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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Everyday Simple Recipes, Festival Recipes, Kerala Recipes, Snacks, South Indian, Sweets, Tiffin

Sweet Beaten Rice Flakes (Aval Vilayichathu)

Most South Indian households stock up on beaten rice. When an unexpected guest arrives, beaten rice flakes come to your rescue. You can make delicious items out of this inexpensive item, like upma, cutlet, a sweet, or even payasam (kheer). Kanda (onion) poha and batata (potato) poha are favorite Maharashtrian breakfast items made using beaten rice flakes. Kanda poha is moistened poha cooked in a tadka of sauteed onion sprinkled with coriander leaves, some lemon juice, and a few peanuts – definitely a wholesome breakfast.

aval vilayichathu

When my friend came to visit, she brought along with her some organic beaten rice flakes. My mother makes sweet beaten rice flakes often and it is a favorite in our household. It is a common neivedyam (offering to God) and a favorite of Lord Krishna. I suggested to my friend that we use the organic variety to make the sweet beaten rice. I shared with her my mother’s method of making aval nanachathu. Though Kerala is a small state as compared to other states in India, you will find difference in taste of food every 100 kms or so. Right from the chutney, sambar, and the type of rice served, to the kind of items served in a sadya, recipes and tastes differ across the length and breadth of this blessed little state. My friend’s sweetened beaten rice recipe differed from my mother’s. I told her to teach me her version which is called Aval Vilayichathu. Does anyone know the difference between aval vilayichathu and aval nanachathu? Here is the recipe to her version.

Ingredients:

Beaten rice (brown/white) flakes – 3 cups
Jaggery – 1 cup (you can alter this quantity to suit your taste)
Grated coconut – 1 cup
Cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp
Sesame seeds – 1 tbsp
Chana dal/split chick peas/kadala paruppu – 2 tbsp
Ghee/clarified butter – 2 tsp
Water – 1 cup

Method:

Put the jaggery pieces in water and melt it on low flame. Strain the solution into a wide pan. Keep this pan on medium fire and let the jaggery solution thicken. When the jaggery solution thickens to a syrup. Check for one-thread consistency (take a drop of the jaggery solution in a spoon. Let it cool a bit and then touch it with a clean forefinger and then touch your forefinger and your thumb together and pull them apart gently. If the solution forms a thread between your two fingers, then it has reached thread consistency). Add grated coconut and stir. Add the beaten rice flakes, mix, and cook over a low flame, stirring constantly to coat the beaten rice with jaggery and coconut. Add cardamom powder. When the mixture thickens, turn off the fire.

In a small pan, heat ghee. When it is hot, add chana dal and roast them golden brown. Remove the chana dal from ghee and add to the sweetened beaten rice flakes mixture. Add sesame seeds to the hot ghee and roast lightly. Be careful not to burn the seeds. Pour the ghee and sesame seeds on to the sweetened beaten rice flakes mixture. Mix well.

This can be stored in the refrigerator for a month. You can take out required quantities and steam or warm in a microwave and use.

Below is my mother’s version, which is simpler. This one stays good only for a day.

Ingredients:

Beaten rice (brown/white) flakes – 3 cups
Jaggery – 1 cup
Grated coconut – 1 cup
Cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp
Ghee (optional) – 1 tsp
Water – 1-1/2 cup

Method:

Sprinkle small quantities of water on the beaten rice and use your hand to mix well and moisten the beaten rice. Close with a lid and keep aside. Put the jaggery pieces in water and melt it on low flame. Strain the solution into a wide pan. Keep this solution in the pan on medium fire and let the jaggery solution thicken. When the jaggery solution thickens to a syrup. Check for one-thread consistency (as mentioned earlier). When the jaggery solution reaches thread consistency, add the moistened beaten rice flakes and stir well to coat the beaten rice flakes with the jaggery syrup. Add grated coconut and cardamom powder and mix well. You can add ghee if you choose to as this tastes good even without the ghee.

Yet another method of making sweet beaten rice is to just scrape/powder the jaggery pieces and mix it well with the poha. Use some amount of warm milk or water to moisten this mixture. Add grated coconut and a quick and yummy snack is ready.

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Everyday Simple Recipes, Festival Recipes, Palakkad Iyer Recipes, Snacks, South Indian, Sweets, Tiffin

Kesari Bath/Sooji Halwa

Kesari bath/sooji halwa is one of my favorite sweets. It is a common neivedyam (food offering made to God) and a sweet served along with breakfast at Palakkad Iyer weddings. It is made even when there is no special occasion but just to satisfy sweet craving or when you have unexpected guests. It can be made easily, does not consume time, and most people love it. The best kesari bath that I have had is at Iyer weddings and at the Juhu ISCKON temple. Mani’s Cafe (next to Palakkad Jn railway station) serves melt in the mouth kesari bath. Palakkad Iyers add a little bit of pacha karpooram (Borneo-Camphor/Kacha Karpoor) and this gives a nice smell and taste to the kesari bath. Yellow or red food color is also added to this recipe but I do not prefer this.

The traditional kesari is warm, greasy, soft, and has a melt in the mouth texture. It has oodles of ghee that adds to its taste yet it doesnt drip ghee. Many a times the amount of ghee is cut down in homemade variations of kesari bath. Water, ghee, and sugar proportions are critical to make the perfect kesari. Too much water, sugar, or ghee can spoil the taste and consistency of the kesari. Although I have seen my mother make this dish very often, I always get confused about the quantity of water to be used for this dish and for upma. I referred to this blog to make this recipe and my kesari came out just right.

Ingredients:
Rava (sooji/semolina) – 1 cup
Sugar – 1 cup (depending on your taste)
Ghee – 3/4 cup
Water – 2-1/2 cups (you can opt to add milk to this)
Saffron (Kesar) – 3-4 strands
Cashew/raisins/almond pieces – A few
Cardamom powder (elaichi) – 1/4 tsp
Pacha karpooram (borneo-camphor/kacha karpoor) – very little (optional)
Food color – optional

Method:
Add the saffron strands to a small cup of warm milk/water and keep aside. Add half a cup of ghee to a thick bottomed wok and let it melt in medium heat. Turn down the heat to minimum and add the cashews/raisins/almond pieces and roast until golden brown. Remove them from the ghee and keep it aside.

sooji halwaTo this ghee, add rawa and keep stirring until the rawa turns color to golden brown. This will take about 5-7 minutes. I like to roast the rawa to golden brown although it is sufficient to roast just until the rawa starts to change color. While roasting the rawa, boil water in a pan. If you are adding milk, ensure that you use 1 cup milk and 1-1/2 cups of water. Ensure that that amount of water and milk put together is not more than 3 cups. Turn down the heat and add this boiling water/milk to the rawa cautiously. Make sure that you stand a little away from the stove while doing this as it might splutter. Stir this and make sure there are no lumps. Cook this for about 2-3 minutes. When the rawa is cooked and the water/milk content reduced, add sugar and mix well. The sugar starts to melt and the mixture once again becomes a little watery. Cook until the mixture thickens and water content reduces. Add the remaining ghee and stir. Add cardamom powder, cashew/raisins/almond pieces, and saffron dissolved in milk/water.

I prefer to have kesari bath warm although you can refrigerate this and serve it cold also.

jaggery kesariP.S. (added July 14th) – I tried making kesari bath with jaggery instead of sugar and it turned out to be really nice. So had to share it with all of you. The method remains almost the same. Measuring jaggery can be slightly tricky and if you use blocks of jaggery, you will need to make a wild guess. One thing you can do is pound the jaggery blocks and measure it using the same cup you used to measure the rava. Water should be three times the quantity of rava used.

Ingredients:
Rava – 1 cup
Ghee – 3/4 cup
Jaggery – 1 cup
Water – 3 cups
Saffron (Kesar) – 3-4 strands
Cashew/raisins/almond pieces – A fistful
Cardamom powder (elaichi) – 1/4 tsp

Method:
Soak saffron in a tablespoon of warm water. Keep aside. Dissolve jaggery in three cups of water. Using a strainer, strain this mixture to remove any dirt. Keep this water-jaggery mixture on the stove on low fire. Meanwhile, pour ghee into a thick bottomed pan. Keep fire on low. Put the cashew, rasins and almond pieces into ghee and roast the dry fruits. Remove the dry fruits from ghee when they turn golden brown and keep aside. Note that if you are using almonds, you will need to either soak them in water for 3-4 hours or blanch them and then peel and cut into smaller pieces.

In the same thick bottomed pan, to the melted ghee, add rava and roast on low fire for 4-5 minutes until rava changes color to light brown. When the rava has lost its raw smell and you start getting a finely roasted smell, add the jaggery water mixture which is kept on low fire in the next stove. Stir and add the hot jaggery-water mixture. The mixture starts to bubble and thicken. Add the soaked saffron. Keep stirring until moisture content reduces and the mixture starts to leave the sides. At this stage, you could add one more tablespoon of ghee. This is entirely optional and adds more sin, glaze, and taste to the kesari bath. Add cardamom powder and roasted dry fruits. Mix well. Jaggery kesari bath is ready. This is slightly more healthier as compared to the sugar version.

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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