Monday, August 23, 2010

Onam Sadya with Mrs. Leelavathi Menon (Recipes Included)

I know I've been remiss about blogging for the last couple of months. Onam is a time for new beginnings, so it seemed like a perfect reason to get back to writing. A Malyali friends mother invited us over to join the family for their Onam Sadya and Aunty very kindly explained to me the details of the traditional meal. Errors, if any, in this article will be due to my own incomplete understanding or regional differences in practices.

Onam is a festival celebrated in Kerala to rejoice in the rice harvest among other reasons. Most South Indian states will also be celebrating their own Rice Harvest Festivals in the coming days. My community in Mangalore, celebrates it on the 8th of September each year. (we follow the Western calendar) I may just write about that next week. (fingers crossed) :)
 As Onam is also the festival of rain flowers, beautiful designs are created on the floor with different flowers called Onapookkalam or Rangoli as it is known in Hindi speaking parts of India.

While traditionally Onam is celebrated over 10 days and sadyas (meals) are eaten over plaintain leaves, it is difficult to find these traditions in their entirety outside of Kerala. Convenience and lack of availability of key ingredients means some things have to be planned way in advance or compromised upon.While our meal today wasn't as traditional with banana leaf et al, the spirit and enthusiasm of Mrs Leelavathi Menon's family made it a wonderful experience.

Like most cooks of her generaton, Aunty cooks without precise measurements. Its a handful of this and a pinch of that. The recipes that follow are hers and without measurements. If you would like me to try and pin down the measurements for something, do let me know. Hopefully the pictures of the finished products will help you decide on quantities.

Traditionally, there is an order in which food needs to be served and where it is placed on the leaf. I have seen this in other South Indian Brahmin communities, but have not observed this in the North Indian style except for Rotis before Rice

The first course of an Onam Sadya is always Parippu & Nayya with Appalams & Rice.
Nayya is Ghee. Appalams are the Kerala papads that have to be deep fried traditional style, no nonsense of roasting or microwaving them.

Parippu is a preparation involving Moong Dhal.
Roast the Moong Dhal for a bit and then add water and cook it with some salt and a coarsely ground mixture of coconut, jeera and green chillies.
When cooked, season it with raw ghee and raw curry leaves.
(The consistency is thick like a Dhal Makhni, but much lighter on the stomach)
Serve with hot rice, ghee and Appalams

From Left to Right: Sambhar, Olan, Parippu, Avial and Cabbage+ Carrot Thoran. The Central large dish is the Kalan

Olan is next. A dish made with Red Lobia.
Presure cook the red lobia with a little salt.
When done, add some pumpkin (kaddhu and cook again until the pumpkin turns soft.
Mash the mixture slightly, like you would while making chhole.
Add some coconut milk and take off the fire just before it bubbles.
Season with coconut oil (uncooked) and raw curry leaves

Avial is the next dish on the menu.
This is a dish most easily identified with Vegetarian Malyali cooking.
Any combination of vegetables is cut into crudites
The vegetables are cooked with turmeric, salt and a pinch of chilli powder.
When cooked, add finely b eaten curd to the mix.
Then add a coarsely ground mixture of coconut, cumin (jeera), green chillies and curry leaves.
Season with fresh coconut oil and fresh curry leaves.

Thoran is the dry dish served with all these Vegetarian curries.
Thoran can be made with beans or cabbage or carrots or a combination of vegetables.
For this dish, the vegetables need to be grated or sliced thinly
Coarsely, dry grind some coconut, onions, cumin (jeera), green chillies and curry leaves.
Heat some oil in a pan.
Add mustard seeds, when they splutter, add urad dhal or raw rice to complete the seasoning.
To this seasoning, add chopped onions and curry leaves.
When the onions are between translucent and light brown, add the vegetables and some salt and cover and cook till done
(Note: Do not add any water to the vegetables unless you are cooking beans)
When the vegetables are cooked, add the coarsely ground coconut mixture.
Stir well and remove from the flame.

Sambhar or Kalan is the next course.

Kalan is a curry made with Yam (Jhimikand), Ash Gourd (Petha) and/or Kerala Bananas (Nandarkai)
Kalan can be made with a combination of these vegetables or any one of them.
Lightly cook the vegetables with a little turmeric powder, chilli powder and salt.
Finely grind some coconut with cumin and pepper corns. You can add water or curd/yoghurt to smoothen and moisturise the mix.
Add some beaten curd and the coconut mixture to the cooked vegetables.
When it starts to boil, remove fromheat and season with mustard, fenugreek seeds (methi), dry red chillies and curry leaves.

Kerala Bananas (Nandarkai) are a major part of the Onam Sadya. They are served as chips - both savoury (salted) and sweet (coated with jaggery and deep fried)
Often times it will also be served just chopped up (1 banana chopped into 3 equal pieces)

Pulinji is a ginger-tamarind chutney that is made in large quantities during Onam.
Finely chop fresh ginger and green chillies.
Heat some oil, season with mustard seeds, then add the ginger and green chillies and fry till the ginger turns light brown.
Add tamarind juice (imli paste), turmeric powder, salt and curry leaves.
Boil well until the mixture turns slightly thick.
Add jaggery and cook well.
This chutney will keep well for awhile.

Pulinji and other chutneys and pickles are also an integral part of the sadya.

Sweets as always, are an extremely important finish to all Indian feastive meals.
Ada or Paalada Payasam is a kheer made with ada.
Ada is made by grinding rice, rolling it into thin sheets on banana leaves, boiling the leaves with the rice paste and then cutting it into small pieces. Nowadays, readymade ada is available in specialty markets. Kheer is then made the same way, just substituting Ada for rice or vermicilli (sevaiyan).

Parippu Prathaman is a kheer made with moong dhal and sago (tapioca pearls / sabudana) but with jaggery and not sugar. This gives a hint of saltiness to the kheer.
This preparation is supposed to be so good, that even if you are absolutely stuffed, you will always have enough space for a bowl. That's what Parippu Prathaman means.

Both sweets can be eaten either hot or cold.

Like most good and healthy Indian meals, even though we ate until we couldn't eat another morsel, it has been extremely light on our stomachs. The dishes are all easily digestible and even the endless supply of rice with all those curries hasn't made me sleepy or lethargic.

Thank you Aunty Leela for a wonderful evening and we look forward to many more. Aunty also makes the most awesome idli sambhar that I have eaten. But I have never been able to stop to take pictures before eating. oh well, there will always be a next time :)

Onam Ashamsagal!


sangeeta said...

Welcome back Kim and thank you for this wonderful write up .

I think i'd love to try a few of them after seeing this , especially the parippu prathaman ...
Regards to aunty leela.

Kim said...

Thanks Sangeeta :)

Hope I can keep it up

Onam festival said...

Nice post... I love those recipes and I really want to try themmm... Happy onam to you!

Cheers xxx


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