Mash it well, using a masher. Keep aside.

Now, we will pressure cook the vegetables and simultaneously get the spice mix for the kootu ready.

  1. Take the chopped vegetables in a pressure cooker bottom. I have used a 5-litre pressure cooker here. Add in a little water, salt to taste and turmeric powder. Close the cooker and put the weight on. Pressure cook for 3 whistles on high flame or till the vegetables are cooked, but not overly mushy. Let the pressure come down naturally.
  2. Now, we will prepare the spice mix. Heat the oil for the spice mix in a pan. Turn heat to medium, and add in the coriander seeds, chana daal, urad daal, raw rice, coconut and dry red chillies. Fry on medium heat till the daals start turning brown. Make sure the ingredients do not burn. Switch off gas, transfer the fried ingredients to a plate and let them cool down fully.
  3. When the fried ingredients for the spice mix have cooled down completely, grind them together to a powder in a mixer. Keep aside.

Now, we will prepare the Ezhu Thaan Kootu.

  1. When the pressure has gone down completely, open the cooker with the cooked vegetables in it. Place it back on medium flame. Add the cooked and mashed toor daal to it, the jaggery powder, tamarind paste and the spice mix powder we prepared earlier. Mix well. Check and adjust seasonings as needed.
  2. Cook on medium heat till the mixture thickens, 2-3 minutes. Add a little water if needed. Ideally, this kootu should have a slightly runny consistency, slightly thicker than sambar. Switch off gas at this stage.

And now, we will do the final process – prepare the tempering for the kootu.

Lastly, we will prepare the tempering for the Ezhu Thaan Kootu. Heat the oil for the tempering, in a pan. Add the mustard seeds, and allow them to pop. Now, add the curry leaves, dried red chillies and the asafoetida. Let them stay in for a couple of minutes. Switch off the gas, and add this tempering to the kootu. Mix well. Your Ezhu Thaan Kootu is ready to serve!

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

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I’m sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #258. The co-host this week is Laurena @ Life Diet Health.

Panel Discussion: Resurgence Of Millets In My Plate

Last week, I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to be part of a panel discussion, titled ‘Resurgence Of Millets In My Plate’, by eminent personalities from the state of Karnataka. This discussion, organised by the Government of Karnataka’s Department of Agriculture in co-ordination with the Department of Home Science of the Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, was held at The Capitol on Raj Bhavan Road on December 7, 2018 .

The panel discussion was a lead-up to the next Organics & Millets International Trade Fair, which is scheduled between January 18 and 20, 2019, at the Bengaluru Palace. As always, the discussion opened up to me the immense world of millets, all that one can do with these wonder grains, in one’s own kitchen and at the country level.

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The event started with a welcome speech by Dr. K.G. Jagadeesha, IAS, Commissioner – Department of Agriculture. He spoke about the mammoth scale of the Organics & Millets International Trade Fair 2019, and of how the fair has already proved to be a great success in the past years.

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Dr. A. Sundaravalli, introducing the agenda of the panel discussion

Post this, Dr. A. Sundaravalli, Head of the Department of Home Science, Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, spoke about the panelists and the agenda of the discussion, i.e. how to enable millets to make a come-back on the plates of the common man, after the ancient grains having been considered as ‘poor man’s food’ for so long. She spoke of how, considering the immense health benefits of millets, it is critical for them to start gaining a wider acceptance than they already are.

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The panel discussion started, moderated by Dr. Santha Maria, Dean, Faculty of Home Science, Mount Carmel College, Bangalore.

Dr. Santha Maria, introducing the esteemed panelists to the audience

The esteemed panelists included:

  • Dr. Manjunath C.N., Director, Jayadeva Hospital
  • Dr. Mahesh D.M., Consultant Endocrinologist, Aster CMI and Medpoint Diabetes & Thyroid Clinic
  • Ms. Sheela Krishnaswamy, President, Indian Dietictic Association
  • Mr. Sihikahi Chandru, Actor, Producer & Director
  • Mr. Prashant Parameshwaran, Managing Director, Soulfull
  • Mr. Vilasbhargav, Managing Director, South Ruchis Square
  • Mr. Suresh Hinduja, CEO, Gourmet India.com
  • Mr. Ashish Kumar Ballal, Former Indian goalkeeper of Indian Hockey
  • Dr. Swarnalatha Chandran, Swarayu Wellness Clinic
The panelists, in the course of the discussion. From left to right: Ms. Swarnalatha Chandran, Dr. Mahesh D.M., Mr. Vilasbhargav, Mr. Suresh Hinduja, Dr. Santha Maria, Mr. Ashish Kumar Ballal, Mr. Prashant Parameswaran, Ms. Sheela Krishnaswamy, and Mr. Sihikahi Chandru

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Putting forth his views about the importance of using millets in today’s world, Dr. Manjunath stated that there has been a stark increase in the incidence of lifestyle diseases in India, in the last couple of decades, both among males and females. What is even more alarming is the age group among which the incidence of these diseases is on the rise – more and more people in their 20s and 30s are being affected by rising blood pressure and cholesterol as well as heart problems, which is something very serious. At this rate, the day is not far when India will be the ‘disease capital of the world’. There are several factors which are leading to this negative development, as per Dr. Manjunath – including improper food habits, sedentary lifestyles, improper work situations, high stress levels and rising air pollution. Millets can go a long way towards bringing this alarm-inducing situation under control, he strongly opined.

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Dr. Manjunath putting forth his views at the panel discussion

The primary prevention of most lifestyle disorders starts with food, Dr. Manjunath stated. A lot of these diseases that are prevalent among today’s Indian youth can be controlled by increasing the consumption of millets, as well as consuming more vegetables and fruits (at least the minimum recommended dietary requirement for an adult). Dr. Manjunath stated that awareness among people about the various health benefits of millets needs to increase further, which will in turn bring about a better acceptance of them.

He went on to appeal to the audience not to think that the consumption of millets will automatically resolve all of one’s health issues. Millets are not a panacea. They should be used in combination with other components in one’s diet, like fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fats, wheat and rice. Every food group is important, he said. A 60:40 combination of millets:other ingredients will go a long way towards making them more palatable to the general public, he stated.

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Dr. Mahesh then went on to further elaborate on the various benefits that the consumption of millets offers. He stated that millets are the only food that offer everything to the human body, from fat, protein and antioxidants to vitamins and minerals. They are of great help in exercising the gut, and ensure the slow release of sugars into one’s blood stream. Considering this, it is very important for millets to start gaining wider acceptance among the general public, he stated.

The panelists, engrossed in the discussion

Prevention is better than cure. To cut short lifestyle diseases before they occur, it is high time we start paying close attention to what kinds of foods we are putting into our systems, Dr. Mahesh stated. It is high time we started recognising the importance of these wonder grains called millets, and gave them pride of place on our dining tables, he added.

Dr. Mahesh also spoke about the criticality of inculcating good eating habits, millets included, among children and youth, which will go on to ensure that we grow up into healthier adults and a healthier nation. Educating them about healthy eating will go a long way towards increasing acceptance, he stated.

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Ms. Sheela Krishnaswamy went on to bust some common myths about the consumption of millets in India:

  • There seems to be a misconception among some Indians that eating a dark-coloured millet like ragi or finger millet will cause one’s skin to become dark. That is so not the case! Millets do not affect the colour of your skin, or that of your unborn child during pregnancy!
  • Millets are not a panacea for all diseases. Increasing the consumption of millets in one’s diet does not mean that all one’s ills will be cured.
  • Millets cannot replace everything else in your lunch or dinner plate. Your meals every day cannot be all-millet. A balanced diet, including good portion of all food groups, is more important. Moreover, millets might not be suitable in large proportions for certain people, such as those with digestive ailments.
  • Using millets in any proportion and in any way does not help. Using a small portion of millets in a dish, while the rest is made up of sugar or fat is not a healthy way to consume them. You don’t get the health benefits of the millet in your system, that way.
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Ms. Sheela Krishnaswamy putting forth her views about millets at the panel discussion

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Mr. Sihikahi Chandru spoke about how he started reading up about millets a while ago, when he heard about the numerous health benefits they possess. He was surprised to discover that millets are not some new-fangled marketing drama, but an age-old grain that has been in use in India since centuries. He spoke of how his grandparents and ancestors grew up regularly consuming millets, and lifestyle disorders never seemed to affect them. Further, he went on to speak about how, when he himself tried to inculcate millets in his daily diet, it took a while for his system to adjust to them. He urged the audience to give millets a chance, to give their bodies enough time to get used to them, to not give up on them too soon. Mr. Chandru also spoke about the need to cook millets in a way that is palatable to the general public, so as to improve their acceptance.

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Mr. Sihikahi Chandru, speaking at the panel discussion

In conclusion, Mr. Chandru stated that millets need to be made more affordable, so as to enable common men and women to consume more of them. The production, distribution and affordability of millets needs to be worked upon.

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Mr. Prashant Parameshwaran spoke about how his firm, Soulfull, is working towards making millets more palatable and acceptable to the kids of today and the younger generation. He went on to speak about how Soulfull is making millets easier to use, so that they can get wider acceptance by the general public.

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Mr. Parameshwaran also talked about how the onus of change (from a largely wheat- and rice-dominant diet to a millet-inclusive one) lies on several people, including doctors, media, teachers, bloggers, food critics and housewives. All of these stakeholders need to work towards this goal, for it to be successfully achieved.

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Mr. Vilasbhargav talked about increased awareness among his customers at South Ruchis Square, a fine-dining restaurant located in Bangalore, about the health benefits of millets. He spoke about how customers today are more willing to try out various dishes made using millets, and of how such dishes are getting a good response in his restaurant. There is scope to do a lot more using millets in the culinary world, he added.

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Mr. Suresh Hinduja spoke about the need to tackle the non-acceptance of millets among children and adults alike. It is critical to introduce millets to children early on, so they are more receptive of them at later stages in life, he rightly stated. Also, there is a need to educate adults about the many ways in which millets can help them lead a healthier life, he said, which enable them to accept the grains more readily.

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Mr. Suresh Hinduja, speaking at the panel discussion

Mr. Hinduja also re-emphasised the need to serve millets in a way that is more acceptable to the children and youth of today. Millet-based drinks, energy bars, chocolates, pancakes and snacks are good ways to introduce the younger generation to the wonder grain, he stated.

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Mr. Ashish Kumar Ballal talked about how the inclusion of millets is important for sportspeople and those are conscious about their health. Millets are a gluten-free food filled with nutrients, thus making for the perfect pre-game food. He spoke about how he began including millets like ragi and jowar in his own daily diet and that of his team, at the recommendation of doctors, and how that benefited them hugely.

Mr. Ashish Kumar Ballal addressing the audience at the panel discussion

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Dr. Swarnalatha spoke about how millets are loaded with health benefits, but might not be suitable for all types of personalities, all age groups, and all times of the day. For instance, she stated, the system of someone with a kapha-dominant personality would be more acceptable to millets rather than someone with a vata– or pitta-dominant personality. Millets take time to digest, which is why they should preferably be consumed earlier in the day, between 6 AM to 2 PM, she said. She also spoke of how what you consume the millets with affect what nutrients you absorb from them – for instance, cooking them with an acidic substance like lemon or tamarind helps in better absorption of the iron in them.

Dr. Swarnalatha addressing the audience, at the panel discussion

Dr. Swarnalatha went on to state that it would be wrong to say that millets cannot be consumed by goiterous people or those with thyroid issues. The consumption of millets only has a very small bearing on goiter and thyroid problems, she stated. It would be best to consult a qualified dietician or doctor for better clarity on these aspects, she added.

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The event concluded with the answering of audience questions by the panelists. This was followed by a vote of thanks to the panelists on behalf of the Department of Home Sciences, Mount Carmel College, Bangalore.

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As always, there are several events planned to the run-up of the Organics & Millets Trade Fair 2019, including cooking contests, millet fairs, runs and more. Stay tuned! Also, don’t miss marking your calendars for the gala fair that is slated to happen in January 2019!

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I’m sharing this post with Fiesta Friday #254. The co-hosts this week are Antonia @ Zoale.com and Kat @ Kat’s 9 Lives.

Corn Dalia Pidi Kozhukattai| Spiced Broken Corn Dumplings

A traditional steamed snack from Tamilnadu and a popular offering to Lord Ganesha on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi, pidi kozhukattai is typically made using broken rice and toor daal. That is how it was always done in our family as well. However, in recent years, I began substituting the rice for different things like broken wheat, corn dalia, millets and so on, and have been really happy with the results.

Pidi kozhukattai by themselves are quite a healthy snack. There’s minimal oil used, as these dumplings are steam-cooked. They do not require soaking or any kind of pre-preparation, and can be put together easily. They are extremely filling, making them great for weekday breakfast or dinner and lovely options for school and office lunchboxes. The substitution of rice with millets or dalia makes the pidi kozhukattai all the more healthier, and enables me to create a different-tasting dumplings each time I make these. This Ganesh Chaturthi, I tried my hands at Corn Dalia Pidi Kozhukattai, and all of us at home utterly loved them!

Corn dalia aka broken corn or corn rava is easily available in several departmental stores and health shops. It adds a nice, different-from-the-usual taste to the pidi kozhukattai, and offers them a lovely texture as well. I made these slightly differently from the way I usually make pidi kozhukattai, also adding in some veggies that were languishing in my refrigerator. I must say these changes took the taste to a whole new level.

Here is how I made the Corn Dalia Pidi Kozhukattai.

Ingredients (makes 25-30 pieces):

  1. 2 cups corn dalia
  2. 4 tablespoons chana daal
  3. 6-7 dry red chillies
  4. Salt, to taste
  5. 1 medium-sized carrot
  6. A small piece of cabbage
  7. 6-7 beans
  8. 2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
  9. 1/4 cup fresh grated coconut
  10. 1 tablespoon oil + a little more for greasing the steaming colander
  11. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds (rai)
  12. 1/4 teaspoon asafoetida (hing)

Method:

1. Grind the chana daal and dry red chillies to a coarse powder, using a small mixer jar. Keep aside.

2. Peel the carrot and grate medium-fine. Chop the cabbage finely. Remove strings from the beans and chop finely. Keep aside.

3. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the mustard seeds, and allow them to pop. Add the asafoetida and let it stay in for a couple of seconds.

4. Add the grated carrot and chopped beans and cabbage to the pan. Saute on high flame till the vegetables are half cooked.

5. Add 4 cups of water to the pan, along with salt to taste. Tear the curry leaves roughly with your hands and add them to the pan too. Keep on high flame till the water begins to come to a boil.

6. Now, reduce the flame to medium. Stirring constantly, add the corn dalia, fresh grated coconut, and the chana daal-dry red chillies powder to the water. Ensure that no lumps are formed.

7. Keep cooking on medium flame, stirring constantly, till all the water is absorbed and the corn dalia mixture becomes a bit dry, resembling upma. Use your ladle to break any lumps that might have formed. Remember not to overcook the mixture – it should be cooked just to the point where it gets dry, but not overly so. Switch off the gas and allow the mixture to cool down.

8. When the corn dalia mixture has cooled down enough to handle, make medium-sized dumplings from it. Keep covered.

9. Grease a colander with a little oil. Place 8-10 of the prepared dumplings in the colander, or as many as you can fit in without overcrowding. Keep ready.

10. Take about 1-1/2 cup of water in a pressure cooker base. Place on high flame and allow it to come to a boil. Now, place a stand inside the pressure cooker, and place the colander above it. Ensure that no water enters the colander. Close the pressure cooker and steam the dumplings for exactly 10 minutes on high flame, without putting the weight on. Switch off the gas and allow the dumplings to cool down slightly, before transferring them to a serving plate.

11. Steam all the dumplings in the same manner.

12. Serve hot or at room temperature, with chutney of your choice. Here, I have served them with a yummylicious red chutney.

Notes:

  1. I used medium-fine corn dalia aka corn rava or broken corn, to make these pidi kozhukattai. If the dalia is too large, you might want to run it through a mixer once before beginning to make the pidi kozhukattai.
  2. Adjust the quantity of coconut and dry red chillies you use, as per personal taste preferences.
  3. Gingelly oil or coconut oil works best in the making of these Corn Dalia Pidi Kozhukattai.
  4. Wheat dalia aka broken wheat can be used in place of corn dalia, as well.
  5. You can add in other veggies like broccoli, onions, cauliflower, green peas, etc. to the Corn Dalia Pidi Kozhukattai.
  6. These pidi kozhukattai are best steamed in a greased colander, which ensures even cooking.
  7. I have ground the chana daal and red chillies dry, without washing them. You could even wash the chana daal, drain out the excess water, and then soak the chana daal and red chillies together for 20-30 minutes before grinding them into a paste. Use this paste while making the pidi kozhukattai.
  8. Remember not to over-cook the corn dalia mixture – it should be cooked till all the water has been absorbed, but not overly dry. Also, steam the Corn Dalia Pidi Kozhukattai for exactly 10 minutes, without putting the pressure cooker weight on. Over-cooking will make the kozhukattai hard.
  9. I used a 5-litre pressure cooker to make these Corn Dalia Pidi Kozhukattai.
  10. Please remember to place a tall stand inside the pressure cooker base, to ensure that no water enters the colander while steaming.
  11. These Corn Dalia Pidi Kozhukattai can be prepared in advance and lightly steamed just before you want to serve them.
  12. Let the steamed Corn Dalia Pidi Kozhukattai cool down slightly before transferring them to a serving plate. Handling them immediately after steaming might cause them to break.
  13. If you are making these Corn Dalia Pidi Kozhukattai for Ganesh Chaturthi or any other festive occasion, you might want to skip adding onion to it. Also, in that case, traditionally, the dish is made without tasting. The food is partaken of only after offering it to God.

Did you like the recipe? Do tell me in your comments!

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I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #247. The co-hosts this week are Antonia @ Zoale.com and Laurena @ Life Diet Health.

Edible Rice Flour Lamp Or Maa Vilakku Recipe| Making Adhirasam From The Leftovers

The tradition of Maa Vilakku for Purattasi Sani

Purattasi, the sixth month as per the Tamil calendar, is considered highly sacred. The entire month of Purattasi is dedicated to Lord Venkateswara aka God Vishnu, and is considered highly auspicious. The month of Purattasi more or less coincides with the Navratri celebrations in India every year and, hence, the two are indistinguishable in my mind. This year, Purattasi falls between September 17 and October 17.

Saturdays during this month (known as ‘Purattasi Sani‘ in Tamil) are considered all the more important, a day on which several Tamilians observe a fast. Many Tamilian households have the custom of lighting Maa Vilakku or lamps made from rice flour on the occasion of Purattasi Sani.

Maa Vilakku or edible rice flour lamps from Tamilnadu

The significance of Maa Vilakku in Tamilnadu

Maa Vilakku‘ in Tamil literally translates to ‘lamps made from flour’. Lamps or diyas made from rice flour, sweetened with jaggery, are considered hugely auspicious in Tamilnadu. They are prepared on special occasions like Purattasi Sani, Thai Velli (Fridays in the sacred Tamil month of Thai), and Karthigai Deepam (a Tamil festival that is celebrated after Diwali). These Maa Vilakku or rice flour lamps are also believed to be a favourite of Mariamman, the very powerful Goddess. When diseases like chicken pox occur in a family, these lamps are prepared with great sanctity and offered to the Goddess, as a means to appease her.

In the olden days, these lamps were made from freshly hand-pounded rice flour, using a mortar and pestle. If you visit the ancient temples of Tamilnadu, you will still come across women pounding rice in huge mortars with huge pestles, to prepare Maa Vilakku. This is a charming sight, indeed, something from a bygone era. Click here to see an example.

In today’s times, though, many households use a mixer to grind soaked rice and then proceed to use the same in making the lamps. Some even use store-bought rice flour to make these lamps.

Different families have different ways of offering these rice flour lamps to God. Some offer a single lamp, while some make two big ones. Some place the lamps on a banana leaf, some place them on a silver plate or tray. Some place flowers around the lamps, and some deck them up with kumkum (vermilion) and manjal (turmeric). The basic ingredients used in the preparation of these lamps and the method, more or less, remain the same. Traditionally, a cotton wick is placed inside these lamps, which are lit using ghee and not oil.

Since Maa Vilakku or rice flour lamps are typically prepared as an offering to God, they are prepared without tasting. Once the lamps are done burning and are cool enough to handle, the residual rice flour is consumed.

Edible rice flour lamps or Maa Vilakku recipe

Let’s see how to make Maa Vilakku or edible rice flour lamps, the traditional way.

Ingredients (makes 2 big lamps or several small ones):

To make the lamps:

  1. 1 cup raw rice
  2. 3/4 cup powdered jaggery

Other ingredients you will need:

  1. Cotton wicks, as needed
  2. Ghee, as needed to light the lamps

Method:

  1. Soak the raw rice in just enough water to cover it, for about 30 minutes.
  2. When the rice is done soaking, transfer to a colander. Drain out all the water from it.
  3. Spread out the soaked and drained rice well on a cotton towel/napkin, and place it in direct sunlight or under the fan for a while. Pat dry using another cotton towel/napkin. In 15-20 minutes, the rice should be damp but not soaking wet – that is when it is ready to use in making the lamps.
  4. Now, take the damp rice in a mixer jar. Pulse a couple of times, for a couple of seconds each, stopping in between to scrape down the sides of the mixer jar with a spoon.
  5. Now, add the jaggery powder to the mixer jar. Again, pulse 3-4 times, for a couple of seconds each, stopping in between to scrape down the sides of the mixer jar with a spoon. At the end of this process, you should get a slightly coarse powder resembling rava, a good mix of the rice and jaggery. Transfer this to a large mixing bowl.
  6. Knead the rice-jaggery powder gently with your hands. This will make the jaggery melt slightly, and the powder will come together to form a sort of dough. If you think the dough is too dry, you may add a bit of water/milk at this stage.
  7. Shape the dough into two large lamps (diyas). If you want, you can make several small diyas out of the dough. Place the prepared lamps on a tray/plate/banana leaf.
  8. Fill each lamp with ghee, as required. Place a cotton wick in each lamp, and light them.
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Pictorial representation of the making of edible rice flour lamps or Maa Vilakku recipe. Move from left to right, first the top row, then centre and then the bottom row.

Notes:

  1. I use regular Sona Masoori or Wada Kollam rice to make these Maa Vilakku.
  2. Once the lamps stop burning, the wicks are removed, the residual ghee in the lamps (if any) is mixed into them, and the dough is consumed as prasadam. However, consuming too much of it can lead to a stomach ache, as it is raw rice flour anyway.
  3. The quantity of jaggery you will need depends upon the type and quality of jaggery you use. I use store-bought jaggery powder and the above measurements work out perfectly for me.
  4. After lighting, the Maa Vilakku dough can be kept at room temperature and consumed little by little. It stays well at room temperature for 3-4 days. Refrigeration will prolong the life of the dough further, but might make it slightly hard.
  5. Make sure all the kumkum (vermilion) and flower petals are scraped off the lamps, before you store the residual dough or consume them.
  6. Edible camphor (pacchai karpooram), dry ginger powder (sukku podi) or cardamom (elaichi) powder can be added to the dough, for extra taste. We usually skip these.

Making adhirasam from leftover Maa Vilakku dough

Don’t want to consume the leftover dough after lighting the Maa Vilakku, as is? You can use the residual dough to prepare Adhirasam, a beautiful, beautiful sweet dish!

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Adhirasam made from leftover Maa Vilakku dough

Adhirasam or athirasam is an old-time sweet dish from South India. In Tamilnadu, this is commonly made for weddings and poojas and on festive occasions like Navratri and Diwali. Traditionally, to make the adhirasam, a syrup is made with jaggery and water, to which coarse rice flour is mixed to form a dough, which is then formed into discs and deep-fried. Adhirasams are a delicacy, beautiful things that aren’t easy to get right. It is tricky to get the jaggery syrup right, and making discs that don’t disintegrate while frying is a huge task. Using leftover Maa Vilakku dough is an easier, short-cut method to make adhirasam, which more often than not yields great results, even for a beginner to Indian sweets like me.

Here’s how you can make Adhirasam from leftover Maa Vilakku dough.

Ingredients (yields 8-10 small adhirasam for the above Maa Vilakku measurements):

  1. Leftover sweet maa vilakku dough, wick removed, flower petals and kumkum scraped off
  2. Oil, as needed for deep-frying
  3. Ghee, as needed to grease palms

Method:

  1. Heat oil for deep frying in a thick-bottomed pan, till it reaches smoking point.
  2. In the meanwhile, grease your hands with a little ghee. Use your hands to make small discs of about 1/4-inch thickness from the leftover dough. If you have been refrigerating the leftover dough, bring it to room temperature first before proceeding to make the discs from it. Keep aside.
  3. When the oil is nice and hot, reduce the flame to medium. Drop in a couple of the discs into the hot oil and fry evenly, till they get brown on the outside. Drain out the oil and transfer to a plate. Take care to ensure that the discs do not get burnt. If the oil is too hot and the discs are rapidly frying up, you might want to reduce the flame further to ensure even frying.
  4. Deep fry all the discs in the same manner. The adhirasams are ready! They can be consumed straight off the stove or at room temperature. At room temperature, they stay well for 4-5 days.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me in your comments!

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Foodie Monday Blog Hop

This recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for this week is ‘Navratri Special’.

I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #247. The co-hosts this week are Antonia @ Zoale.com and Laurena @ Life Diet Health.

Upma Kozhukattai| Kara Pidi Kozhukattai

A popular offering to the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha on Ganesh Chaturthi, the Pidi Kozhukattai is also a very healthy snack. With the goodness of rice and toor daal, it is a steamed snack made with minimal oil. It is a simple thing to make, but quite delicious and filling, which makes it great as a lunchbox filler.

Pidi Kozhukattai is a traditional Tamilnadu preparation, wherein rice flour or broken rice is first cooked in boiling water along with a few other ingredients, then allowed to cool and shaped into dumplings with the hands, after which they are steamed. Fingerprint marks on the Pidi Kozhukattai are its distinguishing feature, which lend the dish a certain rustic charm. This is how the dish gets its name too – ‘pidi‘ in Tamil roughly translates into ‘hand-held’. These steamed dumplings are often also called ‘Upma Kozhukattai‘, referring to the coarse grinding of rice in the mixer that the recipe calls for, similar to the making of Rice Upma, another common Tamil Nadu snack.

These dumplings can be either sweet or savoury, with different families making big and little variations of their own. Today, I present to you the savoury version, called Kara Pidi Kozhukattai, the way my family makes it. I made these for the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in our apartment this year, and they were a huge hit.

Here is the recipe for these Kara Pidi Kozhukattai, on popular demand. 🙂

Ingredients (makes 25-28 pieces):

  1. 2 cups raw rice
  2. 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  3. 4 tablespoons toor daal
  4. 4 cups water
  5. 2 tablespoons oil + a little more for greasing the steaming plate
  6. 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  7. 3-4 pinches of asafoetida
  8. 2 sprigs of fresh curry leaves
  9. 2 green chillies, chopped into large-ish pieces
  10. Salt to taste
  11. 1/4 cup fresh grated coconut

Method:

  1. Take the raw rice and toor daal together in a large mixer jar. Add in the black peppercorns. Pulse a few times, for a couple of seconds each, stopping in between to mix up the ingredients in the jar with a spoon. Stop when the ingredients are ground to a well-crushed, slightly coarse texture like rava. Keep aside.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan. Add in the mustard seeds and let them pop. Tear the curry leaves roughly with your hands and add them in. Add in the asafoetida. Let them stay in for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add 4 cups of water to the pan, along with salt to taste. Keep on high flame and bring to a rolling boil.
  4. Now, add the chopped green chillies and fresh grated coconut to the boiling water in the pan. Mix well.
  5. Keeping the flame on medium, slowly add the ground rice-black pepper-toor daal mixture to the boiling water in the pan. Stir constantly to avoid lumps forming.
  6. Keep cooking on medium flame, stirring constantly, till all the water is absorbed. Switch off the flame when the mixture comes together, and starts getting dry.
  7. Let the cooked mixture cool down considerably, covered.
  8. When the mixture is cool enough to handle, we will begin shaping pidi kozhukattai out of it. For this, make medium-sized oval dumplings out of the mixture, as shown in the picture above. Keep aside, covered.
  9. Use a little oil to grease a colander to steam the pidi kozhukattai in. Arrange as many pidi kozhukattai in the greased colander as you can, in a single line, keeping a little space between them. Keep them ready.
  10. Take about 1 cup of water in a pressure cooker base. Place a stand over the water. Place the cooker on high flame. Let the water in the base start boiling. Now, place the colander with the pidi kozhukattai over the stand, cover the cooker, and steam for 10 minutes without putting the weight on.
  11. Allow the cooked pidi kozhukattai to cool down slightly, and then gently transfer to a vessel/serving plate using a spoon. Handling them straight out of the cooker might cause them to break.
  12. Cook all the pidi kozhukattai in a similar manner. Serve hot or at room temperature, with some simple coconut chutney.

Notes:

  1. Adjust the quantity of black peppercorns you use, depending upon how spicy you want the pidi kozhukattai to be. You can even skip the green chillies altogether, and use only black peppercorns to add spiciness. If using green chillies, make sure you use slightly big pieces that can be easily spotted and not bit into accidentally.
  2. The rice and toor daal mixture can be ground as coarsely or as finely as you desire. I prefer not grinding them finely, but to a well-crushed, coarse texture that is akin to rava.
  3. Chana daal can be used in place of toor daal. Both versions are equally tasty.
  4. I use Sona Masoori raw rice to make these pidi kozhukattai. 4 cups of water for 2 cups of Sona Masoori raw rice is the rice:water ratio that works perfectly for us.
  5. Adjust the quantity of grated coconut you use in the kara upma kozhukattai, depending upon personal preferences.
  6. Here, I have ground the raw rice and toor daal without washing them. If you want to wash them, drain out all the excess water after you do so, then sun-dry them for about 10 minutes on a cotton cloth. Proceed with making the pidi kozhukattai the same way as above, once the washed rice and toor daal are completely dry.
  7. A colander works best for steaming the upma kozhukattai. This ensures even cooking.
  8. Stop cooking the rice-toor daal-black pepper mixture when it starts to come together and lose moisture. Do not overcook it, as this will cause the pidi kozhukattai to get quite dry. Keep the cooked mixture covered till you use it.
  9. Gingelly oil or coconut oil works best in the making of these upma kozhukattai.
  10. These upma kozhukattai can be made ahead and refrigerated. You can remove them from the refrigerator an hour or so before serving, then steam them well in a pressure cooker.
  11. Traditionally, when these upma kozhukattai are made for the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi, they are made without tasting. They are first offered to Lord Ganesha and then partaken of.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me in your comments!

I hope you will try out these Kara Pidi Kozhukattai too, and that you will love them as much as we do!

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I’m sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #243. The co-hosts this week are Catherine @ Kunstkitchen’s Blog and Becky @ Bubbly Bee.

Postcards From Ganesh Chaturthi 2018

Spirituality. Peace. Introspection. Good food. Community. Pandal hopping. Activities with the bub. Play time. Busy-ness. Making memories. Family. Traditions.

That was how Ganesh Chaturthi this year looked like, to us.

Here are some pictures from Ganesh Chaturthi 2018, for your viewing pleasure. I’ll let the pictures do the talking now on.

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Like every year, this year too, we installed a Ganesha in our apartment. Everyone got together to do the decorations, the aarti, make the prasadam for 3 mornings and 3 nights, after which the festivities ended. We did our bit too. This has now become an important tradition to us, one we don’t want to miss.
Spotted these Ganeshas in the market these year, and loved them. A closer look will reveal that they are decorated with grains like ragi and rice, then painted all over. Even the Ganesha idol we set up in our apartment was similar.
It was nice to see these eco-friendly Ganeshas, with a little pop of colour.
Dark and light. Light and dark. That’s what we are made up of too, right?
Pandal decorations, anyone?
I absolutely loved these traditional Ganeshas, with their broad trunks!
More decorations for Ganesha pandals
Meanwhile, this cute little ‘sweet’ Ganesha was spotted at Adayar Ananda Bhavan!
A pretty Ganesha pandal set up near HSR Layout. I loved how this one was done up just like a temple!
A medley of Ganeshas and Gowris in the pandal
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The Ganesha pandal set up by the HSR Layout Youth Association
Colourful, pretty umbrellas that made up part of the decorations at the HSR Layout Youth Association pandal
More Ganeshas and Gowris. Check out that cute turban!
A close-up of the Ganesha idol
More Ganesha and Gowri idols inside the pandal
A small fair set up near the HSR Layout BDA Complex, on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi
People having fun at the fair. Kids and adults alike.
We were passing by a temple in HSR Layout, and spotted Ganesh Visarjan happening. We decided to stay on for the festivities, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Here’s Ganesha bidding adieu.
Artistes performing a traditional Karnataka folk dance form, during the visarjan
The excitement in the atmosphere was palpable. Can you feel it in the picture, too?
Ganesha all set to say farewell
Artistes performing Veeragaase, a traditional Karnataka folk dance, on the streets. I loved capturing them on camera!
This guy was all too happy to pose for my camera!
Poser!
Artistes performing Dollu Kunitha, a traditional drum dance practised in Karnataka

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How was Ganesh Chaturthi for you, folks?

Did you like this post? Do tell me, in your comments!