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.