Naralachi Wadi – Coconut Barfi

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On Janmashtmi a few weeks back I followed tradition and prepared olya naralachi wadi – Maharashtrian style fresh coconut barfi. Its super-sweet North Indian version made with desiccated coconut and sugar was a childhood favourite. I gaze at the delicate pink coloured confections in a mithai shop display with much nostalgia but rarely proceed to buy.

In the Delhi of the previous century, fresh coconut was a little treat – a few wedges bought off the street vendor during your brief impatient wait at a traffic light. A whole coconut was bought only when (ragi) idlies were on the menu, to make the indispensable coconut chutney. Such occasions were few and far between. With marriage came a whole different way of cooking and an entirely new pantry in which fresh coconut, shaved on a traditional scraper like this, was always in stock.

Coconut, in both dry and fresh forms, is a bit of a staple in a Maharashtrian kitchen. Often sprinkled over vegetables towards the end of cooking, it may also be roasted or ground, or roasted and ground, or fire-roasted and smashed, or pan roasted and pounded, before adding to a dish. This amazing little fruit, maligned for a long time by the reductivist modern nutritional science for being mostly saturated fat, has climbed back up the popularity charts to reign supreme as something of a superfood. In India the coconut tree has always been revered as a Kalpavriksha, the divine, wish-fulfilling tree. Some of you may remember a little story (in the NCERT class IV textbook from the 70s) about a boy in Kerala and his coconut tree that provided him with everything from food and shelter to material for his boat.

Well, the fruit is as versatile as the tree it comes from. It can be used in myriad ways at all the different stages of its ripeness. The inherent sweetness in fresh coconut combined with its unique texture makes it an outstanding ingredient in desserts. Ice cream made with tender coconut flesh and sweet coconut milk is my current favourite. Fresh coconut sweetened with jaggery is at the heart of hundreds of sweets all over coastal and peninsular India – rolled into laddus, steamed into modaks, pitha, and kozhukattai, you will be hard pressed to pick a favourite.

This festive season try my new recipe for

Olya Naralachiwadi Wadi

Fresh Coconut Barfi

1 whole fresh coconut, scraped (or grated), about 2 cups loosely packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup grated khoya, loosely packed
3 green cardamoms, powdered
fresh or dried rose petals, to garnish

10" diameter thali or 9" square pan, greased with a few drops of ghee

Combine the fresh coconut shavings, sugar, and milk in a heavy bottom pan and cook on medium heat till the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook at medium heat till the mixture begins to thicken and the mixture starts to come together, about 15 minutes.

Add the grated khoya to the pan and continue to stir and cook till the mixture leaves the sides and starts moving as a cohesive mass, about 10-12 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat and mix in the cardamom powder.

Pour the hot mixture into a greased thali and spread it evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle with rose petals and leave to cool completely.

Cut with a sharp knife into squares or diamonds, transfer to a lidded container, and store in the refrigerator.

Puran poli – the long story

puran poli spread for Champa Shashthi

Have you heard of Champa Shashthi?  In my Maharashtrian side of the family it is associated with a ceremonial pooja the beginnings of which are somewhat obscure.  This winter I was visiting friends who celebrate this day with special prayers.  In their family, the day of the pooja marks the end of a period of abstaining from certain foods such as eggs and meat, and brinjals (eggplant).  Minor ceremonies are observed on the two days preceding Shashthi as well.

The celebration of this festival in our family has an interesting story.  This festival is not traditional to the Konkanasth Brahmin community to which my husband’s family belongs.  A long time ago, and I mean a really long time ago, traveling was an activity associated with uncertainty, hardship, and unknown risks, undertaken only for essential business or pilgrimage.  At such a time, a family embarking on one such pilgrimage handed over the Champa Shashthi Puja to their neighbour and friend in the village, V’s ancestor, like a precious thing for safekeeping.  They never returned to claim it back, and that is how we have this untraditional ritual as our heritage.  Our family continues to fulfill a promise made a very long time ago.  I remember my mother-in-law asking me if she should perform the udyapan, a special puja to mark the end, but I assured her I wanted it to continue.  How could I not want to be part of this beautiful legend, our very own legend!

We, my husband, son, and I,  are hardly religious people but I do believe that without religion, you may end up distancing yourself from what is your culture.  Food is very strongly tied to culture and religion.  One day, several years back, I realised we had not cooked sabudana khichdi in a very long time (years!). Since my mother-in-law’s passing no one in the family was observing any fasts anymore!  We brought back the Janmashtami fast and now observe it as a family.  The much loved sabudana khichdi is on the menu at least once a year. Continue reading “Puran poli – the long story”

Bhagar ani danyachi amti

bhagar with danyachi amti for Shivratri

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.

Continue reading “Bhagar ani danyachi amti”

Ver – the opposite of Kheer

veri masala

As I said earlier, there is much Kashmiris make with rice. Besides being the staple on our plate it is also our preferred ingredient when it comes to celebrations of all kinds. All auspicious occasions begin with rice in some avatar or the other. Barring one sweet made with dry fruits all Kashmiri desserts have rice as the main ingredient. [Therein lies a lesson for all of us to look at statistics with a sharp eye – Kashmiri cuisine has 3.5 desserts in all!]

Kheer is the offering of choice for most Goddesses.  When a sweet offering will not fit the bill, taher is cooked to mark the happy occasion. Similarly, cooking and eating ver marks the beginning of important celebrations such as weddings and yagnopavit ceremonies.

Continue reading “Ver – the opposite of Kheer”