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, Palakkad Iyer Recipes, Snacks, South Indian, Vegan

Sweetened Cow Peas (Vellappayar Sharkarayil Vilayichathu)

Navarathri is incomplete without this sweet prasad. It is a very important item for the Devi. I make this often to satisfy my sweet cravings. This easy-to-make sweet is a healthy alternative to store-bought sweets that contain preservatives and other harmful chemicals.

Ingredients:
Black-eyed cow peas/Vellappayar – 1 cup
Jaggery – 3/4 cup
Water – 1/2 cup
Cardamom powder – 2 pods
Grated coconut: 2 tbsp

Preparation Time (Soaking time): 8 hours
Cooking Time: 20 mins to pressure cook, 10-15 mins to prepare the sweetened cow peas
Makes 2 cups

Method:
Wash the cow peas thoroughly and soak it overnight in enough water. Drain the water.

Add fresh water just enough to immerse the cow peas and pressure cook the peas (2 whistles should be enough). The peas should be cooked very soft. Otherwise they tend to become hard when cooked in the jaggery syrup.

Melt jaggery in half cup of water. Strain to remove impurities.
Pour the strained jaggery solution into a thick bottomed pan and heat to make a soft and thick syrup. When the syrup starts to thicken and bubble vigorously, add the cooked peas and cardamom powder. Stir occasionally and cook until all water content is absorbed and the jaggery coats all the cow peas thoroughly. Turn off the fire and garnish with grated coconut.

Festival Recipes, Palakkad Iyer Recipes, Snacks, South Indian, Sweets, Tiffin, Vegan

Modakam, Madura Kozhukkatta (Sweet Dumplings)

Sweet dumplings, a favorite of Lord Ganesha, a special offering on Ganesh Chathurthi.

modakam

DSC08971Ingredients:
For Method 1 (Best results):
Raw Rice – 1 cup
Water – 2 cups
Sesame oil – 1/2 tsp
Salt a tiny pinch

For Method 2 (Easier/Faster):
Rice Flour – 1-1/2 cups
Water – 1 -1/2 cups
Salt a tiny pinch

For Filling:
Jaggery – 3/4 cup
Water – 1/2 cup
Coconut (grated) – 1 cup
Cardamom – 1 teaspoon
Sesame seeds – 1 teaspoon (optional)

Preparation Time: 1 hr
Cooking Time: 20 mins

coconut

Method:
Let’s make the filling first. Dissolve the jaggery in water and place it on the stove. Let the jaggery melt. Strain this solution to remove impurities.
Heat this in a thick bottom pan until the jaggery syrup becomes frothy and thick. Add grated coconut. Mix well until the mixture turns thick.
Turn off and add cardamom powder and sesame seeds.
Tip: Always make the filling first then make the dough for the outer covering. This ensures that the rice dough does not get dried up.

Now, to make the dough for the outer covering, follow either of the two methods.

Method 1: Wash and soak the raw rice in 1 cup of water for at least 3-4 hours. Drain the water and set it aside. This water can be used while grinding.
In a mixer, blend the soaked and drained rice into a smooth paste. You may add small quantities of the water that was used to soak the rice. You need to ensure that the ground rice is a very smooth and lump-free paste.
Heat a heavy bottomed wok and add a cup of water into it. Bring it to boil. Add a speck of salt and 1/2 a tsp of oil to this water.
When the water is bubbling and hot, turn the flame to low and gently pour/transfer the finely ground rice batter. Keep stirring while you do this. Parts of the batter starts to thicken and you would need more strength to stir the mixture. Keep stirring, turning the batter to all sides. Do not take your attention away even for a second or the batter will stick to the bottom of the vessel. In about 3-4 mins, you will notice that the batter has become a thick and soft lump.
Turn off the fire. Close the vessel with a lid and keep it aside for about 5 minutes to let the dough be cooked in residual heat inside the vessel.
After 5 minutes, remove the lid and using the ladle, mix the dough well and transfer it to a large bowl/plate. Use your hands to knead the dough while it is still warm. Grease your hand with a dab of sesame oil and knead the dough to a smooth and pliable dough. Cover with a wet cloth or air tight lid. This is to prevent the dough from turning dry.

Notes: This dough gives the best result and the modaks made from this dough retain moisture and stay soft and fresh for more than 24 hours.

Method 2: Take rice flour in a wide vessel.
In a pot, boil water to boiling point (bubbling hot). Carefully add small quantities of boiling water to the rice flour. Ensure that the water is boiling hot when you add it to the rice flour. Otherwise the dough will not get cooked properly.
Stir using a flat ladle, mix well, to make a soft, smooth, elastic, half-cooked dough. Be very careful with the amount of water you add.
When the dough is tight and soft, stop adding water. Use your hands to roll the dough into a tight yet smooth and elastic mass. Ensure that there are no lumps in the dough.

Notes: This dough is easier to prepare. The modaks made from this dough are soft when fresh but tend to get slightly harder after 5-6 hours.

To make kozhukattai/modak:
Smear sesame oil or ghee on your hands. Take some rice dough (medium lemon sized) into your palm. Make a small ball of the dough and flatten them into small cups using your thumbs.

rice-cups

Take a spoon of the coconut jaggery filling and place it in the middle of the flattened dough.

filling-in-cups

Cover the sides while ensuring the filling is safely cocooned with the soft rice dough covering the filling from all sides.

close the cup

Repeat to make more.

Mould and filling

Place the dumplings in the steamer/idli tray of a pressure cooker (without weight) and steam for 10-15 mins. Remember to lightly grease the steamer plate/idly tray. After 10-15 mins, turn off the stove, carefully take out the plate/tray of modaks. Wait for a couple of minutes before you touch them because they would be delicate due to all the steam and and heat and tend to break easily. Let them cool off a bit and take out gently and place on a serving plate.

Health Benefits/Alerts:
This is a delicious and healthy dessert as it is steamed and oil usage is minimal.

Notes:
Always make the filling first then make the dough for the outer covering. This ensures that the rice dough does not get dried up.
Remember to lightly grease the steamer plate/idly tray in which you arrange the modaks for steaming. This ensures that they don’t stick to the plate.
After the modaks are steamed, turn off the heat and take out the plate/idly tray of modaks. Let it cool off a bit. Wait for a couple of minutes before you touch them because they would be delicate due to all the steam and and heat and tend to break easily.

Trivia:
The filling by itself is delicious and hard to resist. Modakam moulds are available in the market these days. Those of you who have trouble making the rice cups can try out the modakam mould.

Addendum: An alternative way of making the rice dough yields excellent results but is slightly

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