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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Festival Recipes, Kerala Recipes, South Indian, Sweets

Unni Appam

Sweet balls, crisp on the outside and soft inside. The dessert of the Gods!

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Ingredients:
Rice flour* – 1-1/2 cups
Jaggery/molasses – 2 cups
Ripe Banana – 2 (tiny yellow ones, Elaichi Kela in Hindi, Rasa Kadali in Malayalam)
Cardamom – 5 pods
Thinly sliced coconut pieces – 1/4 cup
Ghee (for frying the coconut pieces) – 1 tbsp
Coconut Oil* – 1-1/2 cups
Water – 1 cup

* In case any of these ingredients are unavailable, check the alternate ingredients section for other options.

Alternatives:
Ghee can be used instead of coconut oil to fry the unni appams.
This snack can also be made with wheat flour instead of rice flour using the above-mentioned method with the exception of plantain.

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Resting Time (for batter): 30 mins.
Cooking Time: 5 min.

Method for batter:
Mix the jaggery in 1/2 cup of water and let it boil. Remove from fire when all the jaggery pieces have melted. Let it cool. Peel banana, mash, and mix it in jaggery syrup. Cut coconut into small pieces, fry in ghee, and add to the jaggery syrup. Add the rice flour into the jaggery syrup. Powder the cardamom and add to this batter. If the batter is too thick, add a little water. The batter should be of the consistency of idli batter.

Method for Unni appam:
Place the appam mould on fire and pour coconut oil enough to fill all the pits with oil. When you get the sweet aroma of boiling coconut oil, pour the batter into the pits in the appam mould.

The fire should be in medium.

When the sides turn golden brown, turn over the appam. You can dip a toothpick into the unni appam to check for stickiness. If the batter sticks to the tooth pick, it is not ready to be turned yet. Remove from oil, drain and set aside. Crispy unni appams are ready to be gobbled.

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Notes:
After removing the unni appam from fire, place them on absorbent paper for 5 mins to remove excess oil.

This sweet is free of processed sugar. Jaggery is a healthy alternative for sugar.

Trivia:
This is a sweet dish that is often offered to the Gods in South Indian temples, especially in Kerala.

Skill Level:
Medium

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