Haerath mubarak to my Kashmiri readers, and a very happy Shivratri to the rest of you! There was much feasting at my mom’s last night where we gathered for Mahashivratri puja. Shivratri is the most important festivals for the Kashmiri Pandit community. The festival marks the end of winter in Kashmir. The preparations start weeks in advance and culminate in the final three days ending with doon pooza (walnut puja!) on Phalgun amavasya, which is tomorrow. [Read more about it here and here] For us, today is Salam, the day after Shivratri, the day the youngsters receive Shivratri kharcha (spending money!) from the elders in the family. We got it last night itself from my father!
The rituals are quite elaborate and food and cooking is an integral part. Every family has their traditions and the ceremonies are not complete without the cooking of certain dishes. In the puja last night we had vatuks (vessels for water) that symbolised Lord Shiva and his wife-to-be, Parvati, who were married in the presence of other gods and invitees (represented, in their turn, by smaller vatuks). Only the eldest family member observes a fast while the rest feast. Walnuts are soaked in another vessel, to which are offered tiny bits of fresh food from the meals cooked everyday. Meat and fish are traditional and are part of the puja offerings. In the last 25 years, since their relocation from the Valley, Kashmiri Pandits, on finding themselves amongst Vaishnavites, have started observing vegetarianism during this festival. In deference to tradition, my mother cooked fish the day before Shivratri. Last night’s menu for the Shiv-Parvati wedding: rajma, paneer kaliya, mujj chetin, dum-olu, palak-matar, steamed rice, roti (for the non-Kashmiris!), and modur polav.
Tomorrow will be the vatuk pooza, and the soaked walnuts will finally be ready for distribution amongst family and friends. It really is a great way to finish off the season’s walnuts, which would otherwise spoil soon. Try it – soak walnuts for 3-5 days; change the water everyday. Shell and peel the kernels before eating – they taste just like green walnuts do – sweet and tender!
During the first week of the Shivratri fortnight, married women visit their maika (mother’s house) for a hearty meal. Yes, I and my sister were at my mother’s last Friday too. Since both of us are married to non-Kashmiris, we get to visit on Shivratri-day as well! My mother and her sisters get to visit their brothers. The ritual involves the payment of a token ut-guth (literally, to and fro expenses 🙂 ), and, for reasons not clear to me, salt! Salt is also a traditional house-warming gift for us!
Most communities, including Maharashtrians, celebrate Shivratri on the 14th day of the fortnight, which is today. People commonly observe a fast. I think last night’s elaborate pooja reminded TH of his customs and he decided to observe a fast today. As you all know, the only fasting day we observe here these days is Janmashtami. I promised him fasting food. Sabudana khichdi is what is for dinner for everyone. For lunch I cooked bhagar with danyachi amti, just as I remember my MIL making it.
Bhagar is made with a grain that grows (used to?) wild on uncultivated land. Known as sama ke chawal in North India, it is cooked just like regular rice and is commonly consumed during fasts when many other foods are taboo. It is easy to overcook it; follow my recipe and you will have the fluffiest bhagar. The amti is rich, made as it is from just peanuts, so go easy on the servings!
1 C peanuts, roasted and skinned
2+ C water
4-5 hot green chillies, chopped
2-3 pieces amsul (kokum)
1 t salt
1 t sugar
1 t ghee
1 t cumin seeds
a few small pieces dalchini (cassia bark)
Grind the peanuts to a fine powder/paste. Use water to grind if you need. Thin the paste with water and transfer to a thick-bottom pan. To this slurry add the other ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every now and then. Take off the heat and prepare the tempering. Heat ghee in a small pan. Add the tempering ingredients. When the cumin stops spluttering, pour the contents of the pan over the amti. Stir to mix, garnish with fresh green coriander and serve with bhagar.
(sama ke chawal)
1 vati (katori) varyache tandool (about 200gms, or 3/4 C)
2 1/2 vati water
1 t ghee
1/2 t cumin seeds
1 green chilli, chopped
1/2 t salt
Heat ghee in a heavy bottomed pan. Add cumin seeds to the hot ghee, followed by the chopped green chilli. Stir for half a minute and add the ‘rice’. Stir the grains for a minute or two before adding the water. Add salt and bring to boil. Give a good stir and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Let rest for a few minutes before fluffing with a fork. Serve hot with danyachi amti.
The son got to partake what I had originally planned for Sunday lunch: varan-bhat with coconut chutney; he doesn’t care for bhagar and amti. Yet. But I insisted he taste it. So, it is part of his memory. And doesn’t nostalgia always taste good?