Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bharli Keli for Gokulashtami (Stuffed Bananas)

'Gokulashtami' or 'Krishna Janmashtami' is an annual commemoration of the birth of the Hindu deity Krishna - the eight avatar of Lord Vishnu.
Hindus celebrate this festival by fasting and staying up until midnight, the time when Krishna is believed to have been born. Images of Krishna's infancy are placed in swings and cradles in temples and homes. At midnight, devotees gather around for devotional songs, dance and exchange gifts. Some temples also conduct reading of the Hindu religious scripture - 'Bhagavad Gita'.

The legend behind Krishna's birth: Mathura (present day Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh) was the capital of the 'Yadavas', to which Krishna's parents Vasudev and Devaki belonged. King Kansa (Devaki's brother) had ascended the throne by imprisoning his father. Afraid of the prophecy that predicted his death at the hands of Devaki's eight son; Kansa had the couple locked into a prison cell. After Kansa killed the first six children, and Devaki's apparent miscarriage of the seventh, Krishna was born. 
Since Vasudev knew Krishna's life was in danger, he was secretly taken out of the prison cell to be raised by his foster parents -Yasoda and Nanda in Gokul (also in present day Mathura district).

'Gokulashtami' is celebrated all over India and every place has it's own unique way of celebration. Let me share with you how it is celebrated in Maharashtra. 
Popularly known as 'Dahi Handi', this festival is celebrated with enormous zeal and enthusiasm. The 'handi' or clay pot filled with buttermilk is positioned at a convenient height prior to the event. A human pyramid is formed and the topmost person tries to break the 'handi' by hitting it with a blunt object (mostly coconut). When that happens, the buttermilk is spilled over the entire group, symbolizing their achievement through unity. 

Moving on to star of this post. The delicacy prepared at my husband's place on this day is 'Bharli Keli' or Stuffed Bananas. My FIL celebrates his birthday on 'Gokulashtami' and this is his favorite dessert. So it is a birthday tradition to prepare this dish for him. And as it is his 60th birthday this year, I shall be making this dish at my home too, to make us feel a part of the celebration with him. 
Particular type of bananas known as 'Rajali Keli' are used for this recipe. They are found only for a month or so in India. I am not going to find these where I stay, so I use regular bananas and it works quite well.

Wish we were together today. Happy 60th Birthday Pappa! 
This one is only for you.

Level: Medium
Serves: 3 - 4 people (1/2 banana per person)
Source: Nita Pradhan (MIL)

3 firm bananas (pref. Rajali Keli, I used regular variety)
1/4 tsp ghee
4 tblsp fresh grated coconut (I used frozen)
2 tblsp jaggery, grated
2 pinch cardamom powder
1 pinch nutmeg powder (optional)
1/2 cup coconut milk (I used Maggi coconut powder)

Step 1 - Let us get our filling ready. Heat 1/4 tsp ghee in a pot. When it melts, add the coconut and jaggery and saute it till the jaggery melts. Turn off heat immediately and transfer the contents into a bowl to cool down. Add the cardamom powder and nutmeg powder when the mixture warms down. Mix well with a spoon. Keep aside.

Step 2 - While the coconut jaggery mixture cools down, let us prep our bananas. Peel off the outer cover and carve out the banana carefully in the middle to make it resemble a boat as shown below. Make sure you handle the bananas as delicately as possible. Even a little bit of pressure could break it. Also, we need a cavity to hold our filling. Do not dig too deep.

Step 3 - Stuff all the bananas with the cooled coconut jaggery mixture from Step 1.

Step 4 - Heat a flat pan on low heat. Carefully place the stuffed bananas one beside the other. Spoon out the leftover filling around the bananas in the pan. Carefully pour in the coconut milk. Do not pour it on the bananas. The filling will fall out. Cover and let it cook for 2 minutes on each side till the banana is cooked through and it turns slightly brown.
 - Carefully flip the bananas. Using 2 spoons to flip each banana works best for me.
If you get hold of 'Rajali Keli', you will have to cook each side for 5 - 10 mins as this variety of bananas are firmer in texture and thus hold shape beautifully for this dish.

Serve hot or cold. It tastes delicious either way!
If only this dish looked as good as it tastes!
The nuts and saffron are only for decoration. They are not usually added in the dessert. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Narali Bhaat for Narali Poornima (Sweet Coconut Rice)

'Narali Poornima' marks the end of the monsoon season in Maharashtra, India. It is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of 'Shravan'.
Fishermen and fishing community (koli) in Maharashtra celebrate 'Narali Poornima' or the Coconut Festival in a jubilant manner. Singing and dancing are the main attractions of this festival. They worship and offer coconuts to the Sea God 'Samudra' and the Rain God 'Varuna'.
This festival marks the beginning of the new fishing season.
A special sweet rice made with coconut - 'Narali Bhaat' is prepared at most homes on this day.

'Rakhi Poornima' or 'Raksha Bandhan' is also celebrated on this day. This festival celebrates the special bond and the sacred relation between brothers and sisters. The word 'Raksha Bandhan' means the bond of protection. On this day sisters tie a sacred thread which comes in many colors and designs, on their brother's wrist and in return the brothers offer gifts, presents and promise to protect them against all harms and troubles. Well...almost all!

At our homes we celebrate this day by exchanging rakhis and indulging in 'Narali Bhaat'. Every Maharashtrian home prepares 'Narali Bhaat' differently. The main difference is the use of sugar v/s jaggery. Personally I prefer jaggery as I love the mild flavor and the beautiful golden color it gives this rice. Also, that is how my Ajji made it.
I have tried my best to simplify my grandmom's recipe. Hope it does invite you to try this dish out and enjoy an almost forgotten Maharashtrian tradition.

Level: Easy
Serves: 5 - 6 people
Source: Mamata Wagh (Mamata mami)

1 cup rice (uncooked, any variety)
2 cups water, boiling
1.5 cups jaggery, grated
3/4 cups fresh coconut (I used frozen)
1/3 cup ghee
5 - 6 cloves
2 - 3 green cardamoms
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
2 pinches saffron (optional)
1/4 cup milk
2 tblsp cashwenuts, chopped
1 tblsp almonds, chopped
1 tblsp raisins
2 pinches salt

Step 1 - Wash and soak rice in water for 10 mins. Drain out the rice in a strainer and keep aside.

Step 2 - Warm the milk in the microwave for 20 seconds. Add the saffron strands. Mix lightly and let this rest for at least 20 mins.

Step 3 - In a rice cooker or a regular pressure pan, heat 1 tblsp ghee. When the ghee heats up, add the cloves and green cardamoms. Saute for a few seconds. Add the strained rice and saute well on medium heat for 4 - 5 mins. Add boiling water and pressure cook the rice for 2 whistles or till done. Once cooled, fluff up the rice with a fork, taking care not to break down the grains and leave aside to cool. Do not get rid of the pressure pan here. We are going to cook the rice in it again.

Step 4 - While the rice is cooking, take a flat pan and heat 2 tblsp ghee. Saute the cashewnuts and almonds till they are light brown in color. Drain onto a paper towel. In the same ghee, saute raisins till they plump up and drain them onto a paper towel. Keep the nuts and raisins aside to cool.

Step  5 - In the same pan, add another tblsp ghee, coconut and jaggery. Saute for 2 - 3 mins till the jaggery melts. Pour the mixture onto a plate. Add the cardamom powder and mix well. Let this mixture warm down a little.

Step 6 - Once your rice and coconut jaggery mixture is ready, take a large pot, add the cooked, fluffed rice, the nuts, saffron along with the milk it is soaked in and coconut jaggery mixture. Gently mix everything together.

Step 7 - Grease the rice cooker/pressure pan with ghee so the rice does not stick to it's bottom. Put the rice mixture from Step 6 into the rice cooker. Pour in the remaining ghee on top. Cook covered for 20 mins on low heat. If your pressure pan is too thin or you plan to use a regular pot, keep it over a pan so the rice gets cooked with indirect heat. You do not want it all burnt up at the bottom.

And we are done!
Serve warm.

This preparation is not supposed to be too sweet. So if you have a very sweet tooth, do add more jaggery.

You can use any dried fruit of your choice and in any quantity as per your preference. I have used raisins, almonds and cashews as I generally have them on hand at home.

Using saffron is optional, but it does give a great aroma and flavor to this dish. Also the dark golden bits in the rice look very appetizing.

In step 6 after you have mixed everything together, the mixture if tasted, will be very sweet. While you cook the rice, all the sweetness in the jaggery gets soaked up and a mild sweet flavor remains.

If you have leftovers, reheating the rice in your microwave will dry out the dish. So sprinkle a little water on the rice and then heat it up. Other option would be to steam this rice in a pressure pan, but that is too labor intensive if you have too little remaining.

Narali Poornima source: here and here!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dinda for NagPanchami

The fifth month in the Hindu calendar is 'Shravan'. It usually starts in late July or in the first half of August. The star 'Shravan' rules the sky during Poornima (full moon) night. 'Shravan' month is considered the holiest month of the year as it comes with innumerable religious festivals and ceremonies. Almost every day of the month is considered auspicious. But the first major festival we celebrate is the 'NagPanchami'.

'NagPanchami' is a Hindu festival dedicated to the worship of snakes and serpent deities. It is observed across India on the fifth day of the moonlit fortnight in the month of 'Shravan'.
Plausible reason behind this festival: It is the monsoon season in India. This is the time when serpents invariably come out of their holes that get filled with rain-water, to seek shelter in gardens and more often before, than now, into houses. As they pose a danger to man, people must have started worshiping snakes on this day.
The most popular legend around this festival: 'NagPanchami' celebrates the victory of Lord Krishna over the mythical Kaliya; a monstrous black python that was killed by Krishna in the Yamuna river.

At our home, we try to celebrate all Hindu festivals like we did in India even if we do not fully understand the reasoning behind it. We hope our family and future generations can also enjoy these festivals like we did when we were little. Getting up to some customs and delicacies which were followed and prepared only on these particular days just make these festivals very special.
In most families, no sharp objects are to be used on NagPanchami. No knives in the kitchen. This keeps the food simple. There isn't any need to understand customs that make our lives simple now is there?
Also a delicacy called 'Dinda' is made on this day. These are steamed wheat flour parcels filled with cardamom perfumed chickpea and jaggery mixture. Served hot with a dollop of homemade ghee gets you right in your ajji's lap.

Here is how we make it...

Level: Easy
Serves: 10 medium parcels
Source: Vijaya Pradhan & Nita Pradhan (Grand MIL & MIL)

For the filling:
1 cup chana dal,
2.5 cups water
1.25 cup jaggery, grated
3/4 tsp cardamom powder
2 Pinches nutmeg (optional)
Pinch of salt

For the cover:
1 cup wheat flour (atta)
3 tblsp oil
1/8 tsp salt
Water for kneading

Step 1 - Let us get out filling ready first. Wash the chana dal well. Add 2.5 cups water. Keep aside for 5 - 6 hours.

Step 2 - Pour the chana dal along with its water in a pressure pan and pressure cook it for 4 - 5 whistles or till the chana dal is done.
If you do not have time to soak the chana dal, add 1/4 cup additional water to your pressure pan and pressure cook it for a good 8 - 10 whistles for it to be done. 
The final product by any method should be overcooked soft daal.

Step 3 - Drain out excess water (if any) carefully without wasting the daal and mash the daal till pasty with a vegetable masher. You can also do this with a hand blender or in your food processor.

Step 4 - Transfer the mashed daal in a pot and add the grated jaggery and a pinch of salt. Start heating the pot and keep stirring the mixture well on medium heat. Initially, the mixture will liquify and then start bubbling up and thickening. Once the mixture starts thickening turn off the heat. After 2 mins, add the cardamon powder and nutmeg and stir well. Consistency of the puran does not matter too much in this recipe as we are not going to roll out parcels once filled. This is your puran. Keep aside to cool.

Step 5 - Now let us work on the cover of these parcels. Couldn't be simpler. Place the wheat flour in a bowl. Heat oil till it smokes. Pour the hot oil in your flour. It should sizzle. Mix well with your hand. Knead into a smooth dough with water. The dough should be tougher than your regular chapati dough. More like a dough you would knead for puris. Cover the dough and let it rest for 15 mins.

Step 6 - Assembly. Roll out a small dough ball into a disc. Usually these are 2.5 inch in diameter but you can roll them in the size you prefer. Place a tblsp of puran on the center of your disc. Try to shape it into a rectangle so your parcels get a proper shape. Fold all four sides into a parcel. Take care to cover all of the puran well.

Step 7 - Oil the vessel you plan to place your parcels in, to ensure that they do not stick. Place the vessel in your steamer and steam for 20 - 25 mins till the parcels are glossy and the cover does not look raw.

Serve these hot with a small or a big dollop of ghee.

When you cook your puran, make sure you do not thicken it too much. On cooling, the mixture thickens even more. We do not want it too hard.
This is how my MIL taught me to test puran - Once the chana dal - jaggery mixture starts getting a little thick, place a teaspoon - wide side down in the center of the mixture. If it falls quickly, you have to continue cooking. If it falls really slowly, your puran is ready. That being said, you really need not over analyse the consistency for this recipe as it just gets steamed.

Dinda hardens a little over time. So make a small batch to avoid leftovers. But if you do have leftovers, do not heat them in a microwave. Steam the dinda for 5 - 6 mins in your steamer.

I use 1.25 cups of jaggery to 1 cup of chana dal, as the jaggery that I buy in the US, is not too sweet. Originally, 1 cup of jaggery to 1 cup of chana dal is used.

I have not elaborately explained the dough kneading process. That is for another post. So if you are new to that, do browse the net for puri recipes to understand the dough consistency.

Make sure you roll out the dough into thin discs as a thick piece of steamed dough is not too pleasant.
For people who do not like these parcels steamed, you can always fry the parcels
in oil.

Resources on NagPanchami: Here and here!