Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Vishu Ramblings

I had a whirlwind trip to Bangalore over Vishu and as has been happening ever since I started spending more time in Hyderabad, this trip was also very hectic with too much fitted into each day. At the end I was able to finish most of the errands, chores and visits on my schedule and shelved the rest for the next time. More importantly, I was able to meet some old friends (literally) who were living alone and who were really pleased to meet me. I cannot forget what Mrs. Thomas told me when she saw me at her door.”Nobody visits me anymore and hence I was surprised to hear the door bell ringing. I just spend my days all alone moving from one room to another. I am not able to do any cooking also. I get everything from outside” she said. I was glad I made it to meet her.

What was special for Vishu? Well, we had the Kani. For the first time in all these years, I did not cook a Vishu lunch. My brother had invited us for lunch at his place along with my other siblings as he was turning 50 on that day. So I prepared Paladai Pradhaman (Recipe soon) and took it along. We had a sumptuous lunch of Manga Koottan, Erissery, Thoran, Koottu, Pappadam and a simply yummy Palpayasam. I enjoy these rare occasions when I get to eat a lunch I have not cooked. The reason – very simple - As I have not been inhaling the flavor of the various dishes being prepared at the preparation stage, my palate is still fresh to devour the dishes being served and believe me, they taste superb. Especially so when the food is cooked by my mother. In my brother’s house, the lunch was prepared by my mother and my sisters-in-law, who all follow my mother’s method of preparation.

On my return to Hyderabad I had to attend the engagement ceremony of my nephew where I got to meet many of my cousins whom I had not met for a long time. The engagement ceremony or Nischayathamboolam in tambram lingua was a small affair in the olden days. It was only a small function attended by the elders from the bride’s and groom’s family in the presence of village elders. The function was usually conducted in the groom’s house and the bride did not attend this function. The bride went to the groom’s house only after the marriage. The bride and groom had no part to play in the function. This was called vangnischayam or oral commitment by exchanging thamboolam (fruits, mostly the yellow plantain fruit, coconuts, betel leaves and nuts) and was like an assurance by both the families to go on with the other preparations for the marriage. The actual Nischayathamboolam (vedic ritual) is performed on the eve of marriage. These days of course the nischayathamboolam itself is performed in a grand manner with both the bride and groom present in the function with exchange of rings and gifts and followed by a grand dinner or lunch.

In the olden days, once the vangnischayam was over there was no deviation from the promises made by both the parents unless there was a major problem. These days cancellation of engagements is very common. While we were at the function there were stories of cancelled engagements which could have been avoided and the innocent party spared the pain of ignominy associated with it. It would be better for the youngsters to come clean with their parents at the time of agreeing for marriages (even today most marriages are arranged by parents) and to keep up their promise after giving their consent. How does one explain the incidence when the groom withdraws his consent for the marriage the morning after engagement or the bride calling up the groom and saying “I have no intention of living with you after marriage and have agreed with my parents only because of their threat,” and so on? The parents as well as the groom and bride should be very frank when it comes to marriage as it involves another family and set of people who are no party to the other people’s hang-ups and reservations. The parents would do well to have a one to one talk with their children and get their whole hearted consent before agreeing to a marriage with a person of their parents’ choice. The youngsters also should be able to convince their parents of their approval or disapproval of the bride or groom of their parents’ choice and should be bold enough to stand up to their decision so that nobody would get hurt. I really wish parents and children do not put any pressure on each other when it comes to marriage. We'll all be better for it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Happy Vishu 2009

A very happy vishu to all my readers. I wish you all a happy and prosperous new year. May the new year bring much joy to all of you.

Recipe: Vazhathandu Karuvadam

Vazhathandu or banana stem is extensively used in cooking in Kerala and Tamil nadu. It has many medicinal properties. It contains potassium, minerals and other vitamins. It is a good diuretic and a good antihypertensive. Since it contains a lot of fibre it also constitutes a bulk food with low calorie content. Consuming banana stem atleast once a week will ensure a clean stomach. We prepare Molagoottal, pachadi, poduthuval and thoran with the stem. However, be warned preparing the stem for cooking is time consuming and hard.

We have never prepared vazhathandu karuvadam at home. The only times I have seen this being made is when Kanakam mami made them at my friend's house. It is called killu karuvadam, as the dough has to be pinched into small bits and dried. My astute and blessed mother-in-law used to say, "It is a time consuming process ... only Parukutty manni has the patience to do that," referring to her neighbour. I had also never thought of making vazhathandu karuvadam all these days because we had to buy vazhathandu from the market. This year though, I have a good garden with plenty of banana trees which have started giving fruit. Banana plants only last until they fruit once, so after it has given of its fruit, the plant has to be cut and the stem may now be used for cooking. Since I had so much vazhathandu (our neighbours do not know how to prepare vazhathandu), I decided to prepare vazhathandu karuvadam this year. And it was a good decision. The karuvadams are so cruncy and yummy that I ended up making quite a few lots.

Since I did not know the process, I called my athanga (cousin) and asked her how to prepare Vazhathandu karuvadam and followed her recipe. Here we go.


Vazhathandu(banana stem): 1' long
Raw rice: 2 cups
hing: pea size
green chillies : 4
salt to taste.


Wash and soak the rice with hing for 3 hours. Grind with salt and green chillies to a smooth paste. Let the batter sit overnight.

The next day:
Cut the vazhathandu into thin discs. As you cut it you will get fibres which need to be wound around the fingers and then removed. The small discs then have to be cut lenghtwise and across to make them into tiny pieces. This is the method to cut vazhathandu for any preparation. This process will blacken the fingers and hence it is advised to smear the hands with a little cooking oil or butter milk or salt.

Boil 10 cups of water in a wide mouthed pan and add the cut vazhathandu pieces and salt. Allow to boil for 10 minutes. Add the ground batter and keep stirring until the batter is cooked well and it forms a nice soft dough. Allow to cool. When cool, pinch small pieces of dough and drop in a sheet and allow to dry in the sun for 2 days. Your vazhathandu karuvadam is ready to fry. njoy!

Tip: instead of pinching the dough, I dropped spoonfuls of dough in the sheet and then pinched off bits from these drop. I thought it was much easier. Follow whichever you find easier.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Recipe: Javvarisi Karuvadam

Traditionally, we never made javvarisi karuvadams at home because good quality javvarisi (Sago) was not available those days in our village and javvarisi if at all was used only as an antidote for diarrhoea. Another reason, as my echiyamma was fond of saying, was “when we have so much rice at home, why make javvarisi?”

When I started vadam making on my own after we moved to Bangalore, I started using javvarisi in my karuvadams. Earlier I would just mix a handful of javvarisi in my rice karuvadam but now I make exclusive javvarisi karuvadams. Last year I also added some chopped onions in the dough and it came out quite yummy.

Javvarisi – 2 cups.
Green chillies : 5-6
Hing: marble sized ball
Salt to taste
Onions: 250 gms (optional)

Soak the javvarisi along with the hing in 4 cups of water overnight. The next morning grind the green chillies and chop the onions (if using) into thin long pieces. Boil 6 cups of water and add salt, ground green chillies and onions to the boiling water. Add the soaked javvarisi and keep stirring until the javvarisi turns transparent and shiny. The dough should be of pouring consistency. Add water accordingly and boil some more. At the time of removing from the stove the dough should be of a little running consistency; it will thicken as it cools down.
When it is cool, spread a cloth or plastic sheet in the sun, spoon out the prepared dough in the sheet and allow to dry.

At the end of the day remove the cloth from the sun and sprinkle little water on the reverse of the cloth. Allow to soak for 10 minutes. Peel off the vadams from the cloth. Dry them again in hot sun for 2 or 3 days. They are ready to use. Njoy!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Important Festivals in April 2009

3rd April 2009 - Sreerama Navami
Sreeramanavami is celebrated as Lord Rama’s birthday. Special poojas are conducted in temples and also at various venues. At home we celebrate Sreeramanavami by preparing vella avil (sweet poha), vadai and panakam and offered as neyvedyam. Many people prepare payasam also.

8th April 2009 - Pankuni Uthiram
In the month of Pankuni, the full moon day coincides with the day of the star Uthiram and is celebrated as Pankuni Uthiram. Pankuni Uthiram is celebrated as the day Lord Muruga wedded Devayani and hence is an important festival in all Muruga temples. It is also believed to be the day of Lord Shiva’s wedding with Parvathy and Lord Ranganatha’s wedding with Ranganayaki Thayar and Lord Srirama’s wedding with Sita. It also celebrated as Lord Ayyappa’s birthday in Sabarimala. Special poojas are conducted in the temples. At home it is observed by offering Panakam and Sweet Payar to Lord Muruga and partaking the prasadam.

14th April 2009 – Vishu
Vishu is the New Year day for people of Kerala and also Tamil Nadu. The important ritual on Vishu day is the seeing of Vishukani on the morning of Vishu followed by the eldest member of the family giving Kaineettams (gifts of money) to all the younger members of family. Then of course follows the special vishu lunch.

27th April - Akshaya Thrithiya
Akshaya Thrithiya falls on the third day of the bright half of Vaishakh month (April-May).The word akshaya means eternal or that which never diminishes and hence it is believed that any project initiated on this day will reach great heights. Akshaya Thrithiya is celebrated in the famous Guruvayoor temple in Kerala as the birthday of Lord Balarama. It is believed to be the day when Lord Krishna bestowed wealth and prosperity on his childhood friend, Kuchela(Sudhama) who went to meet him with a packet of avil (poha). Many people symbolically buy something new on this day. More recently, there is a new craze among people to buy gold on this day so that they will be able to buy more gold in the coming days of the year which is being fully exploited by the jewellers.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Recipe: Karuvadam

While vadams may be made in the morning or evening and need only a few hours of drying in the sun, karuvadam can be made only in the morning and needs at least 3 days of drying in the sun. It would be good if the sun is very hot on the first day so the heat can penetrate the insides of the karuvadam and dry it evenly. Otherwise the outside of the karuvadam forms a crust and the insides do not dry uniformly and when fried will not deliver the crunchy crispness that we desire. So it is better to make karuvadams at the height of the summer season when the days are fiercely hot. It is a tricky matter in places like Bangalore especially for office goers as they have only weekends to make karuvadams. You prepare the dough and the sun might choose to remain behind clouds; it has happened to me many times. I would just have to leave the dough inside the fridge and manage to press the karuvadams the next day. The process to make karuvadams is much easier than for vadams except in cooking the dough.

Raw Rice : 2 cups
Red chillies: 3 or 4 or
Green chillies 3 or 4
Hing (Asafoetida): a small piece
Salt to taste

Wash and soak the rice in water with chillies and hing. Grind to a smooth batter with salt. Allow it to ferment for 8-10 hours. The next morning boil 10 cups of water in a wide mouthed pan. Dilute the ground batter with 2 cups of water and pour into the boiling water. Keep stirring constantly until the batter is well cooked. The cooked batter will have a shiny surface when done. If the dough gets very thick add more water and cook for some more time. Spread a plastic sheet or clean cloth on a flat surface where there is good sunlight and press the cooked batter through a Muthucharam press. It is better to press the dough when it is still lukewarm so that the batter flows easily.

Allow to dry till sunset. Remove the karuvadams from the sheet; sprinkling a little water over them eases the process. Dry them again for 2 more days until they are well dried. Store in a cool dry box. To serve, deep fry the karuvadams and enjoy!