Some parts of India are celebrating the festival of Raksha Bandhan today. In my Palakkad Iyer community, today we celebrate Avani Avittam. First of all let me briefly explain the term "Avani Avittam". While we follow the same English calendar as the rest of the world, we do use a different calendar for most of our religious rituals and celebrations, including birth or death anniversaries and festivals.
This calendar also has 12 months and 30 or 31 days (sometimes 32). We also have 27 "nakshathram" (or "stars" which are astronomy related, but not stars as we know them in English). These 27 stars appear every month in a given order in a regular cycle again and again throughout the 12 moths of the year.
I know this is pretty confusing so I will not make it worse. Let me just say that many of our ritual celebrations are decided by when a particular nakshathram/ star occurs in a particular month. Sometimes other astronomical calculations are also taken into account. We just use our calendars (and advice from our elders and the family priests) to figure out when to celebrate what!
So "Avittam" is a "nakshathram" (or star), in the month of "Avani" which roughly corresponds to the period from the 15th of July to the 15th of August on the English calendar.
On this day, every year, boys who have undergone their Upanayanam (or sacred thread ceremony) and men in the household ritually change their sacred threads.
All over the world, food and celebration always go together and it is no different here. Breakfast is usually idlis (steamed rice and lentil cakes) and coconut chutney followed by a festive lunch called "sadya". This tends to be a bit elaborate and what is to be cooked is usually decided by traditions in respective families. However, most if not all families make "parippu vadai/ aama vadai" and "paal paayasam". In my husband's family, it is a tradition to make "neiyappam" (a sweet spongy deep fried dumpling, also known as "unniyappam" in Kerala) is only if there are unmarried boys at home.
Parippu vadais are spicy and crisp deep brown coloured fritters made from Bengal gram lentils. They are also referred to as "aama vadai" where the word "aamai" means tortoise/ turtle. This is because the fritters have ridged appearance (from shaping with the fingers) which resembles the ridged back of the tortoise/ turtle.
Paal payasam is a sweet preparation made from rice, milk (paal which gives this sweet its name) and sugar somewhat like a rice pudding but not so thick in consistency. A "payasam" is also known as "kheer" in the northern part of India.
Parippu Vadai (or Aama Vadai)
You will find that he ingredient list for most parippu vadai recipes (sometimes called masala vada) on the net and in many Indian cookbooks would include onions, ginger and garlic though many people in India would avoid them while cooking for festive or religious occasions.
Traditionally we do not use garlic or onions in our cooking. This has changed over the years, and now onions are used by many of us though the use of garlic is still not common.
I personally, have never bought a clove of garlic to date, even though the three of us do not mind the taste or flavour of garlic provided it is mild. You will find the recipes on my blog rarely ask for garlic, and those that do have it in minimal amounts.
Though these lentil fritters are frequently prepared as a part of various festive and celebratory fare, they're often made to serve in the evenings as an accompaniment to coffee or tea. There's something about the savoury, spicy and crunch of the fritters that makes perfect as a snack especially on a rainy day.
The recipe that follows is the traditonal version that we make, and this one has been handed down to me by my mother who got it from hers.
Parippu Vadai/ Aama Vadai (Spicy Lentil Fritters)Ingredients:1 cup Bengal gram lentils (chana dal/ kadala parippu)2 tbsp red gram lentils ( tuvar dal/ tuvara parippu)2 to 3 dried red chillies1/4 tsp asafetida powder1 sprig curry leavessalt to tasteoil for deep fryingMethod:Soak the lentils together for about 45 minutes. Drain well and keep 2 tbsp of the drained lentiuls aside. Grind the rest of the lentils, along with the other ingredients (except the oil), into thick coarse paste. If you must add water while grinding do not add more than a tsp or so. Too much water (or if the lentil paste is not coarse enough) will make the fritters difficult to shape. The fritters will also not crisp on frying.Add the 2 tbsp reserved whole soaked lentils to the paste and mix. This makes the fritters nice and crisp.Heat the oil. Moisten the fingers and inner palm of your right hand with water. This ensures the batter doesn't stick. Take a small bit of the lentil paste (about enough for a small cookie) and shape it into a ball. Moisten the palm of your left hand with water and place the ball on your other palm.Flatten it slightly (about 1/2" thick) with your right, using all four fingers together. This will create a ridged pattern. Now slide the shaped mixture onto your right set of fingers and slowly slide it into the oil.You can find detailed instructions with pictures on how to shape similar fritters on this post at Nag's blog.Repeat with the rest of the lentil mixture and fry in batches of 5 or 6 depending on the size of your pan/ fryer. Fry the fritters on both sides till brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.This recipe should make about 20 fritters. I'm not sure as I wasn't counting.These fritters are usually served on the side, along with the main meal when rasam is being eaten with rice. They tend to lose their crispness and become a bit chewy when cold, so the leftovers are soaked in rasam and eaten. I personally do not like them this way and in these days of the microwave would rather re-crisp them.You may also serve these at coffee/ tea time with ketchup or coconut chutney.
Paal Payasam (South Indian Style Rice & Milk Dessert)
This is a preparation which takes a little bit of time as the rice has to cook in the milk and the milk has to reduce in quantity. So it is important to have a thick walled/ heavy bottomed vessel so that the rice-milk mixture doesn't stick to the pan.
Paal payasam is somewhat like a rice pudding, except that it is not very thick in consistency. It is more of a thick pouring consistency as it is traditionally served on a plantain leaf.
There are versions which use sweetened condensed milk to make this payasam, and so take less time. This version is how payasam is made at home, and in my opinion, the best way to do so. I do sometimes add cashewnuts and golden raisins fried in a bit of ghee to the payasam, but have not done it here in keeping with traditional cooking styles.
One thing I must add is that if you are making this payasam, please do not use Basmati rice or other fragrant rice. In South India, Basmati is traditionally not used and it doesn't quite sit right with the character of this sweet dish. A short grain rice is the best choice. The rice has to be cooked very soft and if done on the stove top takes a lot of time. I cook the rice in a pressure cooker, the one device most Indian women would be bereft without!
Paal Payasam (South Indian Style Rice & Milk Dessert)Ingredients:1/2 cup raw rice (unakkal ari, an unpolished parboiled rice variety from Kerala is specially good for this payasam)*1 litre milk + 1 cup milk (whole milk is best; I used 3% milk)*1 cup granulated sugar*powdered cardamom from 4 or 5 pods2 tsp ghee (optional)1 tbsp each broken cashewnuts and golden raisins (optional)Method:Wash the rice and put it in a deep dish. Add 1 cup of water and the 1 cup of milk and cook it in the pressure cooker till very well cooked. Otherwise cook the rice in the microwave in half milk and half water.In another heavy bottomed/ thick-walled pan, pour the one litre of milk and bring it to boil. Add the cooked rice to it, stir well and then turn down the heat a bit. Allow the rice to cook in the milk for about 15 to 20 minutes or till the milk has reduced, in volume, to about half.Now add the sugar and stir till it dissolves. Allow the milk-rice-sugar mixture/ payasam to cook for another 10 minutes till it thickens slightly. Take it off the heat.Once it cools to room temperature, it will thicken a little more. The milk in the cooked payasam should be slightly thicker.Add the powdered cardamom and stir well. You may also add some ghee if you choose. Otherwise, heat the ghee and fry the golden raisins in it till they puff up. Remove them and then fry the broken cashewnuts till golden, in the same ghee. Pour this and the raisins into the payasam and stir.Serve warm, if serving as apart of a meal. Otherwise, chill and serve as dessert. This recipe will serve 4 to 6 people.