Introduction: India's cultural diversity is reflected in many things — be it the languages spoken, ways of living, art forms practised. Then there are the numerous festivals celebrated across the country, based on the changing seasons, or the traditional calendar. Festivals are a time for families and communities to get together, but they are also an occasion to prepare and share meals that hold great historic significance.
Festive cuisine varies widely in different Indian regions — from the ingredients to the preferred meats and vegetables, to the cooking style. And although many of these traditional foods have been forgotten, or immeasurably changed, heirloom recipes — passed down through generations — attempt to preserve some semblance of this rich repast of the past.
This Firstpost series aims to document some of these rare recipes.
As the season of autumn approaches, India gears up to celebrate a number of festivals. The festivities begin with Ganesh Chaturthi and go on till Diwali. While Durga Puja is celebrated with much pomp and splendour in parts of West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Assam and Tripura, the northern and western parts of India observe fasts during the nine days of Navratri, when they worship the Goddess in her nine primary forms.
The tenth day of the Devi Pakshya is celebrated across the country as Vijaya Dashami or Dussehra — the ultimate triumph of good over evil. It is the state festival (also known as Nadahabba) of Karnataka, famous for the Mysuru Dasara procession.
Because this auspicious time holds a different kind of significance and because the rituals vary across regions and communities, the food cooked during this time also varies significantly. While Navratri in the north is more about simple food devoid of any spices, the food of Bengal is rich in protein as a lot of mutton is consumed during the five days of Durga Puja. This is where the popular phrase, "During Puja while the rest of the country fasts, Bengal feasts," came from.
Here are some exquisite home-recipes — all the way from Assam, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and West Bengal — that reflect the significance of the festival in the regions:
Poo is a pahadi delicacy often cooked when people are on a fast during Navratri, says Delhi-based school teacher Pushpa Manral. She left the hills of Uttaranchal and settled in Delhi after she got married in 1992. Though several years have passed, poo reminds her of her childhood when she used to live away from her mother. "My mother would make it and hand it over to a bus conductor who would then bring it to me after an overnight journey. Being able to eat these home-made, fluffy, sweet balls was nothing short of a luxury then," she recounts.
In the hills of Uttaranchal, in addition to the Hindu pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, many demigods are worshipped too. "Poo is often offered to one such demigod named Nagarjuna whenever a calf is born, as a token of gratitude for the constant availability of milk and other dairy products in the household. Moreover, anything to do with milk is considered auspicious," adds Pushpa.
Ground flour - 150 grams
Semolina - 150 grams
Jaggery - 250 grams
Milk - 1 cup
Curd - 1 cup
Desi ghee (clarified butter) - 2 spoonfuls
Green cardamom - 5 cloves
Refined oil (for frying) - as required
First, cut 250 grams of jaggery into small pieces. Heat one cup of water, add the jaggery and melt it. Once this is done, switch off the heat and let it cool down till it becomes lukewarm. In a separate saucepan, add the molten jaggery, flour and semolina and mix well. Then, add two spoonfuls of ghee and 5 cloves of ground green cardamom powder (ensure the powder is coarse). After this, give it a good mix and add the curd. Add milk until this mix achieves the consistency of idli batter. Blend it well.
Heat refined oil in a pan and fry these balls, just like pakodas. They can be served as they are, or with yoghurt.
Cheppi Kheer and Kaakambi (Dakshin Kannada)
Suman Prabhakar Shenoy, a Mumbai-based homemaker, traces her roots to a village named Karakala near Udupi in Karnataka. "In our community (GSB - Gaud Saraswat Brahmins), especially those who belong to the region of Dakshin Kannada, we offer a naivaidya to the Goddess out of fresh harvest produce. The food items are basic and the recipe is simple. We offer this food not just to Ambe Mata, but also to the goddess during Gauri Puja, celebrated during the Ganpati festival," says Suman.
When we asked for a recipe, she said that there are no measurements or quantities for her ingredients, as she has learnt it out of sheer observation and experience.
Fill three-fourth of a saucepan with water and let it come to a boil. Then, add a cup of rice and cook it till it gets soft. Roll leaves of the turmeric plant, tie them in a knot and then add to the pan to give the rice flavour. Take half a cup of grated coconut and mix some water in it. Mix it and pass it through a sieve, so coconut milk is extracted out of it. Add the coconut milk into the rice and stir it till it boils.
Soak one cup of rice in water for about half an hour. Take the soaked rice, half a cup of grated coconut and a half cup of water, and put them into a grinder and form a coarse paste. In a pan, add two cups of water to the mix and let it come to a boil. Roll leaves of the turmeric plant, tie them in a knot and then add to the pan to give the rice a flavour. Remember to stir the mixture continuously in order to prevent it from sticking to the bottom. Add water to maintain the consistency, and check if the rice is properly cooked. Then, add a cup of jaggery and coconut milk; mix it well and wait till it boils. Sprinkle ground green cardamom powder on top.
Ambode and Yeriyappa (Karnataka)
Nishanth Ramesh, 32, partner relations (IT), also owns a small food startup named Uppu Thuppa that focuses on traditional Karnataka vegetarian snacks. He was born in Bengaluru and brought up in Mysuru; he belongs to the Hoysala Karnataka Brahmin community. "As a community, we do not believe in adding onions or garlic to the food offered to gods," says Ramesh.
Split chickpeas (chana dal) - 50 grams
Byadagi chillies - 8
Grated coconut - 1/2 coconut
Turmeric - 1 teaspoon
Green chilli - 4
Asafoetida - quarter teaspoon
Grated ginger - 1 spoonful
Curry leaves - 2 tablespoon
Coriander leaves - 2 tablespoon
Cumin seeds - 2 teaspoon
Salt - as per taste
Refined oil (for frying) - as required
Soak the chickpeas for two to three hours. Separate the water and keep it aside. Grind Byadagi chillies, asafoetida, ginger, cumin, and turmeric to a paste and set it aside in a bowl. Grate the soaked chickpeas without adding a lot of water. Put this in another bowl. Take the grated coconut and grind it to form a paste. Now, add the spice paste, chickpeas and coconut paste in a bowl. Add salt, finely chopped curry leaves and green coriander leaves, and give it a good mix.
Heat the oil in a pan. Make patties of the mix and deep fry it till it turns brown. Fry it on a low flame to ensure it is cooked well.
Rice - 125 grams
Wheat - 50 grams
Split black gram (Urad dal) - 2 teaspoons
Grated coconut - 1/4th of a coconut
Jaggery - 3 small square blocks
Green cardamom - 4 (ground to a coarse powder)
Poppy seeds (khus khus) - 1 teaspoon
Oil to fry
Soak rice, wheat and the split black gram overnight. In the morning, remove the water. Add coconut to it and grind it with minimal water, just like you would for idli batter. Add all the other ingredients including jaggery and mix it well. Leave it aside for an hour so that jaggery sets into the mix.
Heat the oil in a pan. Drop the batter from your hand or a spoon, in the shape you like, into the oil and fry it till it becomes a little darker than golden brown (Tip: Fry on a medium flame). Serve it hot. If stored in airtight containers, yeriyappas stay edible for up to two days.
Heat the oil in a deep pan and make patties of the channa dal. Mix and deep fry it till turns brown. Fry it on a low flame to ensure it is cooked well.
Mete Chochchori (West Bengal)
Debojyoti Mullick is a fourth-generation member of the illustrious Mullick family of Kolkata's Bhowanipore. If the surname strikes a bell, it is because the same family has produced two known faces from the world of cinema — popular Bengali actress Koel Mullick and her father and veteran cine legend Ranjit Mullick. The practice of celebrating Durga Puja in the Mullick Bari (in Bhowanipore) began in 1924; before this, it is not known if the family celebrated the festival when they lived in their ancestral village of Guptipara in the Bardhaman district of Bengal. "Our puja is observed in the Vaishnav style and hence there is no sacrificial ritual. In many other pujas, the Goddess is offered a sacrificed goat, duck or even vegetables like the ash gourd or sugarcane. But we do no such thing," says Debojyoti.
For ages, after the Dashami procession (termed 'Bhashan' in Bengali), the family has followed a tradition — of eating together with friends and family. Of all the things cooked that day, Mete Chochchori (a mixed vegetable dish that contains mutton liver) stands apart. "I am sure it is not made anywhere else. We also have the quintessential Bengali dishes like dal, rice, alu bhaja, mangsho etc, but Mete Chochchori is the signature dish of the Mullick household," adds Debojyoti. When asked if the dish has any historical significance, he said, "Because it tastes good, we have continued making it and eating it for all these years."
Pui shaak (Basella leaves)
Pumpkin/ Ash Gourd
Salt to taste
Cut all the vegetables in into small blocks. In a deep pan, add oil and saute all the vegetables. Add salt and stir well. Then, add ginger paste along with all the other spices, which should have been soaked in water. Then add the mutton liver and stir. Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook. Keep stirring the mix to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Choi Jhaal Diye Mangsho (West Bengal)
As Mullick points out, animal sacrifice (boli pratha in Bengali) was, and still is, a very common practice in many parts of eastern India. On the eighth day of the Puja (Maha Ashtami), a goat is sacrificed at the altar of the Goddess. Meat is cooked on that day itself — without onion and garlic, as they are considered tamsik (creating heat) — and served in the household or community.
Pritha Sen, a leading chef, food historian and former journalist, has been studying the history of Bengali cuisine for a long time. From making rice and dal at home after work to cooking elaborate multiple-course meals for her friends, family and admirers, Pritha has come a long way. Her inquisitiveness, keen observation and a desire to revisit ancient culinary traditions made her revamp a lot of her mother's recipes. One such recipe is the Puja mutton cooked without onion, garlic and chillies.
"Before the Portuguese introduced chillies into India, how did my great-grandmother cook? This led me to the quest of a spicy alternative for chilli. I found it in Choi, which is also known as 'gujj peepli' in Ayurveda and is revered for its healthy and medicinal value, " says Pritha. She further adds that the dried stem (without the bark) of the Choi plant has been used in a couple of ancient recipes mentioned in books from the 14th and 15th century, one of which is titled 'Manosha Mangal Kabya'.
Mutton - 1 kilo
Curd - 3 to 4 teaspoons
Grated coconut - 1 fistful
Ginger paste - 4 tablespoons
Cumin powder - 4 teaspoons
Cumin seeds - 1 tablespoons
Bay leaves - 4
Black pepper powder
Choi pieces - 8 to 10 pieces (cut into small rectangular blocks)
Garam masala powder
Salt - to taste
Mustard Oil (for frying) - as needed
Mix the mutton, curd, grated coconut and all the powder spices and keep this mixture aside. Since this will be slow-cooked, we don't need to marinate the meat. In a deep pan, heat mustard oil and put in the bay leaves, whole garam masala, cumin seeds and asafoetida. Add the mutton and saute it really well until the spices are well cooked. Add some hot water in order to keep the meat tender and to turn it into a curry.
Remove the bark from choi and cut it into small sticks. Add them into the curry and let it simmer to a boil. Once the oil oozes out of the meat, add black pepper powder and garam masala powder and cook it till the meat is tender and well-cooked.
Ugra Tara Bhog (Assam)
"The 17th-century Ugra Tara Temple in Guwahati by the Jourpukhri Tank was built by Ahom King Siva Singha. The temple continues to observe the tradition of offering khichdi (porridge) to the Goddess during the Durga Puja festival. But, there is something unique here; the meat is cooked along with lentils, rice and vegetables and it is served as prasad during the Puja," says chef Kashmiri Barkakati Nath.
Animal sacrifice is a part of the century-old custom here. Devotees consider it auspicious to partake in this bhog khichdi, she explains.
Mustard oil - 2 tablespoons
Cumin seeds - 1 teaspoon
Bay leaves - 2-3
Dry red chillies - 2
Mutton - 200 grams
Soaked rice - 250 grams
Green gram (moong dal) - 300 grams
Ginger (chopped) - 2 tablespoons
Cumin powder - 1 teaspoon
Coriander powder - 1 teaspoon
Turmeric - 1 teaspoon
Potatoes (cut into chunks) - 2
Pumpkin (cut into chunks) - 100 grams
Clarified butter (ghee) - 2 tablespoons
Green chilli - 2-3
Salt to taste
Heat the mustard oil in a pan, splutter the cumin seeds, red chillies and bay leaf. Add the meat and stir-fry for three to four minutes. Add a litre of boiling water and cook for 10 minutes. Add the moong dal and bring to a boil. Let it simmer until the dal is half-done and the meat is also cooked. Add the rice, potatoes, pumpkin, turmeric, cumin powder, coriander powder and the chopped ginger.
Cook on a low flame for another 20 minutes, until the vegetables and rice are all cooked through. Ensure that the water is absorbed; the mixture must not be dry, it must be of a mushy consistency. Stir in the ghee and the slit green chillies, and it is ready to be served.
Haanh Aru Kumura Mangso (Assam)
While mutton is a popular meat consumed during Puja, in various parts of Bengal and Assam duck is also a delicacy cooked during the festival. Gitika Saikia, home chef and owner of Gitika’s Pakghor, is an expert on north-eastern cuisine and a lot of her work is about tribal food and the cuisine from the region. She tells us that since Durga Puja coincides with the harvest period, a lot of festive food centres on fresh produce: seasonal vegetables and well-fed animals and poultry.
"Durga Puja marks the beginning of the consumption of duck in Assam. The duck meat is eaten especially during Ashtami or Navami. These ducks are booked much in advance and are sold only in pairs," says Gitika. Ducks, along with goats, are the animals that are sacrificed; in some places, ash-gourds, bananas, and even sugarcane is offered as a sacrifice to the Goddess. Gitika belongs to the Sonowal Kachari tribe of upper Assam from Dibrugarh district. For generations, duck meat has been cooked with ash gourds in her family and it happens to be quite a popular delicacy in the region. "There is also a typical kind of duck — which swim in the ponds and eat fodder — that is preferred for this recipe. The ducks are from the villages; fatter the ducks, better they taste." Gitika adds.
Duck meat - 1 kilo
Ash gourd - 750 grams
Onion - 4, sliced
Ginger garlic paste - 2 tablespoons
Salt and turmeric
Heat the oil and fry the onion, ginger-garlic paste and green chillies till they turn brown. Add the duck meat and cook for some time. Later, add salt and turmeric. Cover it and cook for 20 minutes, occasionally stirring. Now, add chopped ash gourd and cook it for another 40 minutes. Add garam masala and cook for sometime. Finish by adding chopped coriander and switch off the flame. Serve hot with rice.
Updated Date: Oct 21, 2018 19:08 PM