All illustrations by Shawn D'Souza for Firstpost
Festivals, in India, may mean many things — gathering with family and friends, the thrill of having presents from the elders, new clothes, a holiday from everyday routines. Unbridled joy. They also mean food. From veritable feasts prepared in the days leading up to the festival, to family recipes brushed off only on these special days, the aromas and flavours one remembers wafting through the home on festive occasions, and best of all, that satisfied, lethargic rest after an excellent repast — these are the memories we associate with festival food.
The country’s seasonal calendar also plays a huge role in the way many cultures observe festivals around the year. Many Indian states celebrate the first half of April — sometimes coinciding with or following the harvest period — as the beginning of a new agricultural year. Baisakhi in Punjab, Poila Boishak in West Bengal, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Bihu in Assam, Ugadi in Karnataka, Vishu in Kerala, Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra and the Sindhi New Year Cheti Chand — are all an embodiment of the same celebratory spirit when people use fresh produce from the harvest and cook an assortment of dishes.
These traditional dishes are made as per heirloom recipes, handed down from one generation to the next.
Pinni is usually made from whole wheat, crushed nuts, jaggery/sugar and ghee spiced with green cardamom powder. Though it is made during winters, it can be preserved for months and eaten warm with tea. Over the years, pinni has become a common dish in Punjab/ Punjabi households during Baisakhi.
“It is quite probable that leftover pinni from winter found its way into the month of April, just when winter comes to an end,” says Chef Parvinder Bali, Dean of the Culinary School at the Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development.
Bali has curated a collection of recipes from a 400-year-old manuscript belonging to the royal family of Patiala. The following recipe for Pinni has been found in the pages of recipe books compiled by Maharaja Bhalender Singh of Patiala. The recipe dates back to 1700 AD when the first king of Patiala — Maharaja Baba Ala Singh (1691-1765) — ruled the region. In those days, the measurements were done in metrics of chhataank and ser (1 ser = 16 chhataank = 933 gm).
About the etymology of the word ‘pinni’, Bali says, “It might have emerged from the word ‘pinni’ (in Punjabi) which refers to holding something in ones’ fists and pressing. For instance, chawal ki pinni is made by the head of the house, when he commences his meal. This pinni or the moulded, fist-pressed, cooked rice from his own plate is reserved for man’s best friend — his dog.”
Ghee — 600 gm
Whole-wheat flour — 450 gm
Sugar — 1,100 gm
Pistachio — 150 gm
Almonds — 150 gm
Melon seeds — 150 gm
Gondh (extracted from the kikkar tree) — 60 gm
Fox nuts (makhana) — 90 gm
Green cardamom seeds — 20 gm
Dry roast the whole-wheat flour on a low flame and keep stirring until it turns golden brown and starts giving out a malted flavour/aroma. Now add ghee and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add sugar and crushed nuts and remove from fire.
Allow to cool. Now, add cardamom powder and gondh. Shape into ladoos and store in airtight containers.
While Gudi Padwa is almost synonymous with delicacies like Shrikhand, Kairi Panna, Puran Poli etc for a Maharashtrian household, there are also some basic, yet labour-intensive foods like Gavhachi Kheer that find place in the gastronomical platter of the Khandesh region (comprising districts Jalgaon, Dhule, Nandurbar and part of Nashik) of the state.
Rahul Patil, founder of the traditional food product company Wandering Foodie, says, “The dish has a significance due to the harvest season. Around this time, wheat is freshly harvested, and it is also considered a 'shubh dhanya' or a holy grain. Also, this is a time for relaxation for the farmers, so it is also considered an indulgent, celebratory sweet dish.”
Patil’s family has been making this dish since generations, as their ancestors were farmers. While many have stopped making this dish at their homes owing to the laborious process, the Patils are one of the very few families today who make it. “We get a lot of visitors and requests for this dish during this season, and it has become a family tradition to make this kheer in large quantities and share with other family and friends. The twist of nutmeg and poppy seeds is something our family adds, to enhance the flavour of the kheer as both of them go well with the jaggery,” he says.
Note from Rahul Patil: This is not daliya, but whole wheat. In daliya, usually the wheat germ oil is removed, and it ends up becoming harder and obviously, much less tastier.
Wheat — 2 cups
Jaggery — 2 cups
Poppy seeds, roasted — 1/4 tablespoon
Nutmeg — 1/4 tablespoon
Sugar — 2 teaspoons
Dry coconut, sliced — 1/4 cup
Salt — To taste
Soak wheat grains for 10 minutes, then strain the water. Dehusk the wheat in a food processor at slow speed so the grains don't break. Keep shuffling grains intermittently. Tie-up the grains in a muslin cloth for half an hour. Spread the grains out to dry for 2-3 hours. Remove any remaining husk by rubbing and winnowing, and soak in water for another 2-3 hours.
Wash the grains, then add 8 cups water and boil in a pressure cooker on high flame. After 4 whistles, simmer on low flame for 10 minutes.
Grind the boiled grains slightly to break. Do not make a paste. Add some milk if required.
Transfer in a vessel. Add granulated jaggery, 4 cups of water, poppy seeds, dry coconut and a pinch of salt and bring to boil. Grind nutmeg along with 2 teaspoons of sugar to a powder and add to the vessel. Do not boil after.
Serve when it comes to room temperature.
“It’s a tradition for us every year to make either the regular holige or this one. As kids, we would always look forward to travelling to our granny’s place as it’s my grandpa’s favourite too. For us, Ugadi without Lakkotana Holige was like Holi without colours,” recounts Nishanth Ramesh, partner relations (IT) who also owns a small food start-up named Uppu Thuppa in Bangalore that focuses on traditional Karnataka vegetarian snacks.
Long ago, the office documents were kept in pouches (like the folder-type pouches available today) called lakkote in the local language, mentions Ramesh. “They were in the shape of a rectangle which were foldable. One of my great grannies seem to have picked this shape up and used it in her cooking to make lakkotana holige,” he adds.
Grated coconut — 2 cups
Jaggery — 1/2 kg
Green cardamom, powdered — 4 pods
Poppy seeds (khus khus) — 1 teaspoon
For dough batter
Semolina (sooji) — 200gm
Refined flour (maida) — 200 gm
Refined oil — 100ml
Salt — To taste
Water — 1/2 cup
Refined oil to deep fry
For the filling — Add jaggery and 1/2 cup water to a pan and let it boil till it becomes a thread-like syrup. Once it is done, add finely grated coconut, powdered green cardamom and keep mixing it on medium flame. Once the mix starts getting dry leaving the syrup, add the poppy seeds and mix it well. Turn off the flame and let the filling cool down.
For the dough batter — Mix semolina and refined flour well; add salt, water to it and make a hard batter. Then add oil to it and leave the mix to soak in oil for 2-3 hours.
Heat the oil in a wok (kadai). Roll the dough as shown in the image above. Make smaller circular presses and then add the filling in between and wrap like a rectangle. Deep fry these rectangular pouches till they turn a little more than golden brown. Fry over medium flame.
Serve hot. Otherwise, if stored in an airtight container, it stays fresh up to 10 days.
According to Chef Rohit Albin Cheyaden, of the Kalyan-based Kerala restaurant named Adipoli, Vishu celebrations at home mean a chilled bowl of Manga Pullisherry served with rice.
“Summer has always been synonymous with mangoes for us. My Ammachi (grandmother) made this Manga Pullisherry. What was really amazing about this recipe was the fact that the mangoes came from our own farms in Kalyan. We have around six varieties of mangoes including the Kesar, Hapus, Dusseri etc,” recalls Cheyaden and further adds, “The Kesar variety in our farm has this fluorescent orange colour and the right amount of sweetness to sour ratio which makes it even better when used to make a pullisherry.”
The pullisherry tastes even better the next day.
Oil — 2 tablespoons
Fenugreek seeds – 1/2 teaspoon
Mustard seeds — 1/2 teaspoon
Curry leaves — 5-6
Grated coconut — 100 g
Cumin seeds — 1/2 teaspoon
Green chillies — 3
Curd — 500 gm
Turmeric — 1/4 teaspoon
Chilli powder — 1/8 teaspoon
Mangoes, ripe and boiled — 300 gm
Salt — To taste
Add oil to the pan and temper it with curry leaves, mustard and fenugreek seeds.
Make a paste of grated coconut, cumin seeds and green chillies. Add to the oil and mix this for a minute.
Grind the curd in a mixer grinder to ensure there are no lumps and a smooth consistency is attained. Add the curd to the previous mixture along with the mangoes.
Ensure the gas flame is on low while adding the curd, so that it does not split. Add turmeric, chilli powder and salt to taste.
For garnish, add fry curry leaves.
Food blogger Maumita Paul recounts how she savoured this dish for the first time at a cousin’s place and found out about the cultural-seasonal significance of this recipe.
"I remember finding this adorable old lady who had cooked it and I requested her for the recipe. Shol Maach is a staple in parts of Midnapore, around the end of Chaitra (last month of the Bengali Saka calendar) when the mango orchards have just blossomed and the Shol fish is about to mark its disappearance. The lady also informed me that apparently one doesn’t eat Shol after Baishak (first month of the Bengali Saka calendar),” says Paul.
When Paul began delving deeper into the history of this recipe, she found that Tagore also relished his Aam Shol and it featured in the Thakurbari menu of Poila Baishak. Even Bijoy Gupta’s Manasamangal Kavya has references to Aam Shol.
Shol fish (striped snakehead fish) — 5-6 pieces
Raw mango, peeled, deseeded and finely grated — 1
Poppy seed paste — 4 tablespoons
Ginger paste — 2 teaspoons
Spice powder — 2 teaspoons (recipe below)
Dry red chillies — 2-3
Fennel seeds — 1/4 teaspoon
Nigella seeds (kalonji) — 1/4 teaspoon
Fenugreek seeds — 1/4 teaspoon
Mustard seeds — 1/4 teaspoon
Turmeric powder — 1/2 teaspoon
Mustard oil — 5 tablespoons
Sugar — 1/4 teaspoon
Salt — To taste
For the spice powder
Fennel seeds — 2 teaspoons
Fenugreek seeds — 1 teaspoon
Nigella seeds (kalonji) — 1 teaspoon
Cumin seeds — 2 teaspoons
Dry roast all the spice powder ingredients. Allow the spices to release their aroma and then grind to a fine powder.
Marinate the fish with a little turmeric powder and salt.
Heat 2 tablespoons of mustard oil in a pan, shallow fry the fish. Keep over a kitchen towel to absorb the extra oil. Remove the skin of the fish, mash lightly with a fork, carefully removing the bones. Keep aside.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan. When smoking hot, throw in the whole red chillies, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, nigella seeds and mustard seeds. Allow the spices to splutter. Now stir in the ginger paste and poppy seed paste. Also, sprinkle the remaining turmeric powder. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add the mashed fish, salt and sugar. Cook over a low flame till oil starts to release from the masala. Sprinkle the spice powder, adjust seasonings and give it a hearty mix.
Finish with a drizzle of mustard oil. Serve hot.
PACHAI MOREKUZAMBU VADAI
Vadais are a popular snack in Tamil Nadu and are cooked in almost every household. However, this particular recipe is a speciality of the Raghunathans in Chennai for a long time.
Celebrity chef and show host (Dakshin Diaries) Rakesh Raghunathan tells us how this recipe passed on to his mother, from his grandmother. “My grandmother has been doing this for several years exclusively during the Tamil New Year’s day, Puthandu. During this festival, we invariably make this at home because everything is in abundance — be it the jaggery, or the pulses. Everything that you get is so fresh,” he says.
For this recipe, the curd has to be undiluted and shouldn’t be heated, in contrast to what is done for a regular morekuzambu. “Instead of making a plain morekuzambu without spices, my grandmother started adding coriander, coconut etc. So what you get is a mix of tang (from the curd), pungency (from mustard) and freshness (from coriander and coconut). With this wholesome package of flavours, we pray for abundance in the family,” adds Raghunathan.
Things to be soaked
Pigeon peas, split and skinned (Toor dal) - 1 tumbler
Bengal gram, split and skinned (Chana dal) - 1 tumbler
Black gram, whole (Urad dal) - 3/4 tumbler
Red chillies — 8
Green chillies — 2
Thick curd — 1 ½ litre
Salt — To taste
Things to be ground
Coriander seeds — 3 tablespoons
Fenugreek seeds — 3 teaspoons
Black gram, split and broken (Urad dal) — 2 teaspoon
Grated coconut — 1 cup
Coriander leaves — 1 bunch
Turmeric powder — 1 teaspoon
Take little oil and fry the coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, broken urad dal on low flame. After it cools, grind all of these with freshly grated coconut, coriander leaves and turmeric into a fine paste.
Mix this paste with the thick curd in such a way that the curd retains its thickness. Then, add salt and season the masala curd with mustard seeds and curry leaves. Now the green morekuzambu is ready.
In the meantime, grind all the dals into a coarse paste. Add salt while grinding. Finally, for the last round add the aromatic curry leaves. The batter is ready for making the vadai.
Keep oil in a wok (kadai); make small balls of the batter and deep fry. They need not be too red, just crisp enough. Make a few holes with a fork and then soak these vadai balls in the green morekuzambu.
By now, the vadais would have soaked up the curd. Place them in a bowl with the curd paste filled to the brim.
Mumbai-based Rashmee Raisinghani recalls how the Sindhi New Year (Cheti Chand) celebrations in their home meant cooking everything a day in advance. “We have a tradition of not lighting the stove or cooking anything on a flame on the day of Cheti Chand. So we would spend the previous day in preparing dishes for the next day,” she says.
This recipe of Tanhri, Raisighani says, has evolved with her parents’ life struggles. “At the beginning of their married life, they couldn’t afford all these fancy nuts and raisins for garnish. For that matter, Basmati rice was also a luxury. Over the years, as they started doing better in life, ingredients like sultanas, cashews, coconut and Basmati rice became affordable.”
Tanhri is cooked to mark Jhulelal’s visit to the river Sindhu. The Sindhi community offers this food to the river as they believe Jhulelal resides in the water.
Basmati rice, soaked in water — 200 gm
Sugar — 50 gm
Jaggery — 50 gm
Black raisins — 25 gm
Cashew nuts —25 gm
Dry coconut, cut into pieces — 25 gm
Green cardamom — 4 pods
Fennel seeds — 10 gm
Ghee — 50 gm
Water — 400 gm
Put water in a vessel and heat it for 10 minutes. Add the jaggery and sugar and stir for 10 minutes. Then, add the cardamom pods and fennel seeds in it.
After 5 minutes, add the dry coconut pieces, cashew nuts and soaked rice; keep on stirring for 15 minutes. Keep the lid on and put it on a slow flame for 20 minutes.
At the end, add ghee and garnish it with black raisins, cashew nuts and some pieces of dry coconut.
AAM ADA SANDESH
‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ — is an adage that fits perfectly to the story of how this recipe came into being.
“Today we mix cottage cheese (chhana) along with a lot of fruit pulp to make sandesh. But earlier, mixing cheese with any fruit was nearly unthinkable; everyone knew sandesh to be absolutely white. Thinking how we could improvise the sandesh by giving it flavours like that of mango etc, we invented the Aam Aada Sandesh. It was unique because we would give a flavour of mango without changing the colour of the sandesh from its inherent white colour,” mentions Partha Nandy, the fifth-generation owner of Kolkata’s iconic sweet shop Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra Nandy, established in 1844.
Aam Aada (Mango Ginger) is one of its kind that looks like ginger but gives a taste of mango. Nandy says this sweet became popular because during Poila Boishak, everyone wants to savour mangoes and sweets (read: sandesh).
Cottage cheese (chhana), freshly made — 500 gm
Sugar — 250 gm
Mango ginger (Aam Aada) — 100 gm
Pistachio powder — 100 gm
First, strain every drop of water out of the freshly made cottage cheese using a strainer. After it’s strained, press it in your palms so that it becomes fine and powdery.
Then, add cottage cheese and sugar in the pan and continuously stir it with a wooden spatula on low heat. After the sugar has melted, increase the heat a little and again continue to stir it. Once the sandesh mix is ready, it will no longer stick to the pan.
Then, turn off the burner and continue stirring or else it might get burnt. After stirring it for 5-7 minutes, pound the mango ginger and put 6-7 drops of its liquid extract and stir the mixture for another 10 minutes.
After it cools down, cut small pieces from the mixture and serve with pistachio powder on top.
In Assam, Bihu is observed three times in a year — Rongali or Bohag Bihu (in April), Kongali or Kati Bihu (in October) and Bhogali or Magh Bihu (in January). Jaal is cooked only on the first day or the seventh day of Bohag (first month of the Assamese calendar), informs Guwahati-based Pushpanjalee Das Dutta who is an online entrepreneur and food blogger.
“Our family's recipe for jaal is a traditional Assamese recipe cooked during Rongali Bihu. This dish is called jaal due to its hotness and medicinal properties,” says Dutta. “Since it is cooked only on particular days, we would be eagerly waiting for it during our childhood. But it would be so hot that we couldn't finish. In later years, when we could tolerate the heat of the dish, there would literally be competition [between us siblings and cousins] for how much we can eat. Now it's a competition over how much chilli we can add to it.”
Dutta says while many households cook this dish with potatoes, eggs or even meat, her family cooks it with tender jackfruit only. “Usually Assamese food is not that spicy, but jaal is an exception. That’s why it has become such an integral dish in our family’s Bihu platter,” adds Dutta. Since it is all about estimation in terms of the spices, there’s no strict quantity of the ingredients.
Tender bamboo shoots, diced — 250 gm
Tender cane shoots, diced — 250 gm
Tender jackfruit, diced — 500 gm
Potatoes, diced — 250 gm
Onions, diced — 4
Ginger-garlic paste — 2 tablespoons
Herbs (To be made into a paste)
To be ground
Cumin seeds — 1 tablespoon
Large cardamom — 1 pod
Green cardamom — 4 pods
Cinnamon stick — 1-2 inches
Szechuan peppercorn (Jabrang) — 10 gm
Dried chilli — 5
Green chilli — 150 gm
Grind all the spices with little water and keep aside.
Heat mustard oil in a wok (kadai) and sauté the diced onions. Add ginger-garlic paste. When the mix gets golden brown, add the bamboo and cane shoots, diced jackfruit and the diced potatoes.
Add the paste of herbs to the fried mixture. Mix well. Now add the ground spices. Add enough water to cook. Now, cover it and let it cook. Cook till you reach the desired gravy texture. Serve hot.
PACHOLA MURGI and AAMROLI PORUA KONI
In rural Assam, Bohag Bihu is celebrated over an entire month, of which the first day is called ‘Goru Bihu’ and it is a special day dedicated to cows. “On the day of Goru Bihu, eating red ant eggs is mandatory for many families in Assam. In my tribe, it is usually cooked with hen or duck eggs. Since the red ant eggs are available only for a window of 11-15 days, it is a rural delicacy. However, if these eggs are not available, we eat scrambled eggs, which are cracked in the morning during the ritual Koni Jooj Khela,” says Gitika Saikia, home chef and owner of Gitika’s Pakghor. Saikia has extensively researched and worked on tribal cuisines around Assam and neighbouring areas in the North East.
Along with the red ant eggs, Saikia’s tribe, Sonowal Kachari also makes chicken along with banana stem (Pachola Murgi) during Bihu. “On the days of Goru and Manuh Bihu, we must have eggs, chicken, pork, etc. Pachola Murgi is something that has been cooked every year in my family,” she says and adds that it is believed that banana stem tastes good before the rains as once the rainy season starts in May, water recedes into it making it tasteless and it releases too much water. Plus, banana stem is good for the digestive steam and is supposed to cleanse the body.
Aamroli Porua Koni
Red ant eggs — 1 cup
Mustard oil — 2 tablespoons
Chicken egg — 1
Salt – ½ teaspoon
Turmeric — ½ teaspoon
Onion, sliced — 1
Heat the oil in a wok (kadai) and fry the onions till they turn golden brown. Add salt and turmeric. Then add the ant eggs and stir fry.
Smash the chicken egg and then spread all over. Mix and stir well. Serve hot.
Banana stem — 500 gm
Chicken — 1 kg
Onion, sliced — 1
Ginger, finely chopped — 2 teaspoons
Garlic, finely chopped — 2 teaspoons
Turmeric — 2 teaspoons
Black pepper, ground — 1 teaspoon
Raw green chillies — 2 pieces
Salt — To taste
Cut the banana stem into small pieces.
Heat the oil in a wok (kadai) and add onion and finely chopped garlic and ginger. Add turmeric and salt. Mix well.
Add the chicken fry it even more. Cover the wok for 20-25 minutes and let the chicken cook under the lid on low flame.
Add the banana stem pieces and cook it for 10-15 minutes under the lid. Then add ground black pepper and cook in the open for another 10-15 minutes. Serve hot.