The monsoons have slowly started bidding us goodbye here, even as they haven’t paid their scheduled visits to other parts of the country. This withdrawal of the rains signals the beginning of a long season of festivities and celebrations all over India.
In our home, it started last week and this month shall be very busy. Today we’re celebrating the birthday of Lord Krishna as Srikrishna Jayanthi (also called Gokulashtami/ Janmashtami/ Ashtami Rohini). This weekend all of India will be celebrating its 62nd Independence Day and a week later it will be Vinayaka/ Ganesh Chathurthi
On the personal front, this month also includes a birthday and an anniversary.
Festivals mean a lot of work for the womenfolk in most families. Daily chores notwithstanding, women have to contend with a lot of extra work in the form of festive cooking, preparations for pujas (ritual worship), welcoming and entertaining guests.
With extended families giving way to nuclear families, much has changed from this scenario. Fewer members in a family mean less cooking and work. Perhaps it also means less fun, because I don’t see children nowadays having a chance to enjoy all this like we used to.
(Image source : Wikimedia Commons)
We enjoy celebrations (it almost always comes down to the food, doesn’t it?) and I always make it a point to do my best to celebrate such festivities in as traditional a manner as is practically possible. I feel this is one way to ensure that our daughter learns about our traditions.
Belonging to the Palakkad Iyer community also means that we celebrate most Tamil festivals and traditions and most of those in Kerala as well. So that means almost double the festivities and sometimes a bit of extra work too Or you could look at it from our daughter’s point of view, who says “Yummy” when I tell her what we’re celebrating and what I’m going to be cooking!!!
Going back to the matter of this post, Lord Krishna’s birthday is celebrated in differently in different parts of India. In our home, “kolams” (auspicious patterns drawn on festive occasions, with a rice flour paste) are drawn along with a pattern of a small pair of footprints coming from the outside into the house. These feet represent and signify that the Lord Krishna has come into our home. Pooja (ritual worship and offering) is done, the temple is visited for prayers and blessings and food is specially made for this day.
No offering to Lord Krishna is complete without his favourites, “vennai” (fresh home-made unsalted butter) and “aval” (beaten rice flakes)
As children, most of us in India grew up hearing stories about young Krishna’s love for butter and butter milk and the mischievous exploits he undertook in pursuit of this fondness. His partiality for beaten rice flakes is tied to his childhood friendship with Sudama
I still remember impatiently waiting, as a child, for my maternal Grandfather to finish his dinner and sit down in his wooden easy-chair so that we could get on with our daily story-telling sessions from the Puranas
Celebrating Janmashatami in our home means making (sharing and eating, too) traditional festive fare such as murukku (savoury and crisp rice and lentil snack), pokkuvadam, muthusaram (another savoury and buttery crisp snack), paal payasam and cheedais (recipes follow)
All these would take too much of time and effort so I usually make the last two mentioned items. Since I made paal payasam just last week, this time I chose to make a payasam with “aval” (beaten rice flakes) instead.
While most recipes for the following preparations would have, more or less, the same ingredients you might find that the proportions may differ. These recipes have been handed down to me by my mother and grandmother.
Aval Payasam (A Milk-based Sweet/ Pudding With Beaten Rice Flakes)
Milk-based Sweet/ Pudding With Beaten Rice Flakes)As I have mentioned previously, a payasam (also known as “kheer”) is a milk or coconut milk based Indian sweet. We make a variety of payasam in India and this is just one of them.
Aval (beaten rice flakes) are commonly used in Indian cooking and are of different types. You can get those made from white or polished rice and from red or unpolished rice. Beaten rice flakes can be very thin or a slightly thick. Red coloured aval is the best if you can find it, but the white variety works just as well. Always use the the thicker variety of “aval” as the thinner one will turn to mush in this payasam.
Vella Cheedai (Deep-fried Rice Flour & Jaggery Cookies)
Vella cheedai are small deep fried cookies (that’s the best I can do to describe them in English) made from rice flour and jaggery (which we call “vellam” in Tamil). They are a bit tricky to make and it takes mostly practice and a bit of luck to get them right. For the first time, this year, my vella cheedai broke in the hot oil! It took an extra 3 tbsp of rice flour to get it right (see the method for further information regarding this).
You can make the rice flour used in this and the following recipe at home. Soak raw rice in water for about an hour, drain and spread the rice on a kitchen towel to dry out a bit. Then run the rice in your mixer/ grinder jar to a slightly coarse (almost fine) powder. Sieve the powdered rice to remove larger pieces and powder again.
Then proceed with the recipe. You can also use packaged rice flour for this but roast it before use. The packaged “rice puttu powder” that’s available in the stores works just fine.
For the lentil powder (for both Cheedai recipes), roast about 4 tbsps lentils till golden brown. Cool a bit and run in your mixer/ grinder jar till finely powdered.
Uppu Cheedai (Deep-fried Savoury Rice Flour Cookies)
“Uppu” means salt in Tamil, and so these “cookies” are savoury (I am describing these cheedai as cookies as well). The addition of crushed cumin seeds, black pepper, asafetida and coconut gives these cheedai a unique taste. Unlike their sweet counterpart in the recipe above, these are very easy to make and als
o very good to snack on, accompanied by coffee or tea.
PLEASE NOTE : The ingredients and method for all 3 recipes have been presented together but separately.