Most traditional Kerala sweets are healthy and guilt-free – ari unda, ela ada, sweet dosa, and so on. They are not too rich or overwhelming yet utterly satisfying. Unni appam is the only exception that I can think of. Most other sweets including payasam (kheer) are rich in taste yet not fried or sinful.
Ari unda (Rice laddu) is an excellent traditional item that does not need any special expertise to make. If you are expecting guests at home and know that they will be staying over, this is an easy option to stock up. Since it has a week’s shelf life, it makes a wonderful gift item to take along with you while visiting a loved one. I tried my own version of ari unda by blending few other grains along with rice. Here is the recipe.
Parbolied Rice (Puzhukkal ari)- 1 cup
Whole Wheat/Broken Wheat – 1-1/2 or 2 cups
Green whole mung dal (cherupayar) – 1/4 cup
Ragi – 1/4 cup
Jaggery (grated) – 2-1/2 cup (as much as the quantity of grains. Adjust to taste)
Water – 1 cup
Grated Coconut – 1-1/2 cups
Cardamom – 4-5
Dry ginger powder/soonth/chukku – 1/2 tsp
Preparation time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 45 mins – 1 hr
Makes: 20-25 laddus
In a thick iron wok, roast the rice, broken wheat, green mung, and ragi separately until the raw smell is gone. The rice should turn crisp and golden brown. The secret to soft laddus is in the roasting of the grains. It has to be very well roasted until the rice breaks and pops up. Bite the roasted rice to see if it cracks easily. The other ingredients should change color and lose the raw smell. Remember to roast each ingredient separately because the roasting time for each is different. Remove from fire and let it cool.
Grind the roasted ingredients along with cardamom and dry ginger to a smooth powder. Keep aside. Grind the grated coconut in the mixer to a coarse powder. Do not grind too much as the coconut will turn into a paste. Stop grinding when the coconut becomes coarse. Transfer and mix well with the powdered grains.
Make jaggery syrup by adding a cup of water to the jaggery and heating it. When the jaggery is diluted, strain it to remove impurities. Then, boil the strained jaggery syrup to a string consistency. Turn off the heat. Add small quantities of jaggery syrup to the mixture of powdered grains and coconut. Add enough to moisten the powder. Taste a little bit of this mixture to check for sweetness. Add more jaggery syrup or powdered mixture as required to adjust to desired sweetness level. Use your palm to shape into small firm round balls. You can roll the shaped laddu on some dry powdered mixture to firm it up a little bit and make it less sticky. Repeat until all the blended mixture is made into small balls. Make sure that the jaggery syrup that you add to the powder is warm enough. For this, you may have to reheat the syrup depending on the time you take to shape the laddus. But you cant keep the syrup on flame all the while that you are making the laddu because that will make it too thick and sticky.
Transfer into an airtight container. This will last for 7-10 days. You can refrigerate this and use it for longer.
These sweet laddus are extremely flavorful with the aroma of roasted grains, smell of grated coconut, cardamom, dry ginger, and with its coarse yet soft texture, you will not stop at just one.