Saturday, December 30, 2006

Recipe: Poduthuval

How poduthuval got its name, I don’t know. Perhaps it was called "Podithooval," which literally meant sprinkling of powder. In this dish, traditionally no coconut was used and the curry was thickened with a powder made of roasted rice and red chillies. Now a days, of course, since coconuts are plenty, as usual with any kerala iyer recipe, a dash of coconut with green chillies is used to flavour this dish.

Poduthuval does not have a dal in it and no spice except coconut and green chillies.

Many people refer to different dishes as poduthuval these days, for want of a right name.

During the olden days, in the monsoon months of Kerala, when coconuts and vegetables were scarce due to the incessant rains, the only vegetables available were the summer gourds that had been preserved by hanging from the ceilings (cucumbers, white and red pumpkins) and the shoots of colacasia from the backyard, which would sprout in the rains. So the menu more often than not consisted of a poduthuval made from one of the above. Even there, the chembuthandu (colacasia shoots) poduthuval and pulinkari took prominent place. It tasted delicious. Some of them were dangerously itchy though.

I must admit, as children we never liked the chembuthandu poduthuval as it did not have the rich coconut flavour in it.

During the off monsoon seasons poduthuvals were always enriched with coconut. Some of the most common poduthuvals are mathan (red pumpkin) and chakkaravalli kizhangu (sweet potatoes – my dad’s favourite) idichakka (tender jackfruit), elavan and chakkakottai (white pumpkin or winter melon and jackfruit seeds), etc.

For long, I had not made this poduthuval and actually had forgotten about this dish. Ten years ago, when I visited my athai (paternal aunt) my athan(athai's son) told me, "Amma has made a special dish for you, mathan and chakkaravalli kizhangu poduthuval." I enjoyed the poduthuval made by my athai and on my return made the same poduthuval during my dad’s visit. He loved it, and said, "besh, besh!"

I visited my athai last week after 10 years. Though she is in no condition to do any housework now, I remembered my last visit and her poduthuval. On my return I prepared the dish remembering my athai.

Now for the recipe:

Red Pumpkin : 250gms
Sweet potatoes: 250 gms.
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp.
Coconut: 2 tbsp.
Green chillies 2nos.
Jaggery 1 tsp.
Salt to taste

For garnish:

Coconut oil 2 tsp.
(any cooking oil may be used)
mustard seeds : 1 tsp.
split urad dal: 1 tsp.
curry leaves : a few


Cut the vegetables into 2" cubes. Cook with turmeric powder and salt and jaggery (this may be done in a pressure cooker). Though both pumpkin and sweet potatoes are sweet, a little bit of jaggery enhances the taste.

Grind the coconut and green chillies, coarsely, without adding water.

Heat the coconut oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the urad dal. When the dal starts turning to a pink color, add the curry leaves and add the boiled vegetables. Boil for 5 minutes stirring well. Add the ground coconut mixtrure and boil for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat.

ENJOY with rice or rotis.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Merry Christmas

Once again a long break in my blogging, brought about by so many foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. In the first place, whenever our children visit us I get so busy in the kitchen cooking up various things, which we feel they enjoy (Both of them tell us not to bother so much about their meals and just cook some simple things). I went out of town to visit my elderly relatives, a trip that I had been postponing (for a variety of reasons) for more than a year now. My computer was not operational as the UPS had died. After my return, the UPS had not come back and I became busy putting the house back in order.

Yes, The Christmas Cake I had baked well in advance for Christmas came out just right. It was well risen, soft, spongy and melted in the mouth. I will follow this recipe always hereafter. For the quantities mentioned, I filled a 9" dia. round pan and two 2½" x 6" loaf pans. One loaf of cake went to our neighbour Veena and the round cake travelled with our elder son and we enjoyed the remaining one loaf. I have already soaked more fruits for another cake, may be during New Year.

Many people, including my mother, asked me what I did for Xmas. The best thing worth mentioning was meeting Mrs. Thomas, she lives across from our home all alone in a huge house. She is unable to move out of her house because of a knee injury she suffered last year. She was so happy with my visit and spent a long time talking to me about various things (I allowed her to do all the talking, as she doesn’t get much opportunity to talk otherwise). My handsome and charming son said, “that was the best thing you did ma, spreading happiness to a lonely soul”. My Xmas was made.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Recipe: Christmas cake

I have baked my Christmas cake well in advance this year. At first I thought I would follow the same recipe as I did last year for Anand’s birthday cake. I looked into the recipe and to my shock I realised that I had not included flour in the recipe. Uh Oh. I have since corrected it.

Since I did not have all the ingredients I had listed in last year’s recipe and did not feel like rushing to the store, I modified the recipe to include available ingredients. Hubby dear had cut the dry fruits (cashew, almonds, pistachios, dry pineapple, dry ginger, dates, raisins, walnuts, pecans, plums and prunes) and soaked them in plenty of brandy a month ago. Usually I would add cherries,which I did not have this time. I remembered how I enjoyed my trips to Whole Foods where I could pick up all dry fruits at one counter.

I had been using margarine or hydrogenated vegetable oil or butter according to availability at home. Since my (handsome and charming, natch) son recently prohibited me from using hydrogenated oil (contains transfat, he says) I used home made butter.

As I did not have brown sugar this time, I used 1 tbsp. of caramelised sugar to get the color. To caramelise sugar, heat 1 tbsp sugar in a heavy bottomed pan, stirring continuously. When it starts melting, reduce heat until the color changes to dark brown. Remove from heat and extract the caramel with 1 tbsp of water or milk.

The following is the list of ingredients.

Mixed dry fruits marinated in brandy :400 gms
Eggs: 3
Butter: 150 gms
Flour: 125 gms
Sugar: 150gms
Grated chocolate: 1tbsp
Caramalised sugar: 1 tbsp
Cinnamon powder: 1tsp
Mixed spices: 1tsp
Sodium-bi-carbonate: 1/2 tsp
Milk: 1tbsp


Pre heat oven to 180 deg C (350 deg. F)

Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add eggs one by one to the creamed mixture and continue creaming till the mixture is light. Add the caramelised sugar and melted chocolate. Cream some more.

Sift the flour twice with cinnamon powder, powdered spices and sodium-bi-carbonate. Transfer the marinated fruits to a bowl and mix with 2 tbsp of sifted flour (this will prevent the fruits from sinking to the bottom of the cake).

Fold the sifted flour into the creamed mixture gently, alternating with the fruits mixture. Pour into a well greased and dusted baking pan and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hr. Reduce the temp. to 150 deg C (300 deg F) and bake for another 15 min. Test with a skewer.

Remove from the oven. Rest for 10mins. Invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Sweet ghee memories

Most of the recipes in my blog have been inspired by my culinary enthusiast (not to mention, handsome and charming) son. Ever since he left home and started living on his own, I could expect a call from him any time of the day or night, trans-atlantic or trans-pacific, asking for directions to prepare a certain dish. He would have bought the ingredients and would be wondering how to start or at times he would have started the process and wouldn’t know how to go on.

The other day he called me and asked me how to melt butter to get ghee. As he would never eat ghee or butter along with his rice or rotis or bread since his childhood, I couldn’t hide my surprise until he told me that he wanted to prepare Rava kesari for the Thanksgiving lunch they were planning at work.

Having grown up in a family where we had cows and buffaloes and hence lots of milk and butter, I had never imagined anyone would need a lesson on making ghee from butter until I moved outside our village. In our house we had big vengalapanais in which a huge quantity of milk was boiled and set to form curd. We had separate vengalapanais for cows’ and buffaloes’ milk. We took turns in churning the curds early in the mornings and were rewarded by a big dollop of warm and fresh butter at the end of the chore. Nobody needed any cardio exercises on a treadmill. There was a big pole fixed on the corner of the kitchen to which two metallic chains with rings were attached. The vengalapanai containing the curds was placed on a coaster(kalavadai) made of coir. The mathu(churning wheel)was placed inside the curds and the metallic rings were slipped on to the mathu. There was another cord made of cotton thread which was wound around the mathu, between the rings, with long ends trailing at both ends, which was pulled from both ends. This is the best cardio exercise one could get. You do this for 5 minutes, presto, your warm fresh butter floats on top of the fresh butter milk. The cows milk butter was creamy yellow and the buffalo butter was white.

This butter was made into ghee every other day as there were no refrigerators to keep the butter fresh. The butter was washed in plenty of water to remove all the butter milk and put in a big kadai and heated, stirring constantly, until you got a fragrant golden yellow liquid ghee. The ghee was strained and stored in clay jars to retain its freshness. It set to a sand like texture. The residue of ghee is very tasty and we children vied with each other to get our idlis or rice tossed in the fresh ghee residue.

The trick of keeping the ghee fragrant and fresh for long time is in heating the butter to the right "doneness." As the butter is being melted, the water content in the butter evaporates making a hissing noise. Once the water content is fully evaporated, the liquid turns to a golden color with a good aroma. This is the right time to switch off the stove. If one is using a thick pan to melt the butter, it is better to pour the ghee into another container immediately, as the ghee may turn blacker because of the heat retained by the pan.

There is an interesting story told about the readiness of ghee. A new daughter in-law was asked by her mother-in-law to prepare ghee. The daughter-in-law did not know how to melt butter and she asked her neighbour how to test the readiness of the ghee. The neighbour told her, "Orosai adangina vanaliye erakku" (Remove the pan from the stove when the noise stops). The daughter in-law took it as Oorosai (the noise in the street) and kept the pan on the stove and sat the front door of the house, waiting for the noise on the street to subside. The rest of the story can only be well imagined. This was the story told to young girls to be careful when preparing ghee. Delay a minute and the ghee will lose its color and aroma and grainy texture.

Many theories are propounded by the new age culinary gurus to retain the freshness of the ghee. Some people say, add a pinch of turmeric powder, some say add a few curry leaves, yet others say add a few thulasi leaves. I would say, heat the ghee to the right doneness and store. It will remain fresh for ever.

If the ghee is not heated to the right doneness, it goes stale very fast and gives a very bad odour. When we were children, there were always some impromptu lunch sponsored by neighbours on occasions like a child's birthday or a "kappu ceremony" or a "thottil ceremony." It was a practice to serve ghee after rice was served and I was often surprised that the ghee smelt rotten. I used to come home and tell my Echiyamma about it and she would say, they have not heated the butter properly. "But they bought the ghee from our house this morning," I would say. What was the mystery of the fragrant ghee turning to a foul smelling ghee by the time they served, I never understood.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Recipe: Olan

Olan is the simplest and a unique dish of Kerala with no spice at all in it(except green chillies, which is optional) flavoured with coconut milk and coconut oil and fresh curry leaves. Yet, when made with the right ingredients in the right proportion, it tastes heavenly. It is made with simple gourds and cowpeas which makes it a very healthy diet even for invalids. No big feast is complete without olan on the menu.

The vegetables used have high medicinal value and are easily digestible and low in calories. Ash gourd, for example is rich in calcium and vit. B and C and fibre. It is also a diuretic and its juice is particularly good for diabetics and the obese . Sweet red pumpkin is rich in Vitamins A and B, protein and calcium and is a low calorie vegetable. Cow peas though a high calorie food is rich in protein, calcium and vitamins A and B.

Red Pumpkin(ripe with a hard outer shell) :250 gms
Ash gourd(winter melon) :250 gms
Cowpeas : 2 tbsps. Or more according to taste

( tenderfresh green pods of the peas(lobia) are also used in preparation of Olan)
in case fresh lobia are used,
lobia :50 gms.

Coconut oil : 2 tsps.
Curry leaves: few
Jaggery : a small piece
Green chillies: 1 or 2
Salt to taste.

Soak the cow peas (if using dry peas) for 4 – 5 hrs or overnight.
Remove the skin and slice the gourds into 1½" to 2" thin squares. If using fresh lobia, cut them into 2" pieces. Slit the green chillies. Pressure cook the peas and vegetables and chillies until peas are soft. Add salt and jaggery and boil until the curry is thick (gourds will release their water content when cooked). Remove from heat, add curry leaves and coconut oil. Olan is ready to serve.

Olan can be prepared using only ash gourd and cow peas. Follow the same method as above, just before removing from the stove add a table spoon of thick coconut milk.

There is another variety of olan, called "Thondolan" prepared using raw bananas and lobia.

Raw banana :1
Cow peas :1 tbsp.
Jaggery : a small piece
Salt to taste
Coconut oil : 2 tsps.

Slice raw banana vertically once and then into 2mm slices. Cook along with pre-soaked cow peas and add salt and jaggery and flavour with coconut oil and curry leaves.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Bangalore - From an Air conditioned city to a city with air conditioners

We are almost into December and are still using the fans throughout the day and night and are sweating. When people away from home ask us how the weather is, they expect us to say, it is cold, or atleast, it is pleasant. We can only say it is hot. Is this the same city which was once known as airconditioned city?

Time was (this is only as recent as the early 70s when we moved to this wonderful city, the natives of Bangalore will have even more shivering tales to recount) when Bangalore had a salubrious climate. It was a pensioners’ paradise. It was a city which went to bed early and woke up quite late, because of the chill.. Unlike many other cities of India, no milkman rang the doorbell at 5.30am here. He would come only at 7.30am. People with little kids who need to be given milk early morning did not have to fret about not having a refrigerator. The whole house was like a refrigerator. No food went bad here. The vegetables remained fresh in room temperature. Not many people had a fridge. Fridge was more of a status symbol.

There were no fans fitted either. When we came from Delhi on transfer to Bangalore, our fan boxes remained unopened for years together, as we did not feel the need for a fan. If the Chennai residents say, Chennai has only three seasons, hot, hotter and hottest, we Bangaloreans were proud to say, we also have only three seasons, cold, colder and coldest. We did not have summers. Ours was a summer resort. If we had to make "vattal, vadam or karuvadam" we could not afford to be complacent. We had just 2 to 3 weeks from Sivarathri to make these things, between our winter and monsoons, which started by the end of March. Our monsoon would start with some pre-monsoon showers before Ugadi and go on till December.

Bangaloreans sported a monkey cap all through the year. They also a wore a woolen vest throughout the year. It was treat to watch the elderly Bangaloreans (the proper Bangaloreans who owned most of the agricultural lands/residential properties here) moving around on a rickety bicycle wearing a black coat and a turban. People went to vegetable shopping with a coat on. Early mornings were very chill. Bangalore women made the rangolis in their front yards in the evenings as mornings would be quite foggy and chill. We had green covers wherever we went. Ulsoor was the city limits during those days. No city map showed any place beyond Ulsoor, except a winding road from Trinity church towards airport called airport road, which was almost always deserted. You take a turn towards the airport road, the temperature dipped further as the roads were lined with trees and casurina forests.

During late 70s when we were allotted a residential plot along the airport road, we came to visit the place and were unable to find our way to the proposed site as the area around it was marshy and wooded.

Knitting enthusiasts like me could knit all year around. It was a pleasure to get out the house on weekends with kids to go to Lalbagh or Cubbon Park and enjoy the warmth of the sun. If Chennai had a cyclone, Bangalore just had downpours. The only industrialisation Bangalore had was some Public Sector undertakings with their own transport system to carry their employees. These were the only buses which crowded the roads during their shift changes. Otherwise public transport was very sparse. Bangaloreans were happy cycling around. People belonging to slightly elite class used scooters/motor cycles/mopeds. It was quite safe to travel by two wheelers, even for ladies.

With the 1980s came the boom of small scale industries in around Bangalore and there were more mopeds on the roads. City started expanding beyond Ulsoor towards the airport and all around. We still had winters which were quite cold.

With the software boom Bangalore exploded with people, private entreprenuers, multi-storied buildings and cars. The single and two storied skyline gave way to huge apartment complexes, mostly built on converted agricultural lands. They mostly depended on deep bore-wells to quench the thirst of their residents. The green covers started depleting, the ground water level went down further, lakes started drying up and in the new century, Bangalore started becoming warmer and warmer with very hot summers and next to nil winters. The whole city is dusty and polluted with motor exhausts and the city these days does not sleep. The once sleepy airport road is always congested with traffic and one cannot cross the road any time of the day.There are multi-storied building lining the airport road representing almost all software companies from all around the globe. The air conditioning business is thriving.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Recipe: Kozhukattai

Kozhukkattais are steamed rice balls with sweet coconut stuffing. No South Indian needs introduction to kozhukkattai or an translation for it. The translation is for the unfortunate ones who have not tasted this yummy, delicious and melt in the mouth delicacy, one with very little oil in it to boot.

Kozhukkattai is a most favoured sweet in our family, my late astute and blessed mother in-law simply loved it. Though usually it is prepared only during Ganesh Chaturthi or as naivedyam for performing Ganapathi Homam, she would invent some excuse to make me prepare this as often as possible. When the children were in college, she got a good excuse to prepare kozhukkattai every time they visited home. She would say "children were not here during Ganesh Chaturthi, so when are you going to prepare kozhukkattai for them?" Or she would say, there are so many black ants around, when are you going to offer kozhukkattais for Ganapathi? (there is a belief that black ants will disappear if one appeased Lord Ganesha). Our younger (handsome and charming) son’s sweet tooth was also a blessing for her.

Having said so much about sweet kozhukkattai, I would not be doing justice to other equally yummy savory kozhukkattais, of which there are many varieties, if I did not mention them. Ulundu kozhukkattai (made of refined black gram and coconut filling), vegetable kozhukkattai (my invention), ammini kozhukkattai (both sweet and savory), Uppuma kozhukkattai, are some of the more popular ones.

Now for our King of Kozhukkattais:

Ingredients (yields 20 – 25 kozhukkattais)

For the stuffing:

fresh grated coconut: 1 cup
grated jaggery: ¾ cup
cardamom powder: a pinch

For the outer shell:

Rice flour: 1½ cups
Coconut oil or any other cooking oil: 2tsp.
Salt: a pinch


The stuffing:

Melt the jaggery and strain to remove any impurities. Reheat and make a slightly thick syrup. To test, just remove the spoon with a little syrup from the boiling syrup and drop into a cup of cold water. If the syrup forms a smooth ball, soft to touch, it is ready. Add the coconut gratings to the molten jaggery. Keep stirring until all the water is absorbed and the contents leave the side of the pan. Remove from fire and add cardamom powder.

This stuffing can be prepared in advance and refrigerated up to 1 month. This keeps good in room temperature for up to 1 week.

The rice flour coating:

Heat a pan and add 2 tsp of oil. Add 1½ cups of water and pinch of salt and boil. Meanwhile mix the rice flour in1½cups of water into a smooth batter without lumps. When the water starts boiling add this batter and keep stirring until the rice flour becomes a smooth shiny ball. Remove from fire and cool.

To prepare kozhukkattais:

Knead the rice flour dough well. Take a lime sized portion and form into a cup. Smear little oil on your finger tips to make it easier to handle the dough. Put a smaller size ball of the coconut stuffing inside and close from all sides and pinch the ends together. Repeat till all the dough and stuffing is used up. Steam the kozhukkattais in a steamer or a idli steamer for 15 minutes.


Tips: If banana leaves are available place the kozhukkattais on the banana leaf and steam.The kozhukkattais will not stick to the plate.

If any of the rice dough is left over, make marble sized balls of the dough and steam. Heat a tsp. of oil, add 1 tsp of mustard and 1 tsp of urad dal, bits of red chilli, add the steamed rice balls. This in itself will make a nice snack.

If the stuffing is left over, enjoy it as thengai thirattu pal.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Raman kutty mash

There is an advertisement that they keep showing on TV. The principal of a school retires from service and the boys are bidding him good-bye. There is this boy standing with tears running down his cheeks and a placard in his hands which says, “Please don’t go away”. This takes me back to the day our own Raman kutty master was leaving our village post retirement. My younger brother, only 8 or 9 years of age then, who was studying in 4th standard (if I remember correctly) came back sobbing from school. I took him in my arms and asked him, “what happened?” Ramankutty mash (that’s how we addressed him) virinju (he did not know to say, “pirinju” in Malayalam, which means retired) he said still sobbing inconsolably. We some how managed to console him. Later in the evening, our Ramankutty mash came home to take leave of all the family members, before he went away to his native village for good. He was so close to our family. He was like one in the family.

Our grandfather, after retiring from serving a British Engineer, who was the chief engineer during the construction of the Pamban bridge, came to his native village and took up agriculture. His formal education was limited to learning to read and write Malayalam and Tamil. His older sons also did not attend college, though his two youngers sons went to college and studied up to the masters level in their selected fields. So our grandfather, whom we fondly called, “Kalathappa” (kalam means farmhouse in Malayalam, since he went to our farmhouse everyday to attend to our fields we called him “kalathappa”) decided to give good education to all his grandchildren. Luckily for him, by the time his grandchildren arrived our village had a primary as well as high school, within 5 minutes walk from our home. Since all his sons lived in different towns earning their livelihood leaving their families back home under his care, he decided to appoint a teacher who would supervise the studies of his grandchildren outside school hours. That’s how he appointed Ramankutty mash as our “Kulaguru”. When any of his grandchildren attained the age of around 4, our Kalathappa would tell mash “Mashe! Our Venu (or Meenu or Chinu as the case may be) has to be admitted in school”. Mash would most reverently say “yes” and would come the next day to take the little one to school. He would then pick an appropriate date as the birthdate of the child, to ensure that the child was officially old enough to go to school. (That’s how until we were of marriageable age and our horoscopes were brought out we did not know our actual date of birth. Birthdays were always celebrated according to the star.) Mash was the one who taught us starting with our ABC’s for all the children in our family from my oldest cousin, who is 10 is years older than me to my youngest brother who is 17 years younger than me over a span of 24 years. In all these 24 years not a single day went by without Ramankutty mash visiting our house.

He would teach the children in our family until they reached 6th standard, sort of teaching the basics and allow us to learn on our own when we reached the age of about 10. One by one, there would always be 3 or 4 children to be taught. When I was growing up we were three cousins of the same age attending the same class and one or two neighbourhood children. He would come at 6.30 in the morning so that we all would be fresh and receptive. All he did was to make us read our lessons and do the simple arithmetic problems. He would make us recite the multiplication tables every day. We would be promptly woken up at 5.45 in the morning so that we would be ready with our books by the time Ramankutty mash came.

Ramankutty mash belonged to a village some 30 kms away from our own and during those days when public transport was not as good as today he stayed in a lodge in our village having taken up a teacher’s position in the primary school. He would go home to his family only once or twice a month during the weekends. So for all practical purposes our village was his village. Apart from our family, he was the “kulaguru”for one or two more families and in the evenings he used to teach children in his room, after school hours. There were other neighbourhood children who would come to our house to learn from him. He was treated most reverently by all in the family and he was also very respectful towards the whole family. In those very orthodox days, Ramankutty mash was the only non-brahmin who was invited to lunch for all functions in our family. He would be given a special seat and served by the family members. He had come to attend my marriage as well as at the time when my first child was born. It was then that he retired from his services.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Recipe: Elai Adai

Elai Adai (sweet parcels) is the most delicious dessert exclusive to Kerala. It is made out of jaggery, jackfruit and coconut (what dish out of Kerala doesn't have coconut in it? My handsome and charming son often says: Any recipe you have, adding coconut to it can only make it better). Another delicious treat made of the same ingredients is chaka pradhaman (more about this later). The elai adai can be prepared during the jackfruit season as well as off season and in remote places away from Kerala. The NRK's prepare elai adai by preserving the jackfruits as jam which in itself is quite the delicacy (side dish for adai for instance). As a child, jackfruit jam was the only jam available to us (none of your strawberry-raspberry mixes for us). The taste of elai adai is augmented by the delicious flavour of the plaintain leaf in which it is wrapped and steamed. My h. and c. son reminded me that this resembles the tamales available in Mexican restaurants. Similarly the Saraswat brahmins of Udipi and Mangalore make kadubu which is cooked by wrapping in turmeric leaf. Banana leaves are available in Indian stores, and frozen leaves are available in Chinese stores. The last time I visited the U.S. one of my nieces asked me if I could prepare elai adai for her. I told her that if she could arrange for the banana leaves, I could make them for her and she promptly got the frozen ones from the Chinese store, they were just what the doctor ordered for this purpose. Since my h. & c. son is not so industrious, we made it at his place by borrowing banana leaves from one of his neighbours. Thanks anonymous neighbours! Just goes to show that even in America, you just have to ask and you will receive.

A quick note on the jackfruit (Artocarpus integrifolia). This fruit is particular to India, especially Kerala. It is a huge egg-shaped fruit with a hard and prickly outer green shell, and it weighs some 10-20kgs. The sweet aroma of a ripe jackfruit can be smelt as far away as 50-100 feet (and 1 kilometer in the case of my astute and blessed mother in law). Cutting a jackfruit open is quite the process. You have to keep cutting it into halves to get it to a manageable size. First oil your hands and the heavy duty knife that you intend using. Without the oil, your hands and knife will get all sticky because as you cut it, the fruit secretes a white sticky resin. This resin has to cleaned off the fruit with a rolled up piece of paper of cloth. Because the resin hardens easily, it was used as a sealing agent to fix broken pots, buckets etc. There is a thick white stalk that runs along the center of the fruit. The edible part of the fruit comprises many yellow (yellow when ripe, white when raw) fruitlets that are firmly attached to this stalk. Each of these fruitlets in turn is "protected" by little white sepals. These sepals also have to be carefully peeled off the fruitlet. Ultimately you get a yellow fruitlet that encloses within itself a hard egg-shaped seed. The fruitlet is the most delicious fruit that you'll ever have the fortune of eating. It is full of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. This fiber is of course a double edged sword. Eat too much jackfruit at one sitting, and you'll pay the price the next day. Now don't throw away the seeds: like many other things we've figured out many tasty dishes that can be cooked with the seeds. But more of that later.

When I was growing up in Kerala, during the summers we used to get huge jackfruits from our family farm or backyard. Each of them used to weigh some 15-20 kilos. We all used to sit in our concreted backyard in a big circle (during summer, our house was full of visiting cousins and uncles, on any day there would be about 50 people at home). At 9 in the morning when the maid had finished her cleaning and dish washing, our Echiyamma (my grandmother) would order the maid to bring the jackfruit and call all the children to come and remove the ripe fruitlets from the fruit. We would all sit in a big circle, the maid would bring a jackfruit and an axe. She would then cut the jackfruit into bits and remove the stem. We children would sit and remove all the fruitlets and de-seed them. While we did that, we would pop a few into our mouths. Echiyamma and my periappa would cut them into small bits to be made into jackfruit jam or adai or some kootan. during the summers many kilos of jackfruit jam used to be made in our house, for immediate use and to be sent home with all our visitors.

The day on which elai adai was to be made, again my echiyamma used to summon all kids for the preparation. A minimum of 100-150 had to be made so that everybody would be fed, as well as plenty left over for sharing with the neighbours.

Finally, now onto the actual preparation of the elai adai. We'll assume the existence of the jackfruit jam. At a later date, I'll post how this jam is to be prepared.

Jackfruit jam: 250g
Jaggery: ¾ cup
grated fresh coconut: 2 cups
raw rice: ¾ cup
boiled rice: ¾ cup
gingelly oil: 1 tbsp
banana leaves: 1 per elai adai, size of 8"x8"
salt: a pinch

Soak the rice for 5 hours and grind to a thick smooth paste. Add the salt while grinding. It should be of spreading consistency. Add the gingelly oil to this paste and mix well.

To make the filling, melt the jaggery with 1 cup of water, strain to remove dirt and other impurities, boil it, add the jackfruit jam and loosen it. When the jackfruit jam is loose and of spreading consistency, add the grated coconut, mix well and remove from the stove. This should now be of a jam like consistency. This filling can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.

The banana leaves need to be mildly seasoned by steaming for a few seconds or (very) briefly held over a low flame. The point of this is to make the leaf pliable, otherwise the leaf tears when you fold it. Otherwise, just sun the leaf for 10-30 minutes (but watch it carefully, too long and the leaves will wither away). I've never tried microwaving the leaves, maybe that will work also.

Now take each leaf, spread a ladle full of rice flour as a thin layer. Now, spread 2 tbsp of prepared filling on top of this layer, but covering only about ¾th of the layer. Fold the banana leaf into half, fold the edges once again to seal the edges and place it in a steamer. Repeat for all the leaves, and steam for 25-30 minutes. When it is done, the elai adai should not stick to the leaf when opened.

Enjoy the elai adai.

Recipe: Keera Molagootal

Molagootal is a unique dish of Kerala Iyers. Everybody likes it including non-Iyers who try it. I've found that every non-Iyer who joins our family (by way of marriage) takes an instant liking to it. It is the most satvik food and at the same time delicious also. The taste is a blend of all the vegetables, and lentils, and fresh coconut. It is not very spicy nor oily, which makes it suitable food for young, old, and the invalid. Molagootal can be made with mixed vegetables (raw banana, pumpkin, winter melon, chena, koorka, payar), spinach (keerai), banana stem, cabbage. One of my videshi bahus swore by broccoli molagootal.

Keerai (spinach) is rich in iron, vitamin A, B, and C is a very wholesome vegetable.
It can be made with Are keerai (amaranthis), dhondu keerai, molai keerai (found mostly in TN), parippu keerai (available in Karnataka), spinach keerai (palak), shiru keerai (good diuretic). Of these traditionally we used Are keerai in Kerala, it used to be grown in our backyard.

Keerai (spinach/greens/palak): 300g
Toor dal: ¾ cup
grated coconut: ½ cup
mustard: 1 tsp
urad dal: 2 tsp
red chilli: 1
jeera: ½ tsp
turmeric powder: 1tsp
salt: to taste
Oil: 1tbsp

Wash and drain the greens, and cook. Cool. And grind to a paste. Pressure cook the toor dal with turmeric powder. Heat 1 tsp of the oil, add 1 tsp urad dal and 1 red chilli broken into bits, fry till the dal is pink in color. Remove. Grind coconut with fried dal and chilli and the jeera to a smooth paste. Boil the spinach puree with salt. Add the cooked toor dal and boil for 5 minutes. Add the ground coconut paste and add enough water to get pouring consistency. Boil. Remove from the stove. Heat the remaining oil, add the mustard seeds when they splutter, add the remaining urad dal, when the dal turns pink, pour into the keerai molagootal.

Can be eaten with rice, chapatti, dosa, pooris etc.
Accompaniments: Thogayal, Thair pachadi, Pachadi, Pulikachal.

Recipe: Rava Kesari

Also known as sojji in Tamilnadu, ksheera in marathi and kesari bath in Karnataka and sooji ka halva in UP. Sojji and bajji used to be the main snacks served during the girl seeing ceremony in Tamilnadu.

Rava (semolina): 1 cup
sugar: 1.5-2 cups
cashewnuts: 10-12
raisins: 15-20
ghee: 4 tbsp or more
orange food color (kesari): a pinch
saffron: a pinch (optional)
cloves: 3-4 (optional)

Heat 1 tbsp of ghee in a thick bottomed pan, fry the broken cashews and raisins (and optional cloves) and keep aside. Add another tbsp of ghee and fry the rava to a light pink color and keep aside. Heat 3 cups of water in the same pan, add the coloring and the saffron when it comes to a boil. Add the rava slowly, constantly stirring, and mix well. Allow the rava to be cooked at medium heat. The rava has to cook well. When it is fully cooked, add the sugar and stir well. When the sugar is fully dissolved, add the remaining ghee. Keep stirring until the rava starts leaving the sides of the pan. Garnish with the fried cashews and raisins and cardamom powder.

In Karnataka, while the water is boiling they add ½ cup of finely cut pineapple pieces and cook the semolina and pineapple together and then proceed as above. In Maharashtra, they don't add the food color but they cook the rava in milk. Kannadigas love khara bath and kesari bath for breakfast.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Recipe: Pradhaman

Well, we have been looking at recipes of side dishes of Onam. Let us take a detour now and see how we can prepare the dessert items. For Onam, the desserts prepared are different types of Payasams and Pradhamans. Pradhamans are prepared using coconut milk and jaggery (except in Palada Pradhaman) where as payasams are prepared using milk and sugar . There are some exceptions though.

There are different types of Pradhamans unique to Kerala. Some of the very famous ones being adapradhaman, chakkapradhaman, parippu pradhaman, idichu pizhinja payasam, aval pradhaman, wheat Pradhaman, etc.

Parippu Pradhamans are of different types. Pradhamans using only parippu(dal) or a combination of parippu and rice. Both Bengal gram dal and moong dal are used in preparing pradhaman.

Let us see how moong dal and rice pradhaman is prepared.

Parippu Pradhaman:

Moong dal : ¼ cup
Raw rice : ¼ cup
Jaggery 1 ½ cups
Coconut milk from 1 coconut
Readymade coconut milk 1 tin
Ghee 2 tsp.


Grate the coconut and extract the milk thus:

1. Add 2 tbsp. of warm water and blend in the blender. Remove. Squeeze the milk out and strain the milk. Keep this 1st milk aside.
2. Put the coconut residue back into the blender add ½ cups of tepid water and blend in the blender. Remove. Squeeze the milk out and strain the milk. Keep this 2nd milk aside.
3. Put the residue back into the blender add 2 cups of tepid water and blend in the blender. Remove squeeze the milk out and strain the milk. Keep this 3rd milk aside.

When using readymade coconut milk, you are saved of this tedious procedure. Any day, fresh coconut milk squeezed tastes much better than canned coconut milk.

Dry roast the moong dal to light pink colour. Wash the rice and moong dal and cook in a pressure cooker in the 3rd milk, for three whistles. If using tinned coconut milk, cook with 2 tbsp. of coconut milk and 2 cups of water.

Melt the jaggery with a little water and strain to remove any impurities. Boil the jaggery syrup in a wide bottomed non-stick pan and add the cooked rice and dal. Boil until the mixture is thick. Add the 2nd coconut milk and boil again to reduce the water content (if using tinned milk add 1 cup of water and the ghee and boil once and add the remaining coconut milk. Remove from heat immediately). When the pradhaman starts thickening add 2 tsp. of ghee and boil for another 5 mitutes, stirring well, until well blended. Remove from heat. Add the first milk and stir constantly for 5 minutes, to blend in the first milk. After adding the first milk, the pradhaman should not be boiled.

Delicious Parippu Pradhaman is ready.

Recipe: Aviyal

Aviyal again is a dish prepared with as many vegetables as one can get. There is a legend about this dish. The maharaja of Travencore used to perform Murajapam everyyear, a vedic seminar, in which a large number of vedic scholars participated. One year it so happened that there was no vegetables left on the last day of the Murajapam.. Only few pieces of various vegetables left over from the previous days were available. The cook cut all the left overs into long thin pieces and prepared "Aviyal." The king liked the dish so much and presented him with a gold bracelet so much and ordered that this dish be served every year since then. All vegetables go in it, except perhaps, some mushy vegetables, like, tomato, brinjal, ladies fingers, cabbage, cauliflower, beetroot (it stains the dish), radish, turnip, onion, sweet potato, etc. Otherwise, all the following vegetables can be used, depending on the availability.
Raw Green plantain
Elephant yam (amorphopallus is the botanical name, Chena in Malayalam, chenai kizhangu in Tamil, Suvarna
in Kannada, Jameenkhand in Hindi),
Chembu (colocasia, cheppam kizhangu in Tamil, arvi in
Snake gourd (Trichosanthes Anguina)
Ash gourd
Avarakkai (Saem in Hindi))
Chow Chow (Sechium edule, Bangalore Kathrikkai in
Malayalam and Tamil, Seeme badanakkaye in Kannada)
Thondekkai ( kova kkai in Tamil)
Lobia (payar in Malayalam, Karamani in Tamil, Halasinde in Kannada)
Green mango (raw)
Raw jackfruit
A small quantity of bitter gourd can be used to give a tinge of bitterness

Since a variety of vegetables are used, we will need only very small quantity of each of them and also it is very difficult to prepare 2 servings or 4 servings. However, even if the prepared quantity is more than can be consumed, it keeps well for a couple of days under refrigeration. This can be frozen also.

Now for the recipe:
The preparation of aviyal is very simple.

Vegetables: 250 gms of mixed vegetables.
Turmeric powder: 1tsp.
Grated fresh coconut :1½ cups
Green chillies: 5 to 8 nos. according to taste
Curds 3-4 tbsp lightly sour (if using raw mango, do not use curds)
Salt to taste
Curry leaves : a few
Coconut oil 2 tbsp. (it is the coconut oil which gives aviyal the aroma and taste, hence do not substitute)
Wash and cut all the vegetables lengthwise into 2" pieces(stick shape). Boil the vegetables until just done, with turmeric powder and salt. One should be careful not to overcook the vegetables: they should remain crisp.(There are some vegetables which cook very fast and some which take a long time. Keep adding the vegetables to the boiling water according to the cooking time, the longer cooking vegetables first and the quicker ones last) Grind the coconut with green chillies, without using water. Drain the vegetables. Put them in a wide mouthed large pan in mild heat, add the coconut mixture, beaten curds, curry leaves and coconut oil and gently toss for few minutes, until all the vegetables are coated with coconut and coconut oil. If using a spoon, be careful not to mash the vegetables. Remove from heat add fresh curry leaves.

This aviyal can be used as a side dish for sambar rice or any other rice. If this has to be used as a main dish for rice, make the aviyal with a little more of beaten curds to get a gravy. One can use the water used for cooking the vegetable to make the gravy, if short of curds. Aviyal can be eaten with rice, dosa, chappathi or Poori. Our son relishes pooris with refrigerated aviyal.

Suggested accompaniments: Pappad


Another year, another Thiruvonam. In Kerala, there is a popular saying "I have eaten more Onam than you," to indicate one's seniority in age. Each Thiruvonam brings nostalgic memories of the Onam spent in Kerala during our childhood. We used to go out in the evenings searching the countryside for flowers and flowerbuds (we would put them in water so that they would blossom the next day). In the morning, we would collect the flowers from our own garden and those from the roadside fences. There were plenty of creepers on the fences with flowers of different hues. We would get up quite early, so that we would reach there before everyone else. Thankfully, to this day we have flowers in our own garden for the "pookalam." We used to get some flowers from the gardens on the road dividers on the ring roads, on our morning walk till a couple of years ago. Now there are only concrete dividers with iron grills. Beautifying the city!

We had a very busy morning, collecting flowers, making the pookalam, preparing the lunch, keeping the house ready for our guest. We prepared Sambar, kalan, aviyal, erissery, pachadi, puliinji, upperi, pappadam and payasam (rice and dal in coconut milk and jaggery). Our guest arrived early and he enjoyed the food. "The payasam was delicious," he said. My father used to like this payasam very much also, he said. (He is 78 years old, our guest, not his father).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Recipe: Sambar

Though preparations for Onam Sadya start days in advance, there are many things which can be done only on Onam day. Kalan and pulinji can be prepared one or two days in advance. Other delicacies have to prepared on the day of the feast.

There are varieties of Sambar prepared in the southern states, but the sambar prepared by Kerala Iyers beats them all. This sambar is prepared by grinding fresh spices. No readymade sambar powder is used here. Each time, the sambar is made, spices are ground fresh. We follow this system to this day.

Traditionally, vegetables like, ladies finger (okra), brinjal (eggplant), drum sticks, chembu(taro root/colacacia), avarakkai(snowpeas), pumpkin, ash gourd, etc. are used. In recent years, vegetables like capsicum (bell peppers), tomato, knolkhol, radish, methi leaves, etc. are all used (these were not used earlier since they were not available then). Radish sambar tastes especially great.

The sambar made out of a combination of all the above vegetables is known as kootu sambar and prepared for big feasts. It could be prepared in the combination of all the above or any of them or any other combination, depending on the availability. Each vegetable renders a special flavour to the dish.


4 servings:

Since a variety of vegetables is used, a little of each vegetable is selected, totalling to 250gms.

Tamarind: size of a ping pong ball
Toor dal: ¾ cup
Coriander seeds : 1 tbsp.
Bengal gram dal:1 tbsp.
Methi seeds : ½ tsp
Hing(asafoetida) pea size
Red chillies : 5.
Grated coconut: 3 tbsp.
Turmeric powder :1 tsp.
Jaggery : a small piece
Salt to taste

Oil 1 tbsp.
Mustard seeds: 2 tsp.
Curry leaves: a few
Coriander leaves 1 tbsp. (optional)


Wash and cut the vegetables like pumpkin, ash gourd, radish,etc., into 2" cubes. Cut ladies finger, brinjal, drumstick, radish, avarakkai etc. into 2" long pieces. Pressure cook the dal with 1½ tsp turmeric powder and enough water to achieve a smooth consistency.

Heat 1 tsp oil and roast the hing, coriander seeds, Bengal gram dal, methi seeds, 4 red chillies and a few curry leaves to a light brown colour. Grind the roasted spices with the coconut gratings to a smooth paste.

Soak tamarind in warm water for ½ hr and extract the juice. Boil the tamarind extract and add the cut vegetables . Add salt and 1 tsp turmeric powder and cook till the vegetables are done. Mash the cooked dal and add to the tamarind, vegetable mixture and boil for another 5 mnts. Add the jaggery and ground paste. Boil for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add curry leaves and coriander leaves.

Heat the remaining oil in a small pan, add the mustard seeds. When they start spluttering, add the cut red chillies and curry leaves and pour into the sambar.

ENJOY with Idli, sambar or rice.

Suggested accompaniments: Thoran, Erissery,Olan...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Recipe: Puliyodarai

Puliyodarai is a perennial favorite and an easy extension of puliinji.
To make 4 servings:

Rice 250 gms.
Coriander seeds 1 tbsp.
Bengal gram dal 1 tbsp.
Pepper corns 1 tsp.
Jeera ½ tsp.
Dry coconut (copra) grated 2 tbsp.
Fresh curry leaves: a few

Oil 2tsp.
Ground nuts: 1 tbsp.

Puliinji (of course): 2 tbsp.

Cook rice with just enough water and 1 tsp of gingelly oil, so that the grains are separate. Spread in a wide pan.

Dry roast, coriander seeds, Bengal gram dal, pepper corns and jeera until the coriander seeds and dal turn light pink. Keep aside for a while to cool and powder.

Heat the oil and add the ground nuts. When they are fried, remove from heat, add the curry leaves and grated copra and pour to the cooked rice. Add 2 tbsps of prepared Puliinji and the ground powder. Mix well and serve. Best eaten with a deep fried side like papads or chips or (yes) salty nendran chips.

Recipe: Puliinji

The main ingredients in this preparation, are tamarind(Puli) and ginger(Inji). Hence the name, Puliinji. In some parts, it is also known as Pulikachal. Traditionally, gingelly (til) oil is used in the preparation of Puliinji, this gives a special flavour to the dish. Any other oil could be used. The quantity given will make about 300 - 400ml of Pulinji. This Puliinji can be kept upto 6 months under refrigeration. Puliinji is a very tasty accompaniment for rice, curds rice, idli, dosa, chappathi, or Poori. It can also be used as sandwich filling.


Tamarind : 250gms.
Ginger : 200gms
Green Chillies: 100gms
Gingelly oil : 1 cup
Jaggery : 200gms
Mustard seeds: 1 tbsp.
Split urad dal: 1 tbsp.
Bengal gram dal: 1 tbsp.
Curry leaves: a few
Red chillies : 3-4
Turmeric powder: 2 tsp.
Salt to taste

Gingelly seeds (Til or Ellu): 2 tbsp. (optional)

Soak tamarind in warm water for ½ hour and extract thick juice and keep aside. Slice the ginger and green chillies into very small pieces. Heat oil in a wide bottomed, thick pan. When the oil starts smoking, reduce the heat and add mustard seeds. When they splutter, add urad dal, Bengal gram dal, broken red chillies and curry leaves (in that order). Increase the heat. When the dals turn light brown in colour, add the sliced green chillies, fry for 2 minutes and add the sliced ginger. Fry for another 2 minutes and pour the tamarind extract. Add turmeric powder, salt and jaggery and allow the mixture to boil to a thick consistency.(about ½ hour ) When the oil starts floating on the surface, remove from heat.

Dry roast the til seeds and powder finely. Add this powder to the prepared Puliinji.


This Puliinji is very versatile dish, as mentioned earlier. This can also be used for making Puliyodarai(a rice preparation). That will be my next post.

Recipe: Kalan update.

Next in the line of preparations ahead of Onam day, come Puliinji and Kalan. Both are prepared one or two days in advance. Preparation for Kalan begins atleast one week in advance, as the curds used must be sour. So, the left over curds of each day is kept separately for a few days, so that they will be sour by the time Kalan is prepared. A commenter on the earlier Kalan recipe post, had asked about curds separating while boiling it. The trick of curds not separating while boiling lies in using sour curds. Even in warm weather the curds do not go bad, the thick curds settles down and if there is any water content, it can be poured out. This thick sediment does not go stale, even for a week. In the olden days, when refrigerators were not around, gallons of curds were prepared and kept aside for preparation for Kalan for
big feasts like marriages. In colder weather, curds should necessarily be kept in room temperature at least for 3 - 4 days.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Recipe: Dhokla

If you are a bit more adventurous, you can try making

1 cup besan
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup butter milk
1 tsp rava
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp coconut(optional)
Salt to taste
Soda bi carb a pinch

Mix all the ingredients except lemon juice and butter milk thoroughly. Add the lemon juice. Add butter milk little at a time stirring the mixture constantly. Add enough butter milk to get a dosa batter consistency.

Grease a plate and pour the mixture and steam for 7 minutes. Heat 1 tsp of oil, add hing, mustard, 1 tsp green chillies 1 tsp of ginger. Before pouring it onto the dokla, add 1 tbsp of water and pour on dhokla. Cut the dhokla into squares


Recipe: Bondas

Continuing with the besan theme, once you've made the batter for the bonda you need to make:
The stuffing for bondas:

Bondas can be made with only mashed potatoes or mixed vegetables. Mashed tapioca can also be used. For mixed vegetable:

Potato 1
Carrot 1
Beans 4
Capsicum 1 small piece
Peas 1 tsp

Chopped Green chillies 1 tsp
Chopped Ginger tsp.
Oil 1tsp
Mustard ½ tsp
Turmeric powder ½ tsp
Lemon juice 1 tsp(optional)
Coriander leaves

Any or all of the above vegetables may be used. Cook the vegetables and mash them thoroughly. Heat 1 tsp oil, add mustard seed. When they splutter, add the green chillies, ginger and mashed vegetables, salt and turmeric powder. Mix well. Remove from stove. Add coriander leaves and lemon juice(this gives an extra tingling taste) Make small balls of the mixture, dip in the besan paste and deep fry.

If using only potatoes, mash boiled potatoes and follow the same method.

Recipe: What to do with Besan (continued)

Basically you can make bajjis and bondas with besan. You need a little cornflour or riceflour to get an extra crispiness. A little soda bi-carbonate(cooking soda) is also needed.This is available as a big pack in the US. See if you can get a 100gm pack in Indian stores. Or you can borrow 4 tbsp from a friend who cooks more regularly(this quantity will be good for ½ kg besan).

The besan paste for dipping bajjis and bondas is same, except that for bondas you make it a bit more thicker than bajjis.

Bajjis can be made with any vegetable, like, chillies, red pumpkin, vazhakkai (plantain), karela (bitter gourd), brinjal, Bangalore kathrikkai, potatoes, onions(slice onions in rounds) and capsicum (green peppers).

The Paste:

For 4 - 8 bajjis:

Besan : 3 tbsp.
Rice flour or cornflour : 2 tsp.
Soda bi carb a pinch
Salt to taste
Chilli powder 1 tsp(do not add chilli powder if you are making chilli bajjis :))

Mix all the dry ingredients well. Make a paste by adding water little at a time and stirring the mixture constantly. You will get a smooth paste. For bajjis it can be a little thicker than dosa batter. For bondas you make it as thick as idli batter. Slice the vegetables into thin rounds or long pieces, dip them in the paste and deep fry in very hot oil.

What to do with Besan

While we go on and on about Onam (many more to come), I'm taking a brief detour here to put up some recipes that involve besan (chick pea flour). My handsome and very charming son called me the other day and told me he had bought some besan to see what he could make with it. Only one problem: he had no idea what to make with it. So to satisfy his immediate issue, a couple recipes here that involve besan as a main component. Then back to Onam blogging.

Recipe: Nendrankai Peel Thoran

Next are the Nendrankai peels.

A thoran (porial) with Nendrankai peels is the most favoured item of many Keralites. Many people go to the chips shops to get the peels that the shops discard anyway. The peels thoran is very tasty and nutritious.


Nendrankai peels
Dry cowpeas 100gms
Coconut gratings 2 tbsp.
Green chillies 2 nos.
Curry leaves 1 sprig
Turmeric powder 1 tsp.
Cooking oil 2 tbsp.
Mustard seeds 1 tsp
Split urad dal 1 tsp.
Salt to taste

(In Kerala coconut oil is used, which renders a
special flavour to the curry}


Soak the cowpeas overnight. Drain the water Slit the nendrankai peels intothin strips lengthwise, about ½ cm wide. Then cut them into tiny pieces about ½ cm square. Pressure cook the cowpeas and peel pieces, with enough water for three whistles. Cool, remove and drain the excess water. Heat the oil, add the mustard seeds. When they start spluttering, add the urad dal. When the dal turn light pink in colour, add the curry leaves and the boiled vegetable and cowpeas. Add turmeric powder and salt and stir fry until all the water is evaporated and the vegetables get coated with the oil. Grind the coconut with green chillies and add to the vegetables and stir fry for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat.


More Onam recipes to follow

Recipe: Sweet Nendran Chips

Fresh green Nendran bananas 2 nos.
Jaggery 1 cup
Dry ginger powder 2 tsp.
Granulated sugar 1 tbsp.
Oil for frying

Peel the nendran bananas. Reserve the peels. Slit the banana lengthwise and slice into ¼" - 1/3" thick pieces. Heat the oil and fry the banana pieces to a light brown colour. Do not add salt. Drain and cool.

Grate the jaggery and boil in a cup of water. Strain to remove any impurities. Reheat the strained syrup to a thick consistency (2 or 3 threads. When a drop of the syrup is poured into cold water, the syrup should make a firm ball, like a marble) in a thick bottomed, non stick pan. Remove from heat, add the dry ginger powder and the fried chips. Stir constantly until the chips are well coated with the jaggery syrup. Add granulated sugar and continue stirring until the syrup is dry and the chips are separated from one another.

Having made the chips and stored, a big preparation for Onam is done.

Recipe: Salty Nendran Chips

Fresh green Nendran banana (not the ripe one) : 2 nos.
Salt ¾ tsp.
Oil to fry

Wash and pat dry the nendran bananas. Remove the skin by inserting the knife at the angles. Draw a line lengthwise along the angle with the knife about 0.1 to 0.2 inches deep. The skin will come off as one peel. (the peeled bananas may be put in a basin containing water to remove the staining secretion from the bananas). Don't throw away the peels! Slice the bananas thin into rounds or slit the banana into four and slice them into quarters. Dissolve the salt in ¼ cup of water. Heat oil to smoking point, reduce heat and deep fry the banana pieces in batches. When the chips are golden yellow in colour, reduce the heat, sprinkle 1 tbsp of salt solution into the oil. Fry for 2 more minutes. Drain. Spread on a paper towel to remove the extra oil. When cool, store in a tin with a tight lid.

1. Be careful, when sprinkling the salt solution into the hot oil. Take care not to burn your fingers due to the splashing oil . Keep the heat at the lowest so that the oil does not overflow.

2. Be careful not to get the secretion from the raw bananas onto your clothes. The clothes may get a black stain which will be very difficult to remove.

3. Apply little bit of cooking oil on the palms to avoid the fingers becoming black.

Onam Sadhya

Onam Sadhya or Onam lunch is the most important feature of Onam. As I said earlier there is a big spread of a variety of vegetable curries and pickles and payasams and deep fried snacks.

Preparations start days in advance, the first ones being Upperi varukkal or making chips.

Two types of chips are made during Onam, both with Nendran banana (a special kind of plantains), one salty and the other sweet.

These and more will be described in future posts.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Onam or Thiruvonam, as it is popularly known, is the most popular festival of Kerala. This festival is celebrated for 10 days, starting from Atham or Hastham. The tenth day after atham is Onam. Onam celebration continues for a couple of days more after Thiruvonam. It is celebrated in the Malayalam month of Chingam(between August 15 and September 15).

The legend is that long ago, an asura King by name Mahabali was ruling our country. Mahabali was the grandson of the great Prahlada. (Lord Vishnu had taken Narasimha avatara to prove to Prahalda's father that God is present everywhere and to slay the cruel king, who was torturing all those that worshipped the lord Mahavishnu). King Mahabali was a very kind and benevolent king who took care of his subjects very lovingly. During his rule, people were very happy and content. A popular Malayalam folk song says that during the rule of Mahabali, all people were alike(there was no discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or status), people did not have any fear of anything or anyone else, there was no cheating, no theft and not an iota of falsehood. The king became so popular that Gods in the heaven started fearing of their downfall. The Gods prayed to Lord Mahavishnu to arrest his rising popularity. Lord Mahavishnu took birth as the son of Aditi and Kasyapa, as Vamana(the dwarf). He visited Mahabali as a dwarf bramachari, when the king was performing a yagna. The charisma of the young boy was such that the king himself rose to welcome this unexpected guest and offered him a seat. The king asked Vamana what gift he wanted. Vamana humbly said, he wanted only three feet of land. The king urged him to ask for more expensive gifts, but Vamana did not want anything more than 3 feet of land. The king's guru, Sukracharya, with his divine sight at once knew the boy was no ordinary Brahmin and advised the king not to yield to the boys wish. The king did not want to go back on his promise and arranged for the ceremonial offering. Sukracharya hid himself in the nozzle of the king's water vessel, to block the water from the pot (During any ceremonial offering, as the offering is made to the receiver, water is poured on the hands of the receiver, as if to indicate the giver is washing off his right of the gift). Vamana poked a stick to remove the block and Sukracharya was blinded in one eye. As soon as the ceremonial offering was made by the King, Vamana's stature grew and with his one step he measured the whole earth and the sky, with the second one he measured the Patlaloka and he asked the king, where to measure his third step. The humbled king, who by now realised his guest was none other than the Lord, knelt before Vamana bowing his head and requested the Lord to put his third step on his head, for who can be more blessed to have the Lord's foot on his head. With his third step Vamana pushed Mahabali to Pathalaloka, but before going down to Pathalaloka, the benevolent king asked for a wish. His wish was that he should be permitted to visit his subjects once a year. The wish was granted and it is on Thiruvonam day, every year that the good king visits his subjects. That is why, the whole of Kerala make preparations well ahead of Thiruvonam to welcome their good old king, in all pomp and gaiety and make their homes as joyful as they were during Mahabali's rule. They decorate their houses and prepare grand feasts. There is a saying in Malayalam "Kaanam vittum Onam Unnanum"(One has to celebrate Onam, even if he has to sell his agricultural land).

This festival is celebrated by all Malayalees across the board. People of all religions celebrate Onam. It is the harvest festival of Kerala. After the Kallakarkitakam(the worst month of monsoon furies) the whole of Kerala is full of blossoms of all kinds to welcome Ponnin Chingam(golden Chingam), The preparations for Onam begins much earlier to Atham. As Kerala's farmers harvest their first crop, they offer it to God, which is known as Illam Nira. Few sheaves of the harvested crops are taken to the temple by all. After the Pooja, the sheaves are broght back home as the "prasad" to the accompaniment of chorus of Nira, Nira, Nirayo Nira, Illam Nira, Vallam Nira, Nira Nira Poli Poli(Let there be bountiful everywhere, at home, in the granary, everywhere). One or two sheaves is pasted in all rooms and the remaining sheaves are hung as a bunch in the centre hall of the house.

During this month there is a bountiful harvest of all vegetables and Kerala's own Nendran banana and the landscape is strewn with flowers of all colours and sizes.

Starting from Atham day, girls and womenfolk decorate their front yard with fresh flowers, known as Pookalam. The sumptuous Onasadhya or Onam lunch is the most important feature of Onam. A grand lunch is prepared on Onam day, which includes rice as the main course, with varieties of vegetable curries. Some of the vegetable specialitiesprepared on Onam day are, Sambar, Kalan, Olan, Aviyal, Thoran (Nendrankai peel thoran), Erisssery, Pulissery, Kichadi, Pachadi, Kootukari, Puliinji and Narangacurry. Along with these vegetable preparations, Valiya pappadam(big papad), banana chips(salty as well as sweet), and Pazha Nurukku are also served. The dessert comprises two or more varieties of Payasams like Ada Pradhaman, Parippu Pradhaman or Chakka Pradhaman or Pal Payasam. (I shall try to give the recipes for the above later).

After the Onam lunch, the womenfolk get together and sing and dance, which is known as Kaikottikali or Thirvathirakali. The menfolk used to engage in Villupattu an instrumental music played on the bows made of wood.

In the southern parts of Kerala, which are lined with back waters and rivers, boat racing is conducted during Onam.

It is a major festival in many of the temples and there are many legends for the various celebrations in the different temples.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Pilgrimage to Dwaraka and Somnath

We (Amma, Vichuathan, Suguna Akka, Maniathan (v.athan's cousin), his wife and I) just got back after a pilgrimage to Dwaraka and Somnath in Gujarat. We had a nice and comfortable and enjoyable trip. The weather particularly was very nice, no rains at all to drench us, no floods to block the roads, just warm and nice and sunny and never hot. The stay was comfortable too. We had good darshan of Lord Dwarakadish, Nageshwar and Somnath.

We left Bombay on the 18th evening by train and reached Dwaraka on the 19th by 3.30pm. We had darshan of Dwarakadish and some more temples and places of interest on that day. On the 20th we went on a conducted tour to Nageshwar in Darukavan (one of the jyothirlingas in Gujarat).This place was a big forest until a few years ago and a new temple has been constructed around the jyothirlinga by Gulshan Kumar of T series fame. There is also a big statue of Siva outside the temple, just like the one we have in Bangalore outside Kempfort on Airport road.

After Darukavan, we visited Gopitalab, where the 16108 gopikas are said to have turned into mud. The sedimentary mud of this tank is used as Gopichandan (which is worn on the forehead).

Next was Bet Dwaraka, which is an island in the Arabian Sea. This is the place where Sudhama met Lord Krishna with avil at his wife's insistence. We reach this place by a mechanized boat. This was the place where Lord Krishna lived. The one which we visited the previous day was his administrative block.

From Bet Dwaraka, we went to Rukmini temple, which was inside a forest, all of which has been cleared now and a temple built. This was the place where Devi Rukmini spent 12 years in isolation due to the curse of Rishi Durvasa.

The next in our itinerary was Somnath. As there were only two buses to Somnath from Dwaraka (which offers a tour of places of importance enroute) at 7.30 and 2.30 pm and the bus which leaves at 2.30 reaches Somanth at 10.30 pm, we decided to spend that evening in Dwaraka and take the bus which leaves at 7.30 am the next day.

The evening was spent in walking around River Gomti behind Dwarkadish temple, where the river meets the Arabian Sea and visiting the temple once again.

On the 21st morning, we left by the 7.30am bus, which left at 8 am. The first stop was at Harshad Matha temple. The Devi here is said to be Varadayini. From there we went to Mooldwarka, which was where Krishna had his residence when he ran away from Mathura with his clan. Later on he shifted to Bet dwarka.
After Mooldwaraka, we stopped at Porbandar to see Sudhama's hut turned palace due to Krishna's blessings. Porbandar is also the birth place of Gandhiji. They also have a big ship breaking yard in Porbandar.

We reached Somnath at 3.30pm and checked into a guest house. After a late lunch and bath we left to go around Somnath. First was the floating lingam in the Arabian sea (Somnath is another jyotirlinga in Gujarat. Somnath is historically very important. This is the place Mohammad Gazni invaded 17 times and destroyed the temple and cut the lingam into pieces and threw in the sea. The pieces that were thrown into the sea grew into full lingams and are still floating in the sea. The local Brahmins brought some pieces and hid them. Later on Ahalyabai Holkar built a temple near the seashore which is the Prachin Somnath temple. Another new temple has been built by the sea shore, which is a national monument.

The place where Lord Krishna was shot by a hunter has been made into a monument. After being shot by the hunter Lord Krishna does Swargarohan at Triveni Sangam, at the confluence of Harini, Kapila and Saraswathi rivers. There is also a cave here, which is said to be the point from where Lord Balrama, the incarnation of Adisesha, returned to his abode at Patalloka.

After these places, we went to the Prachin temple built by Ahalyabai and then to the new temple at the shores of the Arabian Sea. The view of the sea from the precincts of the temple is just beautiful. Just sitting there and watching the sea is BLISS.

On the morning of 22nd, we had a quick darshan of Lord Somnath at the Prachin and new temple and did pooja and abhishek and started on our return journey. We were taking the train from Rajkot, some 350kms away from Somnath. We rented a Tata Sumo, so that we could see some more places en route. We drove thru the famous Gir forest area. We had a short stop at Junagadh, where a lion sanctuary is located. We didn't go inside, as we did not have time. We went to visit the Samadhi of Jalram Bapa, who was a great saint of Maharashtra, where free Prasad is distributed to all visitors. After partaking the Prasad (our lunch), we drove straight to Rajkot station, half an hour before the expected arrival of the train. The train was 15mnts late and we reached Borivili station at 4.45 am.

Krishnamurthy and Srivaths were there to receive us at the station.

Vichu athan had painstakingly taken care of all aspects of the tour schedule to get maximum advantage in the given time to see as many places of interest as possible, at the same time giving enough time for rest and relaxation, so that at the end of the 4 days trip we are least tired. Suguna Akka was always with Vichu Athan in taking care of our comforts at all stages. Along with Mani Athan and Rajam Akka, we had a great time all through.

Details of each visit will follow.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Trip to Bhutan

We got the rare opportunity of visiting Bhutan, the Himalayan Kingdom, and the friendly neighbour of India. It was an exhilarating and relaxing trip up and down the mountains and valleys, along the banks of rivers and greeneries as far as eyes could see. Often times we were literally on cloud nine, with the clouds enveloping us completely for miles together.

To reach Bhutan, one can fly from either Calcutta or New Delhi by Royal Bhutan airways to Paro, the only airport in this Himalayan Kingdom. Or one can travel by land through winding mountain roads, from the border town of Jai Gaon on the Indian side and Phuentsholing on the Bhutan side. The towns appear to be part one town just separated by an arch with Royal Bhutan security personnel guarding and regulating the traffic. The people in both the towns are allowed free access to the towns on either side. I was told that this was to allow free trade. While we could not see any check post and immigration control on the Indian side there is immigration control on the Bhutanese side 4-5 kms along the road inside. The roads from this border town winds up and down the mountains, courtesy Border Road Organisation of India, Dantak.

To reach Phuentsholing, again one can fly to Bagdogra and travel by road, or fly to Calcutta, Guwahati or New Delhi and travel by rail/road. This is the entry point in the Western Bhutan.

We decided to travel by air to Delhi and by train to New Aliporeduar, in West Bengal on the North East Rly., the nearest point to Phuentsholing, about 60 kms away. We travelled by North east express, leaving New Delhi at 6.30 am on the 5th of June. The train passes through UP, Bihar and West Bengal. The fun starts from the morning of 6th, when the train enters the picturesque West Bengal towns. The scenario changes to one of greenery all around with rivers and mist clad landscapes. The New Jaipalguri station, where one alights to go to Darjeeling is only 2 hrs away from New Aliporeduar. The train reached New Aliporeduar station at 12.15 pm and a friend of our son Manoj had come to receive us there. New Aliporeduar is a small place, from where we had to drive for an hour and a half to reach the friend's, place. His family was on vacation. After freshening up, his neighbours (an old couple from Kerala) treated us for a typical Kerala lunch and entertained us till the evening. The couple were so happy to see Malayalam speaking people that they took a promise from us to visit them on our return journey also.

Around 6 pm we left for the border town of Phuentsholing, which is on the foothills of the majestic Himalayas. India and Bhutan have an open border there with only an arch separating the two countries. The Indian part of this town is known as Jaigaon. As soon as you enter this town you can feel the difference between the crowded Jaigaon and the quiet Phuentsholing. We rested in Phuentsholing that night. Phuentsholing was warm and humid, just like any other Indian city in summer.

The next morning on the 7th of June, we started at 8.30am by a Maruti van up the mountains of Bhutan, a distance of 170 kms, to the capital town of Thimphu. The weather starts getting colder as we climb the mountains. We travelled the distance in about 7 hours. Around 10.30 am we had a stop at Dantak Coffee shop for some refreshments. The refreshments here are very reasonably priced. The masala dosa and vada were cheaper than in Delhi. The next stop was for lunch, about midway, around 12.30 pm. It was at a place on a hill top with a nice view. The lunch was a simple affair. Here we were told that due to road widening work en route, a certain section of the road to Thimphu would be closed from 2 pm to 5 pm. The point was just about 25 kms from Thimphu. Despite the best efforts of the driver we could reach this point only after they closed it. It was quite warm at that time there. The kind officer let us pass, along with a member of the royal family, after we had waited for about an hour. We reached Thimphu around 4.30pm and we had a good cottage to stay with A/c and heater. After relaxing for a while, we set out to see some of the town but it started raining. As it was getting dark and we had no knowledge of the Bhutanese weather we thought it wise to cancel our programme. We had not carried an umbrella either. It starts pouring at will in Bhutan.

One nice aspect of the trip was that at all the places many Indian TV channels could be viewed including Asianet and Sun.

The next morning, after breakfast, we went out to the town, which is something like the M.G.Road of Bangalore of the '70s. New shops are coming up. Most of the merchandise is from India. After lunch we set out to see more of Thimphu. We went up the highest point in Thimpu, from where one can have a bird's eye view of Thimphu, the palace, the Thimphuchu (Thimphu river) and all the small stupas. It was quite a climb to the top of the hill. On our way back, we stopped at the Takin reserve. Takin is the national animal of Bhutan. Here again we were drenched to our skin.

From the Takin reserve, we went down to see the palace. We were told we could get permission to go in, but we had to be satisfied by seeing it from the outside. The Palace complex has all the Govt. offices in it. The king and family live at a different place away from this palace. The Thimpu Chu flows by the side of the palace.

After the palace, we drove through the town, and did some window shopping. Most of the merchandise on sale were made in India. The shop keepers were quite cool and really could not be bothered by a bunch of shoppers. If the shoppers wanted something, they better show some initiative in making the shopkeeper show the merchandise. Since we couldn't find anything originally Bhutanese, we returned to our cottage. After freshening up we went to see the Chorten which is sort of a temple (which is actually a memorial). We found many people, young and old doing the perambulations in the temple, (we could not find any deity) fervently chanting their prayers on their rosaries. Here we could also find the prayer wheels, on which many prayers are written. By rotating the prayer wheels, one is supposed to have said all the prayers written in them. I remembered my school days, when I had learnt about these prayer wheels and how we wished we had wheels like these, so that we did not have to sit and say all the prayers.

Throughout Bhutan, Chortens or Stupas line the roadside, and prayer flags dot the hills, fluttering in the wind. They allow the people to maintain constant communication with the heavens.

The first day in Bhutan sight seeing came to an end with the visit to the chorten. We went back and had our dinner and went to bed early as we had to leave very early the next morning to another place called Haa.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Where is our value system

There were 9 reported suicide cases, all students in the age group of 17 -18, with more than dozen students undergoing treatment in various hospitals, under critical care, in the last two days. The reason: results of 12th standard and PUC were announced, in all states of the country. These numbers reported, however, are solely for Bangalore, based on the reports of a couple of English newspapers. There could be similar cases in other towns and districts. There was a reported case of a brilliant girl from a reputed school committing suicide on the eve of the results, fearing failure. Sadly, when the results were announced, the girl had passed with distinction. The other cases reported were either students who could not pass the exam or who got a much lower percentage of marks than expected and so on. One case needs special mention - that of a child who reportedly committed suicide because there was no power supply in the area on the night prior to the examinations due to heavy rains and winds.

Most of these are children of educated parents, studying in reputed schools, though there are children from the lower rank of the society also, in this list. Surprisingly the cases in the lower strata of society are very few. Does it ring a bell? What have the children learnt all through their learning years in school as well as at home? Who has failed in teaching the children that passing the 12th standard exam with a good percentage is not the only sole purpose/achievement in life? There is much more to life than passing this, as one counsellor was mentioning in a TV program - a test lasting about three hours to test hard labour put in during the past twelve years. If they were so frustrated in not getting through the exam, why did they not prepare well for their exams well in advance? By their cowardly act, who has gained anything? If they thought that they were disappointing their parents by not securing good marks in their exams, how have they fulfilled their duty as a son/daughter by committing suicide, thus plunging them into irrecoverable sorrow and guilt? What would be the life of the parents hereafter?

Or are the parents to be blamed for not inculcating a sportsmanship in their children, in not nurturing a value system in them to face disappointments in life with equanimity, or as a necessary evil. Are they putting too much pressure on their children in achieving something they are not capable of? Are they trying to achieve through their children what they themselves could not achieve due to various reasons? Towards achieving these goals, what are their inputs? Do they sit with their children and find out about their day to day activities in school and outside? Do they advise them about how work towards their goal? Do they provide a congenial atmosphere at home for their kids to prepare for their exams?

What is the role of school in putting the children through so much stress to perform better and better? All schools want to advertise their centum pass percentage with equal percentage of distinctions. All schools want their students to be on the rank list. They compete with one another in putting the photograph of the children who secured distinction/above 90% etc in the newspapers. Do they provide any counselling to their wards how to approach the examinations and how to prepare for them systematically? Do they have close interactions with the parents of their students and are they able to discuss with them the position of their students in the class? Is their responsibility only to reprimand the student sternly if he/she does not perform well?

Generally speaking, the blame could rest on all. The children of present day have clear ideas about what they want to become when they grow up, from a very early age, or so they feel. It all comes from listening to their parent's views about what they (parents) want their children to become when they grow up. For example, a little girl I know was saying at the age of 6 that she wanted to become an IAS officer, when she grew up. At that age, she did not even know what the role of an IAS officer was nor did she know what educational qualifications were needed to become an IAS Officer. It was only because her father was a secretary to a lady IAS officer and when he came home from office, he used to tell his little daughter, "You should become an IAS officer when you grow up." Thankfully, she has outgrown her childish ambition and is now pursuing a totally different academic field.

It is good to instil aims and ambitions in young minds, at the same time, the parents should also be willing to spare time and energy in helping them to achieve their dreams, by giving them proper directions in systematic study plan and choice of subjects for study and providing them a proper atmosphere to prepare for the examinations and also nurturing their mental strength to work for their ambitions and take failures as stepping stones and not tomb stones.

What is generally found in today's urban India is a set of people all with high career aspirations to reach the topmost step in the ladder of success in society with no proper directions to reach there. They are a harried lot rushing from one thing to another from dawn to dusk with no time for the family. The only have enough time to tell their kids which moon to shoot for, not how to actually do it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Recipe: Kalan

Sometime ago, I had written up the recipe for Rasakalan. Kalan is a more popular version of the curd (yoghurt) based dish, which is a must for Onam and other big occasions. This is also called "Kurukku kalan" as it is prepared by thickening (kurukking) beaten curds by boiling.

Raw banana(the kerala nendran banana is the best if available)1 no.
Chena(jameen kand/karunaikizhangu/suvarne gadde)200gms.
Beaten, thick sour curds6 cups
Turmeric powder2 tsp.
Pepper powder1 tbsp.
Salt to taste
Coconut1 cup
Green chillies6 nos.
Curry leaves2 sprigs
Methi seeds1 tsp.
Mustard seeds1 tbsp.
Red chillies3 nos.
Oil for garnish(In Kerala, coconut oil is used for garnishing, which imparts a special flavour to the dish)


Wash and cut the vegetables into 2" square pieces. They should be thick. Cook the vegetables, in just enough water, adding turmeric powder, pepper powder and salt(this could done in a pressure cooker).

Transfer the cooked vegetables to a wide mouthed thick bottomed heavy pan, and add the beaten sour curds and boil, stirring occasionally, until the gravy is thickened to a semi solid consistency.Remove from stove. Add a sprig of curry leaves.

Fry the methi seeds to a golden brown in a drop of oil and grind to a fine powder and add to the gravy.

Heat oil in a pan. When it smokes add, the mustard seeds. When the mustard splutters, add the red chillies broken into halves and curry leaves and add to the gravy.

(The Kurukku kalan is usually prepared up to this stage and stored . It will keep good upto 1 month even under room temperature. Whenever needed, ground coconut and green chillies is mixed and used.)

Grind the coconut and green chillies to a thick paste, adding curds, if necessary. Do not add water while grinding. Mix to the thickened gravy.

Enjoy with boiled rice or chappathi or Poori.

This is the kurukku kalan.

Update: Based on a comment left here, I've posted an addendum up top along with my other Onam related posts.