Hridhayam Niranja Onaashamsakal!
No, this is no mumbo-jumbo, just me sending everyone slightly belated "best wishes from the heart, for a happy Onam" in Malayalam.
Yesterday all of Kerala, and people all over the world who belong to Kerala celebrated Onam. This is not a religious festival and so everyone in Kerala, irrespective of their religious beliefs, celebrates Onam with flowers, new clothes and a festive traditional vegetarian meal (sadya) which is served on a plantain leaf.
I shall do a write-up about a "sadya" another time, as that is a post in itself!
Onam is celebrated over 10 days of the Malayalam month of "chingam" starting with "atham" day till "thiruvonam" day. Chingam is the month which signifies the end of the monsoons and corresponds to 15th of August to the 15th of September on the English calendar.
A "pookkalam" (floral decoration/ carpet, usually round in design) decorates the entrance to homes. This decoration is done fresh every day, and gets progressively bigger till the tenth day when some of the most beautiful designs emerge.
Our "pookalam" with the only three varieties of flowers we could find here.
I still remember going out to gather flowers for the "pookkalam". As we got older, flowers in the neighbourhood got rarer and those who did have flowering plants, bushes and trees would guard them with their lives during Onam from prospective flower thieves. I have known numerous instances of not just flowers, but the pots in which they were growing mysteriously disappearing – plant and all!
Of course, nowadays everyone goes to the flower vendors who appear during the season and buys whatever they want (and can afford).
We get early in the morning, have ritual bath, don our new clothes. The kids and some elders in the family get about putting together the "pookkalam" while those in the kitchen get busy with preparing the feast that will be lunch.
These days, as children grow up and move away from home, celebrations aren't as grand as they used to be in the days when families were huge and lived together or close by. Many people still make the effort to get together to celebrate.
Now that we are further away from family, we usually have friends over to celebrate with us and it is the same this year. I don't prepare a full fledged sadya, as there aren't enough of us to do justice to that sort of a meal but I try and cook up enough dishes to qualify for a mini sadya.
Here is one preparation (one of my husband's favouriotes) which featured at our "sadya". Chenai (elephant yam) is definitely not one of my favourites, but when cooked this way I'm willing to tolerate the vegetable. This preparation is typical of Kerala and has also found it's way into our traditional cuisine.
I know this dish doesn't look like much in my picture or otherwise but I will say that this is one instance where you shouldn't judge the dish by its looks! At least give it one chance.
2 cups chopped (into smallish cubes) chenai (elephant yam)
3/4 cup soaked and cooked black chickpeas
1 cup fresh grated coconut (3/4 cup + 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 green chillies
1 sprig curry leaves
1 1/2 tsp powdered jaggery
3/4 tsp (1/2 tsp + 1/4 tsp) turmeric powder
salt to taste
1 1/2 tsp coconut oil
1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp split black gram lentils (urad dal)
Cook the chopped elephant yam in a little water with 1/2 tsp turmeric powder till it is soft. You can also do this in the microwave or a pressure cooker. Do not add salt or the vegetable will not cook.
Grind together 3/4 cup of grated coconut, the green chillies and cumin seeds with a little water to a very smooth paste. Keep aside.
Put the cooked elephant yam (with about 1/4 cup of the water (or plain water) in which it was cooked, the cooked chickpeas, the curry leaves and the other 1/4 tsp turmeric powder in a pan. Bring to a boil and add the salt. Turn down the heat to medium and add the coconut paste. Mix well and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes or so, until the vegetable and chickpeas are coated in the coconut paste. Add the powdered jaggery and mix well.
The preparation shouldn't have a gravy as such but still be quite moist by now. Empty the kootukari into a serving dish.
In another pan, heat the coconut oil and add the mustard seeds. When the start spluttering add the lentils and sautéed till golden. Pour this into the cooked vegetable.
In the same pan, put the remaining 1/4 cup coconut and toast it till it turns a deep brown and gives off a nice aroma. Stir frequently to ensure the coconut does not burn.
Add this too, to the cooked vegetable. Serve warm as a side dish to a main rice based meal. Stir the kootukari just before serving, so that the tempering and the toasted coconut is well mixed.
This recipe serves 4 to 6 people.
Here is a picture of our Onam sadya (feast).
For a sadya or meal, one sits on the floor (or at a table these days), and the banana leaf is always placed with the narrow end of the leaf to the left of the person who is seated in front of it.
There is a particular order in which various items are served and a designated place on the leaf for each item of food. I shall, eventually, do a separate post on this.
I must add that we didn't have our Onam sadya on a plantain leaf, but used plates as usual. Plantain leaves are not very easy to come by in my neighbourhood and the leaf in my picture was procured for me by the lady who comes in to help me daily. She set out in the rain with a knife and came back triumphantly bearing 2 leaves of which the best one features in this post!
The things we food bloggers do in the name of pictures and posts for our blogs!!
On this leaf, going clockwise from the glass of water on the left, you can see Parippu Pradhaman (a sweet made of lentils, jaggery and coconut milk) in a bowl, Green Beans Poduthuval/ Thoran (stir fried but without coconut), Chenai Kadala Kootu Kari (recipe above), Olan (pumpkin and ash gourd/ winter melon in coconut milk), Pineapple Pachadi (pineapple cooked with a spicy mustard-coconut paste), Paalada Pradhaman (a milk based sweet with sun-dried flaked rice), Parippu ( lentils cooked with salt and turmeric), Rice with Tomato Morkootan/ Pulisseri ( tomatoes in a spicy yogurt and coconut gravy), Pappadum, Pulikyatchal (green chilli-ginger-tamarind chutney) and sweet and salty plantain chips.
I started this blog with a post on Parippu Pradhaman and the picture I had posted there was rather sad one which I had taken before we got a digital camera. I am revisiting that post by updating it with a better picture that I took yesterday, which I am posting here.