Verkadalai (Kadalakkai) Chundal/ Sundal - Spicy Groundnuts/ Peanuts With Coconut (V, GF)
“Nava” means nine and “Rathri” means night so it’s really a celebration that is over nine days with the festival ending on the tenth day, Vijayadashami (the day of victory over all that’s inauspicious or evil)
We generally make savoury and sweet offerings on alternate days of Navarathri with a sweet offering in particular for the Friday that falls within these ten days. With most of us no longer living in extended families, or in urban areas where we have busier lives Navarathri celebrations no longer have the fun that used to be a part of my childhood memories of the festivities.
In our community, Navarthri was as much a social affair as it was religious and it centred around women and children. Men were rarely seen during the festivities except on the periphery of things. There are two things that are so intricately linked in my childhood memories of celebrating Navarathri. One is the singing, and the other is the little packets of neivedhyam/ prasaadham (ritual food offerings) that we all came back home with from our visits to friends and family.
The lady of every house would insist that the children who visited for Navarathri, had to sing a song if we wanted our share of food for the evening. It didn’t matter if you were shy and the kind that limited your singing to the bathroom, or even if your brand of singing resembled a crowd of crows at their loudest, you had to sing! To give everyone their due, no one ever laughed or poked fun at you (except the meanest of your own friends, perhaps) if your singing performance wasn’t exactly bringing in the applause.
I personally found this bit of ritual harrowing and would refuse to sing even it meant forgoing my share of the neivedhaym.
Before the visitors left, they were offered the traditional festive “vethelai paaku” ( a traditional ritual offering to married women which typically includes betel leaves and nuts, kumkum, pieces of turmeric, a small banana, a coconut, a small mirror. Comb, glass bangles, sari blouse pieces, and packets of the day’s neivedhyam/ prasaadham)
Ask anyone from my community what food comes to mind when you mention Navarathri, and nine out of every ten people will tell you “Chundal/ Sundal”! Even though other foods are prepared during Navarathri festivities, Chundal is something that everyone prepares at least once if not twice during these ten days.
Chundal is a preparation, a sort of cooked salad made of lentils like Bengal gram lentils (chana dal) or dried beans like chickpeas, black-eyed beans/ cowpeas or whole moong beans. Usually a savoury preparation, the legumes or lentils are soaked overnight, cooked and then tempered with a few simple spices and fresh coconut. Not only are Chundals/ Sundals easy to make they’re also tasty, healthy and filling. The sweet version of Chundal/ Sundal is made with jaggery, coconut and flavoured with cardamom and a little ghee.
This version of Chundal is made with raw groundnuts which is what we call peanuts in India. I have never seen this made at home (though it is a popular dish in the Indian state of Tami Nadu)probably because we don’t use groundnuts very much in our traditional cooking. I get raw groundnuts here in season and when they are cooked they have an inherent sweetness which lends itself very well to this dish.
This dish cannot be made with roasted or dried groundnuts so if you can’t find raw groundnuts, you can substitute it with an equal amount of cooked chickpeas or black-eyed beans or whole green moong beans.
While this is served as festive fare, it also makes for an excellent teatime snack and can also be served on the side with a main meal.
- Soak the groundnuts for about an hour in water. If you’re using freshly shelled groundnuts, they do not need soaking. Drain the water and add fresh water, enough to cover the groundnuts and pressure cook them till they’re cooked but still firm with a little crunch (but not raw). If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can cook the groundnuts as you please (stove top or microwave).
- Drain the groundnuts well and keep aside.
- In a wok or pan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds to it. When they splutter, turn down the heat to medium and add the lentils and stir a couple of times until they start turning golden.
- Then add the chillies, the asafoetida and the curry leaves. Stir fry them a couple of times, add the drained groundnuts/ peanuts and salt to taste. Stir well so that the groundnuts/ peanuts are well coated with the tempered ingredients. Turn off the heat, add the coconut and mix well.
- Let it cool somewhat. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.