Festival Recipes, Kerala Recipes, Sweets

Navara Nei Payasam – Kerala Temple Prasadam-Style Rice Kheer with Jaggery

Navara (Njavara in Malayalam) is a unique nutritional rice variety indigenous to Kerala. Like how mango is the king of fruits and almond the king of nuts, Navara is considered top class among the rice varieties for its rich aroma and medicinal properties. For centuries, Ayurvedic healers have been using Navara for its miraculous healing properties. It aids in treating skin ailments and even helps heal internal wounds. It helps build immunity against common ailments, especially during the monsoon season. Rice gruel / kanji made from Navara is safe food for diabetes and can even prevent cancer. Navara is suited for people of all ages and is a source of general wellness.

The cultivation of Navara has become rare now due to non-availability of pure seeds, low yield, and high production cost. But, a handful of farmers who have realized the value of this grain are trying to revive this precious crop. Growing Navara itself is challenging and to grow it organically, even more so. Mr. Narayana Unni of Navara Eco Farm is an award winning third generation farmer who almost single-handedly revived the organic cultivation of the medicinal Navara rice over the period of a decade. His farm, Karukamani Kalam, is spread over 12 acres and is located near the banks of Shokanashini river and Chittur college. What makes Unni ettan’s Navara unique is the purity of the seed variety as well as the organic and USDA certifications.

You can buy this special medicinal rice at ShopSwasthi, the online Indian ethnic store. ShopSwasthi is a treasure house of such precious items. What makes this online store extraordinary is their collection of rare traditional and contemporary items. For instance, one of their products bamboo wind chimes are labors of love crafted by artist Rajiv using handpicked bamboos from the Idukki rain forests and chiseled and tuned to reproduce sounds from Nature. Sitting in your drawing room, you could enjoy the calming sounds of the rain forest, woods, rains, and gentle forest streams. Unbelievable, right? Listen to it here and you will believe. Read Rajiv’s story here. The Shop Swasthi team focuses and features passionate farmers and artists such as Mr. Unni and Mr. Rajiv who are dedicated to their crafts. In this heritage and ethnic store, you can also find cereals, everyday spices, food supplements, along with traditional Indian handicrafts and artifacts. Okay, I got carried away. But, blame it on the charming sounds of the bamboo wind chimes and Mr. Unni’s story. These are not like the mass-produced items that you find at a curio store, but individually and carefully crafted pieces of art that help you re-connect to Nature.

Navara can be used to make rice gruel / kanji or to make jaggery payasam. The traditional sweet offering / prasadam / neivedyam, especially at Devi temples, are made from raw rice, jaggery, and ghee. The payasam is prepared on firewood and cooked in an uruli, a heavy brass vessel. This payasam is thicker in consistency and is a little too sweet compared to other payasams. It has lots of ghee and is supposed to be eaten only in small portions. This payasam is also called kadu madhura payasam, i.e. very sweet payasam. I have not used as much jaggery or ghee as they would ideally in a temple prasadam. You could add more, if you prefer so.

Ingredients:
Navara rice – 100gm
Jaggery – 250gm
Water – as needed
Cardamom powder- 1/2 tsp
Ghee – 3 tbsp
Chopped coconut pieces – 3 tbsp

Preparation Time: 15 mins
Cooking Time: 30 mins
Serves 7-10

Method:
Wash rice in water, add it to a cylindrical vessel. Add 3 times water to the rice. Ensure there is enough space in the vessel for rice to get cooked. Place this vessel in a pressure pan and cook 4-5 whistles. Turn off the fire after 4-5 whistles and wait for the pressure to release naturally. Rice should be cooked soft but not mushy. Since the Navara rice variety is a little hard, it would take some time to cook it to the soft consistency.
Meanwhile, as the rice gets cooked, soak jaggery in warm water (1 cup – do not make it too dilute). Heat this solution until all the jaggery pieces dissolve completely. Pass this solution through a strainer to remove impurities if any, and keep the solution aside.
Heat a heavy bottomed vessel and add the jaggery solution to this vessel. Cook in a low flame until the jaggery syrup starts bubbling and thickening. When the bubbles start reducing (a sign that the syrup is thickening), add the cooked rice.
When you add the cooked rice, the jaggery syrup gets diluted again. Mix well and cook until the rice and jaggery syrup blends together and starts to thicken. Add ghee in small quantities. Stir well.
Stir occasionally until the payasam thickens comes to a saucy consistency. Add cardamom powder and switch off.
In a small frying pan, heat a spoon of ghee and add coconut pieces chopped into small rectangular pieces. Roast the coconut pieces in ghee until they turn golden. Turn off and add the roasted coconut pieces along with the ghee into the payasam. Stir well. Delicious sharkara payasam is ready to eat.

Notes:
The sweetness of the payasam will vary based on the jaggery variety you use and the amount of molasses in that jaggery. If your jaggery variety is very sweet, you could reduce the amount of jaggery by 50 gm.
You can even add / substitute coconut pieces with cashew nut pieces roasted in ghee.
The payasam thickens when it cools down. Hence, stop cooking it when the consistency is a little dilute.
Use only raw rice (unpolished red variety is ideal) to cook the payasam.
Add the cooked rice to the jaggery syrup when the consistency of the syrup is thick. If the syrup is too dilute and then you add the cooked rice, it can take a long time to get thicker and this can harden the rice.

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Festival Recipes, Kerala Recipes, South Indian, Sweets

Sharkara Payasam (Sweet Pongal)

People in different parts of India celebrate each festival in their own unique ways. In South, Makara Sankranti is a harvest festival. One of the items made with the newly harvested rice is Sharkara Payasam or Sweet Pongal. Back home we do not have any festivities for makara sankranti. My memories of sharkara payasam are associated with the last day of Navaratri (Vijaya Dashami). My cousin, who was the main pujari for this puja, would make sharkara payasam on that day. He did not resort to any measurements, but each time it turned out to be a delicious treat and we were left asking for more!

Ingredients:
Raw rice – 1 cup
Jaggery – 2 cups
Water – 2 cups
Ghee (Clarified butter) – 3-4 tbsp
Coconut pieces – 2 tbsp
Elaichi – 1/2 tsp
Cashew – 1 tbsp
Crystalized sugar – 1 tsbp (optional)

Method:
Clean the rice and cook it well. Make sure that you drain the extra water from the rice. Dissolve the jaggery in water and strain it to remove any impurities. Pour the melted jaggery into a thick bottomed pan (preferably uruli) and bring to boil. Add the cooked rice to the jaggery. The jaggery should not be too watery when adding the cooked rice. If it is, then by the time it thickens, the rice will harden. Stir occasionally. When it thickens and water reduces add elaichi powder. Roast the coconut pieces and cashews in ghee. Add this to the cooked payasam and its ready! My cousin would sprinkle generous amounts of kalkandam (crystalized sugar) to the payasam along with ghee. This makes it a truly heavenly treat.

If you add moong dal to this payasam, it becomes sweet pongal. You can check out the recipe here.

Note: The jaggery should not be too watery when adding the cooked rice. If it is, then by the time it thickens, the rice will harden.

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