Paanakam (A Ginger & Cardamom Flavoured Jaggery Drink)
This is my first post of the year and it’s about time I finally posted this. I had planned to enjoy the first week of the New Year and take a vacation from blogging. However, vacations, like all good things must come to an end. the worst part of a vacation has got to be getting back to routine; it’s not the getting down to the routine as much as getting started that’s the problem! So here I am, starting out 2013 on my blog with Paanakam, a recipe that’s a fitting to start the year after all that rich food and feasting.
So what is Paanakam? Most South Indians would be familiar with this ginger and cardamom flavoured drink which is sweetened with jaggery and known for its digestive and cooling properties. Paanakam is usually served as an offering to the Gods during religious rituals and festivities and is thus truly a drink of the Gods.
Paanakam is usually made during Ram Navami, Thai Poosam celebrations and other festivities/ fasting rituals, but in our family it is made and offered as “naivedhyam” (ritual religious offering) on the tenth day of Navarathri festivities. Navarathri is a celebration of “Shakthi” and the Godess Durga (the power of the female form of God) in her various forms, over the 10 days of the festival. Each evening, we prepare sweet or savoury food items which are offered in prayer and then distributed to the family, neighbours and friends.
I remember my maternal grandmother explaining the rationale behind this rather simple offering on the last day of the festivities. Paanakam is offered as a digestive/ restorative drink to the Goddess on the tenth and last day as she would have had enough of feasting over the previous nine days of Navrathri. Whether the Goddess Durga needs it or not her devotees would definitely benefit from a couple of glasses of the drink!
I’m someone who loves ginger flavoured food or drink and if it has jaggery too, then it’s something I’m up for. It’s also very easy to make, takes so little time and needs just 5 ingredients – definitely a case of less is more! In my family, Paanakam is made with jaggery, water ginger and cardamom, but you will find recipes that also use crushed black pepper and a dash of lime juice.
I choose to add lime juice because there’s a nice balance of sweet and a hint of tang that goes well with the ginger and cardamom. The colour and taste of the Paanakam will vary with the colour and taste of the jaggery you use. Back home in Kerala, we get a very deep brown coloured jaggery which is dry and has a just a hint of salt. Here in Goa we get a yellowish coloured jaggery which is very moist and awfully sweet and more salty than I’m used to.
The recipe given below is just a set of directions. Use as much jaggery (some jaggery is very sweet while some isn’t as much) and the spices as your taste demands. For me, the perfect Paanakam is one that is not too sweet, has a healthy kick of ginger and mild hint of cardamom and tang. I also prefer to use the dark variety of palm jaggery that is commonly used in Kerala.
Though this drink is traditionally served as part of festivities in South India, it makes a great summer cooler and thirst quencher. Though normally served at room temperature, serve this chilled during an Indian summer and life will look better. Heidi Swanson (of the blog 101 Cookbooks) has a recipe for Sparkling Paanakam in her book, Super Natural Every Day, if you’re looking for a non-alcoholic aerated modern twist on a traditional drink!
- Dissolve the powdered jaggery in the water. Let it sit for about 5 minutes so any impurities in the jaggery will settle down. Decant or strain the jaggery solution through a fine-meshed strainer. Add the cardamom, dried ginger and lime juice and mix well.
- Taste and make adjustments till you feel it tastes like you like it. Traditionally though, since all food made at home during festivities is offered to God before it is distributed we never taste any food that we cook before ritual offering.
- Pour into glasses and serve. Chill before serving if you prefer. Double or triple the recipe for a larger batch of Paanakam.