Diwali is a festival we celebrate a bit differently from many other parts of the country. Early on Diwali morning, before sunrise, many of the Iyer families in Kerala start the celebrations but getting up as early as 4am to burst crackers. The left overs are lit and finished off at twilight. As a community, traditionally we also do not light the lamps that are synonymous with Diwlai celebrations across the We probably have the simplest of Diwali celebrations in India.
Once the children of the house (under the strict supervision of either a couple of elders or mucholder and responsible children) have disposed off with the crackers, it is time for the ritual "oil bath" for everyone. This involves a head-to-toe anointing and massage with fresh pressed coconut oil which is washed away with a hot water bath.
First however we receive a set of new clothes bought for the occasion, from the eldest member of the household (marked inconspicuously with a bit of turmeric). After the bath, everyone, dressed in their new clothes, go and seek the blessings of the elders at home.Those who can, visit the temple in the morning or else in the evening.
Then comes the most important part of the Diwali celebrations - a sumptuous breakfast! breakfast on this day is usually dosa with sambhar and chutney and whatever sweets and savouries have been made just for the occasion. Once breakfast is done, our Diwali celebrations are done. Traditionally, we don't even have the ritual of sharing sweets with family and neighbours, though that is a tradition I have adopted and created for us.
In some homes, there is a tradition of also making and serving a sweet called Ukkarai for breakfast. Ukkarai is a sort of crumble that is makde from lentils (a mixture of Bengal gram lentils and moong lentils) cooked in cardamom flavoured jaggery syrup and a little ghee, and then garnished with cashewnuts.
Neither my husband's family or mine has a tradition of cooking Ukkarai for Diwali but I have adopted the tradition of doing so. A few years back, my husband was having a conversation with a good friend of his (our families are very close friends actually) on Diwali day, and he invited them to drop by during the day. His friend agreed but very eagerly asked if there would "Ukkarai" as it brought back memories of his childhood eating it at his friends' place.
I decided to make it that day because he had asked, and it has since featured at our Diwali breakfast table and we invariably remember our friends wherever they are that day.
Another Diwali tradition I have adopted, though a non-food one, is lighting earthenware and brass lamps or "diyas" Having spent a large part of my life outside Kerala, I have been used to Diwali with a variety of sweets and the ritual of lighting clay lamps at dusk.
I usually make a different variety of sweets every year, these days largely dictated by my daughter’s demands, but Pokkuvadam (more popularly known as ribbon pakoda) and Mysorepak are musts for our Diwali.
Dosas, sambhar and chutney (with coconut or without coconut) made for Diwali are the kind we usually make as part of everyday cooking, and here's the recipe for Ukkarai.
Ukkarai is traditionally made only with chana dal. I use equal quantities of chana dal and moong dal.
Ukkarai (A Festive Lentil & Jaggery Crumble)
1/2 cup Black gram lentils
1/2 cup moong lentils
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
3/4 cup to 1 cup powdered jaggery( depending on sweetness of your jaggery)
2 tbsp ghee
2 tbsp cashewnut
3 to 4 pods cardamom, powdered
Method:Roast both dals separately till light brown. Soak them together in water for about 3 hours. Then allow to drain well for about half an hour. Then grind the dals to a thick and coarse batter without adding water.
Place batter in idli moulds or the plate of your steamer and steam cook for about 15 minutes. Allow this to cool slightly and then crumble it with your fingers till granular in texture. Once the mixture cools down (especially if the batter was not dry enough in the first place), you can use a grater to create the coarse crumble.
Heat the ghee in a pan and roast cashews till golden. Keep aside. Now toast the grated coconut till golden brown and keep aside.
Dissolve jaggery in half a cup of water and boil the syrup till it reaches the 1-string stage. To this syrup, add the dal mixture, coconut and the ghee. Mix well till the dal absorbs all the jaggery to become dry and fluffy. Add the cardamom and cashewnuts and mix well. Serve warm.