Aval

A Navarathri festival favourite from childhood is ‘aval’, a simple, quick to prepare delicious snack. So, for the first day of the Saraswathie poosai, I would like to share this simple recipe for ‘Aval’.

I have always thought of ‘aval’ as a sweet snack, generally prepared during ‘home poosai’ (prayer ceremony) as a ‘prasadam’ (blessed offering), but I came across the Indore Kanda Poha a few months back and was happily surprised it was a savoury, breakfast food. Here though, I am sharing the traditional way it is prepared in north Sri Lanka.

Aval

Time taken: 10 – 15 mins

Serves 2

AvalIngredients

  • Aval (flattened rice or puffed rice) – ½ cup
  • Coconut – ¼ cup, scraped
  • Sugar – 3 tbsp or Jaggery – 2 tbsp, chopped
  • Crushed cardamom – 1 tsp
  • Cashew nuts – 1 tsp, chopped
  • Raisins – 2 tsp

Method:

  1. Rinse the ‘aval’ in a bowl of water and drain it.
  2. Add ¼ cup of hot water to the cleaned ‘aval’ and let it soak for 5 mins. Drain.
  3. Heat a pan on low heat and dry roast the coconut for about 2 mins.
  4. Add the jaggery or sugar to the pan and continue cooking for another 2 – 3 mins.
  5. Add the crushed cardamom to the pan and stir before adding the ‘aval’ to the pan. Mix well before removing from heat.
  6. Garnish with chopped cashew nuts and raisins.

Recipe source: Raji Thillainathan.

Kolukkattai

With the start of Navarathri today, I thought of posting nine of my mother’s recipes of some food that she typically makes during this nine-day festival. I have always been fond of Navarathri, since my childhood, and I think of all the religious festivals that my family has observed, this has been the favourite and better observed.

The nine days of the festival are dedicated to Goddesses starting with the first three days for Goddess Durga, symbolizing courage and strength, the next three days for Goddess Lakshmi, symbolizing wealth and beauty, the last three days for Goddess Saraswathi, symbolizing knowledge and wisdom. The last three days are the most special of the nine days.

To start off the Navarathri food fest, I will first share one of my favourites – Kolukkattai. This is a steamed half-moon shaped dumpling made especially during the Aadi pirappu (July 15th, which is the first of the month of Aadi in the Tamil calendar) and during the ceremony that marks the arrival of a baby’s first teeth. It is actually ‘Mothaham’, a round shaped version of the kolukkattai, that is made during Navarathri but at my home, my mother prefers to make kolukkattai generally.

Mothaham

Mothaham

Kolukkattai

Time taken: 40 – 45 mins

Makes 10

Kolukkattai

Kolukkattai

Ingredients:

  • Green gram – ½ cup, roasted and split
  • Water
  • Wheat flour – ¾ cup
  • Rice flour – ¼ cup
  • Salt – pinch
  • Low fat oil, as required
  • Coconut –½ cup, freshly scraped
  • Jaggery – ¼ cup
  • Cardamom – 4, crushed

Method

  1. Boil the green gram in about 1 ½ cups of water, for about 20 mins, until it is well-cooked. Add water if the liquid dries up before the gram is cooked. Drain and keep aside.
  2. Meanwhile, mix the wheat flour, rice flour and a pinch of salt. Add hot water slowly while stirring the flour mix with a spoon.
  3. Add a little oil and bring together the mixture into a ball of dough.
  4. Divide the dough into 10 small balls, adding a little oil, to have a smooth dough mix.
  5. In a pan, cook the jaggery on low heat and stir as it melts.
  6. Add the scraped coconut and quickly stir for a couple of minutes, not allowing the coconut-jaggery mixture to burn.
  7. Add the boiled and drained green gram and the crushed cardamom to the coconut-jaggery mixture. Mix and remove from heat. Let the mixture cool.
  8. Roll out each of the ten small balls of dough and spoon 1 tbsp filling in the center of the rolled out dough. Close the dough wrap over the filling in a half-moon shape, by hand or using a pre-fabricated mold shell, or into a round dumpling shape. For the ceremony that marks the arrival of the baby’s first teeth, tiny coconut chips are embedded into the dents pressed by the mold or finger along one half of the half-moon shaped dumpling.
  9. Steam the ‘kolukattai’ (the half-moon shaped) or ‘mothaham’ (the round shaped dumpling) for about 10 mins.

Recipe source: Raji Thillainathan.

Date chutney

The second recipe I would like to share today is my mother’s recipe for her version of date chutney. She is particularly fond of the unique flavour arising from the chilli infused date sauce.

Date chutney

Time taken: 10 mins

Serves 3 – 4

Date chutney

Ingredients:

  • Dates – 2 tbsp, finely chopped
  • Jaggery – 1 tsp
  • Brown sugar – 1 tsp
  • Water – 4 tbsp
  • Crushed chillies – ½ tsp
  • Cumin powder – ¼ tsp
  • Mixed 3C (cinnamon, cardamom, clove) powder – ¼ tsp
  • Sesame seeds – 1 tbsp
  • Salt – pinch

Method:

  1. Heat the jaggery, brown sugar and water in a sauce pan, on low heat, stirring continuously for about 2 to 3 mins.
  2. Stir in ½ tsp crushed chillies and ¼ tsp cumin powder and cook for a minute.
  3. Add the mixed 3C powder to the pan and let the sauce simmer for a minute.
  4. When the sauce starts to boil and bubble, add the sesame seeds. Mix well.
  5. Add the chopped dates and continue to let the sauce simmer on low heat for a few minutes till the sauce thickens and the liquid starts drying up.
  6. Season with a pinch of salt before removing from heat.
  7. The chutney can be kept for several days in an airtight container.

Recipe source: Raji Thillainathan.

Pongal

My mother often recounts a story from her childhood years, particularly ones that include her grandmother. One story she is fond of narrating is about how her grandmother used to undertake her own farming and not use machines or chemicals. My great-grandmother, who was the last farmer in our family lost her husband at a young age and raised her three children on her own. She had some paddy land and a small vegetable farm, which she managed to buy with her own earning. While she did hire farm labourers when needed, she did a lot of work on her field herself. Also, she raised cows and goats and undertook organic farming. Compost was made on her farm and used in her field. She had her land ploughed with a hand-plough and planted the paddy seeds. When the seeds started growing, just like any other small time farmer, she undertook the weeding together with the help of some hired hands.

The harvesting season was a special process and the cut grain stalks would be loaded onto bullock carts and brought home for the grains to be separated from the husks. By the time they were brought home, it would be night. As there was no electricity in their home at that time, three or four petromax lamps were lighted. My mother remembers that she was very much excited during those days and didn’t want to go to sleep but stay up and watch. It seemed like a carnival at her grandmother’s home, with the place lighted up and movement of people throughout the night.

A pole was planted in the middle of the yard and large woven mats placed around the pole. The cut stalks were spread on the mat. The buffaloes were tied to the pole and two or three hired help would walk the buffaloes around the pole. This was the old process to separate the grains from the husks. My mother remembers watching the men walk the buffaloes calling out, “poli.” The stalks were then picked up and thrashed onto the mat and the grains would separate out and fall. These were then packed up in sacks.

Local rice varieties

The first handfuls of grain were beaten in a stone or wood “ural” to separate the raw rice from the grain. This was made into the first pongal of the harvest. Everyone who helped would be invited for a meal and given bags of grains.

Family members who had died were also remembered on that day and a large variety of food was made. My mother mentions that a special offering was made that day, as part of the remembrance ritual, called the “puthir.” Her grandmother used to take some of the pongal made from the first rice from the harvest and spread it out on a large tray. Then, all types of available fruits were cut up and layered on top of the pongal. Honey was poured over the fruits. A sampling of all the vegetable curries that were made were also layered on top of the pongal-fruit-honey mix. Finally, ghee was poured over the tray of food and everything was mixed together. After the prayers were made, a little “puthir” was handed as “prasadham” (blessed offering) to everyone present.

Today, I will share the recipe of pongal that is made with the first harvest of the season by farmers and by non-farmers on festival days such as the Pongal festival in January, New Year in April and other celebrations.

Pongal

Cooking time: 30 to 40 mins

Serves 4 or 5

Pongal

Ingredients:

  • Rice – 1 cup
  • Roasted split gram (without skin) – ¼ cup
  • Jaggery – 1 cup (grated)
  • Coconut – ½
  • Cardamom – 4 or 5, crushed
  • Cashew nuts – few, chopped
  • Raisins – 1 tbsp
  • Water

Method:

  1. Wash the rice and gram and cook them in a pot with 2 ½ cups of water. Cook for around 15 to 20 mins, till the water dries up.
  2. Grind and extract coconut milk by blending the freshly scraped half of a coconut with 1 cup of water.
  3. Once the rice and gram is cooked, add the grated jaggery and mix.
  4. Then, add the coconut milk and crushed cardamoms. Bring to a boil on high heat and cook for a few more minutes before reducing the heat.
  5. Add the chopped cashew nuts. Cook until the pongal mixture starts coming together and starts to thicken.
  6. Just before removing from heat, add the raisins and mix.
  7. Remove from heat and cover.
  8. Serve pongal with bananas.

Recipe source: Raji Thillainathan.

Jaggery and coconut cake

My mother makes scrumptious cakes. Some of my favourites are the basic butter cake and the chocolate cake. However, on this site, I will share a cake recipe or two of my mother’s that is both vegan and made with typically Sri Lankan ingredients.

Today’s recipe is that of my mother’s jaggery and coconut cake. The key ingredient here is the jaggery.

Jaggery and Coconut cake

Time taken: 1 hour

Makes 12 – 16 pieces if baked in a 6”x6” baking pan

Jaggery and coconut cake

Ingredients:

  • Grated jaggery (palm or kithul) – 1 cup
  • Water – 1 cup
  • Low fat sunflower oil margarine (Flora, for e.g.) – ¾ cup (150g)
  • Wheat flour – 1 cup
  • Semolina – ¼ cup
  • Roasted coconut – ¼ cup
  • Coconut powder – 1 cup (100g)
  • Cardamom – 4
  • Vanilla essence – few drops
  • Baking powder – 1 tsp
  • Baking soda – ¼ tsp
  • Cashew nuts – ½ cup, chopped or a little for sprinkling (optional)

Method:

  1. Mix the wheat flour, semolina, baking powder and baking soda and keep aside.
  2. Put the jaggery, margarine, water in a blender. Add the vanilla essence and crushed cardamom seeds. Blend for about a minute or two.
  3. Then, add the coconut powder and roasted coconut to the mix in the blender and blend for another minute or two.
  4. Pour the batter into a mixing bowl.
  5. Stir in the flour mix gradually into the batter and mix well.
  6. Add the chopped cashew nuts and mix.
  7. Pour the batter into the baking pan and sprinkle some chopped cashew nuts on top.
  8. Bake in a preheated oven at 140⁰C/ 284⁰F for around 40 – 45 minutes.
  9. Serve with some Sri Lankan tea or fresh fruit juice.

Recipe source: Raji Thillainathan.

Wattalapam Jelly Pudding

As part of the Eid special series,

(e) Wattalapam jelly pudding

Originally from the Sri Lankan Malay cuisine, wattalapam has become a dessert that is made by all communities in Sri Lanka.  This recipe of my mother is an adaptation of the traditional wattalapam into a jelly pudding.

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves 4

Wattalapam jelly pudding

Ingredients:

  • Thick coconut milk – 1 cup (this can be obtained by blending ¼ cup freshly scraped coconut with 1 cup of water)
  • Egg – 1 (can use 2 tbsp corn flour as a substitute)
  • Jaggery – ½ to 1 cup, depending on taste
  • Cardamom – 3 or 4, crushed
  • Vanilla extract – 2 tsp
  • Agar agar – 2 tbsp
  • Hot water – 6 tbsp

Method:

  1. Mix the coconut milk and jaggery.
  2. Lightly whisk the egg before adding the jaggery-milk mixture. Blend the mixture well.
  3. Add the crushed cardamom and vanilla extract to the mixture.
  4. Cook the pudding mixture on low heat, stirring continuously, for about 10 mins.
  5. Remove the thickened mixture from the heat and keep aside to cool.
  6. Take 2 tsp agar agar powder and mix with 6 tbsp hot water.
  7. Beat the agar agar mix into the slightly cooled pudding mixture.
  8. Cool and refrigerate.

Recipe Source: Raji Thillainathan.