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, Tiffin, Vegan

Uppu Kozhukattai – Savory Modak

Life in the village is more joyful during festival times. You get to taste pooja offerings from temples and neighbors. I used to particularly look forward to Ganesh Chathurthi when one of my favorite items was made – Kozhukattai. I cherish the sweet ones. Along with the sweet ones, mami (my neighbor) would make savory kozhukattais too. As a kid, I was not fond of savory items. With Ganesh Chathurthi approaching, I remembered and missed mami’s Uppu Kozhukattai (savory kozhukattai). A bit of googling and checking for recipes and I made my version of uppu kozhukattai. This is offered to Lord Ganesh on his birthday along with the sweet kozhukattai variety. The salty ones are shaped differently so that it is easy to distinguish between the two varieties. I warn you that you need to have at least an hour and a half in hand to make these steamed delights. So here is uppu kozhukattai.

Ingredients:
For Dough:
Appam/Idiayappam podi (rice powder available in leading markets) – 2 cups
Water – 2-1/2 cups
Salt  as needed
Sesame oil – 1 tsp

Soaked dal and chilliesFor Filling:
Urad dal (Black/white) – 1/2 cup
Chana dal – 1/2 cup
Green chili – 1
Dry red chili – 1
Hing – a pinch
Jeera – 1 tsp
Grated coconut – 1/2 cup

Dill leaves finely chopped (optional) – 1/4 cup
Salt as needed
Oil (coconut/sunflower) – 1 tsp
Curry leaves – 1 sprig

Method:
Soak the dals for one hour. Grind along with the chilies, hing, and salt to a coarse paste. Use very little water. The paste should not be watery. Make lemon-sized balls out of this coarse paste. Place in an idli stand and steam in a cooker for about 15 mins. Turn off and take out the steamed dal. Let it cool for couple of minutes. Use your hands to crush them into small pieces. Ensure that there are no lumps.

crush the steamed dal

Keep a wok on fire, pour oil and splutter mustard seeds. Add curry leaves and then add the crushed steamed dal pieces and stir for 2 minutes. Turn off fire. Crush jeera and add this and grated coconut to the cooked dal mixture. If you are adding dill leaves, add them now. Mix well and keep aside.
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.

Take the rice powder in a wide vessel. Add salt. In a pot, boil water to boiling point (bubbling hot). Carefully add small quantities of boiling water to the rice powder. 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. Towards the end, use your hands to roll the dough into a tight yet smooth, elastic, and pliable mass. Cover the vessel in which the dough is kept with a clean and moist cloth. This is to avoid the surface drying up.

Grease your hands lightly with some sesame oil. Take small lime-sized quantities of the rice dough and use your palms to make small rounds. Use your fingers to flatten the balls to make small cups (about 2 inches diameter). When you flatten to make cups, make sure that the thickness of the dough is even. Take about a teaspoon of the steamed dal filling and place it towards one half of the flattened dough. Take the other half of the flattened dough and carefully bring the edges together to seal and make a half moon shaped stuffed pouch that is sealed from the edges properly.

Repeat to make more such kozhukattais. I find so much joy in making kozhukattai. It takes so much care, focus, and attention to make a good looking kozhukattai. What else can be a better gift to God and your loved ones than your time and attention?

When you have finished making all of them, place them carefully in a steamer/pressure cooker (without weight). It is okay if they are placed one on top of the other but ensure none of the kozhukattai touches the edges of the steamer. Steam in medium heat for about 10-15 mins. Open the lid. Well-cooked kozhukattais will look glossy but would have turned pale in color. Take out from the steamer and wait to cool (2 mins). Kozhukattais will be sticky if you handle them immediately after taking out of the steamer. So ensure that you wait for a couple of minutes.

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Soft uppu kozhukattais are ready.

Notes: It is very important that you use the right kind of raw rice powder for this recipe. Otherwise, your kozhukatai might break or become hard. It should be raw rice that is finely powdered and not a coarse powder.
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 kozhukatai for steaming. This ensures that they don’t stick to the plate.
After the kozhukatais are steamed, turn off the heat and take out the plate/idly tray of kozhukatai. 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.

For modaks that will stay soft and fresh for more than 24 hours, you can follow another method to make the dough. This is explained here.
You can also make a different filling by substituting the urad and chana dal with mung dal.

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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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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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