Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Recipe: Vadam

It was good that I got into vadam making in full swing the last couple of weeks. Last weekend, the clouds suddenly started to gather and the temperature came down. We started getting light drizzles towards the evenings and the days were not fiercely hot any more. Typical Bangalore weather had arrived in Hyderabad. It remains cool till date. We also made a trip to Golconda fort in the fine drizzle and enjoyed the first rainbow of the year from atop the Golconda Fort. Here it is.

Now to the recipes. We shall start with elai vadam. Elai vadam as I said earlier is so named because it used to be made on the leaves of Palasha leaves. These days, we have this contraption.

Making elai vadam was a big project in our childhood days; it is so even today for different reasons. The day was usually fixed for a weekend so that all the children would be home to lend a helping hand, and Manian the cowherd was asked to bring the leaves, the maid was ordered to pound the rice in the stone mortar and pestle. And how much rice did we need each time? As much as 3 to 4 kgs. Yes, that was the quantity of vadams that were made at each sitting (not each season). We would repeat this vadam making process some 3-4 times. Remember that during the summer vacation, our house would be bursting with the children and grandchildren of our grandparents and there would be days when we may have to fry not less than 100 vadams only for the members of the family. That meant that we had to have a great many vadams dried and ready in time for summer. The rice was mixed with water into a thick batter and kept in a cool place. Vadam batter should not get fermented. A day before, Echiyamma would inform Singari mami or Chelli mami or Ponnu that we were planning to make vadam on the next day. The leaves would be washed and dried with a cloth and kept under some weights to keep them straight. The next morning, my echiyamma would wake up earlier than usual say at 4 am and wake up her daughters-in-law also, so that all other kitchen activities would be finished by 7.30am (including preparation of lunch). Now we would all sit at the allocated places in the assembly line. This was a project that could take in as many as were available on hand. The whole process had to follow a streamlined program to achieve optimum result.
Accordingly 2 people would be wiping the leaves with a cloth dipped in a mixture of oil and water, the next people on the line would spread the batter on the leaves (writing the vadam it was called), the next would arrange them on the idli plate and hand them over to the person sitting near the large fire wood stove with a huge steamer (this would be a large utensil called arikanchatti on which huge idli plates would be kept). The arikanchatti would be half filled with water and some hay would be put in the water so that the idli plate would sit tight on the water. The whole thing was covered with a huge lid with the idli plate inside the steamer. After the vadams were cooked by steaming, they were taken out and the next batch would go in for steaming. Now another set of people would peel off the cooked vadams from the leaves and spread them on the back of a new bamboo sieve. Up to this point, the job needs skilled labour. Now comes the turn of little children, who would take the bamboo sieves with vadams to the next room and transfer these vadams onto mats. The leaves from which vadams were removed would again go to the first set of people to be cleaned and then written in and then steamed. After an hour or so the vadams would to go to courtyard to be dried in the sun. More people needed now to mind the crows as well. Of course we would always have children from the neighbourhood to help around. This process would go on for 3 -4 hours. At the end came the most interesting part. The last batch would be thickly written vadams which would be eaten raw with a smearing of raw coconut oil on them. This was a delicacy nobody wanted to miss. Even when Singari mami or Chelli mami made vadams, they would keep the thick raw vadams for us to eat. And my friend Subbammal's mother, Kanakam mami would always keep raw vadams for me to eat on my way to school.

As I said, these days the process has been simplified by the vadam stand. Yet you need at least two persons to make vadam. One to stand near the stove and write on the plate and steam and another to remove the steamed vadams and transfer them to a cloth or plastic sheet.

We usually make vadams in the evenings these days and allow them to dry under the fan in the night and in the sun the next day to avoid running between the kitchen and terrace. By morning they will have dried to a level of not sticking to each other and it is easier to carry them to the sunny part of the house.

Now, on to the actual recipe.

Though many people get the rice powdered in the flour mill, I prefer to grind the rice in the mixer or grinder to get the right taste and color.


Raw rice: 1 cup
Gingelly seeds: 2 tsp.
Gingelly oil 2 tsp.
Salt to taste


Wash and soak the rice in water for 3 hours. Grind with enough salt to form a thick batter. This batter needs to be refrigerated if the vadams are to be made the next day. The tin plates are to be wiped with a cloth dipped in a mixture of gingelly oil and water; just a few drops of oil in a cup of water. This is to lubricate the surface so that the vadams would peel off easily after steaming. The batter is thinned with enough water to a consistency that allows it to be spread evenly and not flow off the plate. Add the gingelly seeds and gingelly oil to the batter and mix thoroughly. Ladle a small spoonful of batter on to the plate and spread it evenly. Arrange the plates on the stand and steam for 2-3 minutes. Remove and spread on a clean cloth. Repeat the process.

This quantity of rice makes 20-30 vadams, depending on the size.

Dry the vadams in the sun for a day. They will be ready to be fried in the evening. These vadams will keep good upto 2 years.


Wipe the plates with the oil-water mixture every now and then.
Add ¼ cup of water to the steamer each time a new batch is put in.
If possible have the stove at a level where you can comfortably sit and work if making large quantity.

Turn the vadams after 1 or 2 hrs initially so that they do not stick to the cloth

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cut and Dried

Well it has been a long time since my last post, once again with good reason. Most of the time in the past fortnight was spent remembering Manni in each and every small thing I did. Every time I did something, I was reminded of similar occasions during the time spent with Manni and tell my husband about that. It is really surprising how we remember somebody more when they are no longer with us. I definitely did not reminisce about Manni everyday in the past so many years.

As I said, after Sivarathri the winter goes away chanting Siva Siva. This also means that it is time to start making all the sun dried vadams and vattals (wafers and dried vegetables), pickles, etc. It is the time of the year when women get busy replenishing their inventory of vadams for the whole year and the children were made busy helping their mothers. Now many people are happy buying these things at stores and children may not even know they can be home made. When we were children, March was the month of hectic activity making vadams, pickles, processing tamarind and toor dal, etc in addition to our annual exams at school. The vadam making had to be over before Vishu (14th April) when the premonsoon showers begin. Vadam making was a big festival then. All the households were engaged in these activities and would help each other in the process of making vadams. Children had the double responsibility of helping in the kitchen as well as minding the vadams when they were put out in the sun for drying. There were crows and stray dogs, besides passers by and children (whom we referred to us human crows), who would grab the vadams by 3s and 4s. We used to take turns minding the crows. I remember my brother coming into the house crying once and when asked why he was crying, he said, "I was made to sit there for 2 hours minding the crows and not a single crow came."

There were different varieties of vadams. Elai vadams, karuvadams, javvvarisi (sagopalm) karuvadams , vazhathandu (banana stem) karuvadams and perandai (Vitis Quadrangularis). In our house we made only elai vadams and karuvadams which were easier than the other vadams or so our Echiyamma thought.

The elai vadams as the name says were made on the leaves of Palasha tree (flame of the forest, Buteamonosperma). Preparing the leaves for making the vadams was itself a big process. The village cowherd would bring the leaves to all the houses from the forest. We had to select big round leaves without any holes, wash them and stack them in 10s or 20s and keep a weight on them to straighten them. This had to be done the previous evening. The next day we had to wipe the leaves with a cloth dipped in a mixture of oil and water and then start preparing the vadams. This was how it was done until I was in my teens. Then came a new way of making them by completely eliminating the use of leaves and our drudgery. There was this new contraption somebody's daughter brought from Bombay which consisted of a stand with racks for 6 plates made of tin. Our jack of all trades Muthu immediately got into the business of making dozens and dozens of them for all those who wanted. We just had to give him a used oil tin or something and he will make the vadam plates and stand. It revolutionised vadam making. To this day, we use this contraption.

Karuvadams were made by pressing the cooked rice flour and drying them.

This also is the season of preparing kadugumanga or vadumanga (Tamil) which again is a time consuming process. This is also the time when tamarind is processed. This takes days and days. The tamarind had to be shelled and dried and the seeds removed and the dried tamarind preserved in earthenware pots or ceramic jars with a sprinkling of salt.

Toor pods were shelled and the seeds were soaked in a mixture of clay and water for a couple of days until the grams sprouted. They were then sun dried when the mud sticking to the grams would dry and fall off and the grams were lighly pounded to remove the husk and toor dal for the whole year was made and stored.

Well, I did many of the above jobs in the last few days besides celebrating Karadayan Nonbu and my first born's birthday. More importantly I filmed all the above so that I can share with you all my recipes for the above. Fully justified in not blogging, don't you think?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In Memory of Manni

I have been planning to write this piece for the past four days, ever since my periamma (wife of my father’s elder brother), whom we affectionately called manni, passed away. She was one of the women I admire most. She was a big presence in our family and it will take many days and many many words to write everything that has been rushing through my mind ever since I heard about her sad demise. Manni was how all of us, including her own children addressed her. Manni means wife of elder brother (Bhabhi) in Tambram lingua. She was the eldest daughter in law of my grandparents; eldest manni for their the younger five children. She also fit the role the best.
Being married into a large family as the eldest daughter in law at the age of ten or twelve, life could not have been very easy, especially some 70 years ago. She had to shoulder many responsibilities: many of her husband’s younger siblings were her own age and, as custom demanded then, she had to take on the role of their mother.
Manni had a strong opinion on everything. She was passionate about everything around her, whether it was expressing affection towards her children or expressing her disapproval of the events around her. Everything about her was BIG; we also lovingly referred to her as BM (big manni or big mother). She was very frank and forthright in her opinions. She did not mince words in expressing her approval or disapproval to anyone. Not even to her in-laws. All said and done everyone looked up to her for guidance in all matters. She commanded great respect.
In those days when expressing affection towards one’s own children was not the accepted norm, she always explicitly showered affection on her children. She herself had only received a primary school education but when it came to her daughters she sent them to an English medium convent and was very proud of her daughters chattering in English.
She lived in a city that had a large teaching hospital, which meant that anybody in the state who had to undergo a major procedure would come there. Of course, she would visit them all and take good care of them as much as she could. But on these many occasions, she would never stop admiring the young doctors with a white coat and stethoscope around their necks on their rounds. It was her dream to have one of her children sent to medical school. Unfortunately for her, although they all became prominent experts in different fields, none of them went to medical school. As a result, she was very proud of my handsome and charming son when he became the first one from the extended family to become a doctor.
I remember the first time she met my son after he had achieved the oh-so-desirable-title. We had gone to Delhi to attend the wedding of my niece. At the time, Manni was staying in Delhi with one of her sons. As instructed by my astute and blessed mother in law, my husband and I went to invite Manni personally and she, of course, right away asked me about my sons. I told her they were yet to arrive in Delhi and that I would send them over to her as soon as they arrived. They went to meet her upon arrival and promptly hit it off very well. My sons came back and said, “Wow, your periamma is very cool.” She came for the marriage reception next day and was sitting with my mother in law. My son was serving snacks to my mother in law who could not walk up to the dining hall. Manni called me and said, in my son’s presence, “Your mother in law must have done great punya to have been blessed with such doting grandsons.” To which my son promptly replied, “It is we who are blessed, to have a patti like this. What sacrifices she has done to take care of us when we were young. Nothing will compensate her sacrifice.” Manni was still happier to see such young boys admiring their grandmother. She would repeat this incident to me every time I met her since. “You are really lucky to have such wonderful sons,” she told me. She couldn’t stop at that. “And yet I like your elder boy more,” she told me, “You know why? Because he is a doctor.” Her dream of seeing a child of hers as a doctor was fulfilled in seeing a grandchild of the family becoming one.
Manni loved and lived life to its fullest. She loved good food, good jewellery, expensive sarees, loved to attend social functions and would have her presence felt in any event she attended. She had a very commanding presence. She liked all her children (when I say children, it included all the children in the extended family especially us as we all grew up in the same house) to dress up in good clothes and good jewellery. It was her constant complaint against me that I would not dress up in the latest trends. She could never understand why I wouldn’t buy expensive silk sarees or diamonds or dye my hair as per the latest trends. She never tired of asking me, “Why are you not dyeing your hair? All your sisters in law are dyeing theirs”. “Why don’t you buy some diamonds? See, your sister in law has bought a diamond necklace”. The last time I met her she even asked my husband, “Mapile (son-in-law), why don’t you buy her a diamond set?” To which my husband replied, “I have never said no to her. She is free to buy whatever she wants.” Such was her passion for good things in life and also affection towards her children.
In the last two years of her life she became immobile due to a fracture from which she never fully recovered. We had gone to meet her at this time when she was staying with her eldest son. We were all discussing how she must put in more effort and try to do the exercises prescribed by the physiotherapist and start walking. She said that try as she might, she was unable to even stand. She asked my son, the doctor, when he would be getting married to which he replied, “As soon as you start walking, I shall get married.” After about six months, when my mother and brother went to meet her, she had my brother call me on his mobile and said, “Adiye (hey girl), tell your son that I have started walking. Now he must keep his word and get married. If you perform the marriage in Madras, I will attend the marriage even if I have to walk with the help of a walking stick. Tell him.” Such was her affection even towards her brother-in-law’s grandson.
She had strong will power and great presence of mind. When my Periappa (her husband) had a stroke at the age of 80 she was all alone, her children being at different cities and a couple of them outside the country also. His brother and family living in the same city had also gone out of town to attend a family function. My periappa died within two days, by which time one of her sons had reached home. My brother and I went from Bangalore for the funeral and stayed back until the other family members like my parents and uncle arrived so that she would have company. Her other children arrived in the following days. I asked her then, how she managed the situation when periappa had a stroke and she was all alone. She said, “I called your periappa’s cousin, and told her, ‘Vijayam, your athan (cousin) is very unwell and needs hospitalisation. I am all alone. Come and help me take him to the hospital.’ She immediately came with her husband and helped me take him to the hospital and also informed my son who had already left and was sitting in the train. The message was flashed to him to get out of the train and fly. He got here in the evening. We were all getting ready to leave the hospital the next day, when your periappa had another attack from which he did not recover. I always tell myself in my prayers, ‘it is not because our children don’t want to be with us to take care of us in our old age; it is for their livelihood that they are in different places. Please give them a good life.’” I just couldn’t imagine how she could act so wisely and with such clear presence of mind in her situation. Immediately after the funeral she got herself busy preparing the house for the other rituals to be performed, keeping aside her grief and loss.
It was fitting that she passed away on International Women’s day. She never waited for anyone to grant her empowerment; she took it for herself as a matter of right. If she were to be born a few decades later, she would definitely have become somebody of much greater acclaim.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Important festivals in March 2009

10th March 2009 - Maasi Pournami (all Maasi Pournami related posts)
The full moon day in each Tamil month falls on a different star or nakshatra and that day is generally known by the name of the star. In the month of Thai (January-February) it falls on Poosam nakshatram and hence known as Thai Poosam. In the following month, Maasi (February-March) it falls on the Makam nakshatram and known as Maasi Makam, though in our parts it is more popularly known as Maasi Pournami. Offering of Payasam to Lord Siva after the moon rises and distributing the payasam to children are the important rituals of the day.

14th March 2009 - Karadayan Nonbu (2008, 2007, all Nonbu related posts)
As I had written earlier, this particular pooja is offered at the time of the birth of the new month Panguni (Meena) which varies every year. This year the Sankramanam (time of birth of the new month) is at 2.54 pm and hence pooja and neyvedyam to be offered at that time. Neyvedyam - Adai

27th March 2009 - Ugadi
Ugadi is the new year day for Telugus as well as Kannadigas

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Recipe: Cucumber Dosa

Dosa is dosai to the Tambrams. Sweet Dosai was an integral part of our Sivarathri festival. As the full fast on Sivarathri day meant abstinence from salt, people ate vella dosai (sweet dosa) and paruppu kanji after offering pooja in the evening to break the fast. The conventional Vella dosas are prepared from wheat flour and jaggery, the recipe for which I shall post later. As my (handsome and charming) son has developed gluten allergy, this Sivarathri I made a gluten free vella dosa.

To all of us who thought cucumbers are only for salads, it would come as a surprise that you can make yummy breakfast spreads also with cucumber. I know many people who cook cucumber into Majjige huli (morekozhambu) and Kootu. It also makes an excellent cooling drink for the summer months.

This vella dosa is made from cool cucumber, rice, coconut and jaggery and is a Mangalorean dish.Most of us have had cucumber only in salads and hence this sure is a different way of having that cool vegetable. I had only heard about them from some of my Mangalore acquaintances and hence the recipe is my own. This recipe will give a nice, soft and yummy vella dosa, though I cannot vouch for the originality of the recipe. Perhaps the original version is different.

Cucumber 1 (medium size) about 250gms.
Rice: 1 cup
Jaggery: 2 tbsp.
Grated coconut: 2 tbsp.
Salt a pinch
Oil to fry the dosa


Wash and soak the rice in just enough water to wet the rice. Wash and grate the cucumber. Mix the grated cucumber with the soaked rice (cucumber juice will ooze out of grated cucumber and soak the rice well) and allow to soak for 3 hours. Grind the soaked rice, grated cucumber and all the other ingredients, except the oil, to a smooth batter.

Make dosas immediately. You need to use very little oil if using a non-stick tava. The vella dosa tastes yummy with a dollop of butter on top.