Two Special Recipes for the Tamil New Year Celebration

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Food recipe for Tamil New Year
The Puthandu Platter

The  month  of April signifies new beginnings. Chittirai which is the first month  of the Tamil Solar Calendar also coincides with the month of April. The first day of this month is celebrated as the Tamil New year by the Tamil community living in the south of  India. It is called the Varsha Pirappu or the Puthandu– a time for celebrating the start of a brand new year filled with new possibilities and renewed hope.

This day follows the Spring Equinox that falls on 14th April of the Gregorian Calendar. The month of Chittirai is a very auspicious month in Tamil Hindu culture and marks the  beginning of the summer season. It is interesting to note that around the same time the traditional New Year is also celebrated in West Bengal (Poila Boisakh), Assam (Rongali Bihu or Bohag bihu), Kerala (Vishu), Punjab (Baisakhi), Bangladesh (Pohela Boishakh), Myanmar (Thingyan), Cambodia (Sangkranta) and Thailand (Songkran). It undoubtedly reflects the beautiful shared culture between South and South-East Asia in the 1st Millennium CE.

Each community celebrates its New Year in a special way. The Tamil New Year too is celebrated in a unique manner. The Tamilians have this tradition called ‘Kanni’ (auspicious sight). A mirror is placed in front of a ceremonial tray containing betel leaves, areca nut, gold, silver, money, flowers and ‘Mukkani’ (mango, jackfruit, banana). At the break of dawn on the New year, family members see the reflection of the tray containing the auspicious items in the mirror; people believe this will bring good luck all through the year.

The Ritual of Kanni

On this day the houses are cleaned and the entrance of the house is decorated with kolam (Tamil version of Rangoli) made with coloured rice powder and mango leaves adorn the doorway. After a herbal bath, everyone wears their new clothes and are mostly dressed in traditional attire. The ‘Kuttu velakku ‘or the auspicious lamp is lighted up to dispel darkness and to usher in good health and prosperity.It is placed at the centre of the kolam. The sambrani and the incense sticks are  shown all around the house and the family prays together for divine blessings. Visiting a temple is an important part of the morning ritual on Puthandu. Offerings of garlands, fruits and sweet pongal are made. Divine songs and traditional instruments are played to observe the occasion. Children seek the blessings of the elders by touching their feet and the elders shower them with gifts. Reading out the Panchangam on this day by the eldest family member or the priest, is also an age-old tradition.

On this special day every Tamilian loves to say ‘Iniya Puthandu Nal Vazhthukal’ to one and all. It means ’Happy New Year’ in Tamil. Like every festival, Tamil New Year too is a great time for strengthening the bonds among family  and friends. There can be no better way of bonding when  everyone happily sits together and enjoys  a sumptuous New Year lunch!

There is a long yummy list of  mouth watering delicacies cooked on this day! The most popular dishes are the Payasam(kheer), Parupu Vadai (dal vada), Poli (sweet roti), Manga Pachadi (mango chutney), Aviyal (vegetable stew), Sambhar (spicy south indian dal) and Vepampoo rasam (dried neem flower soup).

Vepampoo Rasam

But the Tamil  New Year is incomplete without the Manga Pachadi (mango chutney) and the Vepampoo rasam (dried neem flower soup).

The Tamil culinary tradition believes in the principle of  ‘arusuvai’ or the six different tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, salty, astringent (pungent), which helps to make a dish healthy, tasty and complete. The Mango Pachadi and the Vepampoo Rasam cooked during the New Year is a classic example of ‘arusuvai’. They also have a symbolic significance of being cooked on this special day. These dishes give us a gentle reminder to be prepared to experience both sweet and bitter moments in the New Year with an open mind. As all these moments together make our life complete.

The magic mantra for a wonderful  New Year is, if life has been sweet, say thank you and celebrate and if bitter, say thank you and move on!

Puthandu Special Recipes

(Two amazing dishes whose main ingredient is neem flower.)

Manga Pachadi (Mango chutney)

Ingredients:

Raw Mango (sliced) – 1 cup 

Jaggery  1 and ½  cup

Turmeric – ½ tsp

Rice powder-  1 tsp

Neem flowers 2 tsp (preferably fresh flowers)

For Tempering:

Ghee or Oil – 1 tsp

Mustard seeds – 1 tsp

Dry Red Chilli- 3

Asafoetida- a pinch

Method:

  1. Cut the raw mango into thin slices and boil it in 2 cups of water with salt and turmeric in a pan, until it gets softened.
  2. In a separate pan, boil 1 cup water and melt the jaggery and strain it to remove the sediments.
  3. Now the jaggery is added to the boiled mangoes and they are cooked together in a slow flame. A semi liquid rice paste is added to this, to thicken the pachadi. Once it gets a thick consistency, remove it from the fire.
  4. For this recipe, preferably fresh neem flowers should be used. If unavailable, use the old flowers kept in store.
  5. Dry roasted the neem flowers till it changes colour and keep aside to cool down.
  6. In a kadhai, pour 1tsp ghee or oil and to this add mustard seeds, 3 red chillies and asafoetida. When it splutters, add this tempering to the mango pachadi .
  7. The final step is crushing the roasted neem flowers and giving it a good stir to mix it well.

This sweet and tangy Manga Pachadi can be relished with steamed rice.

Manga Pachadi

Vepampoo Rasam

Ingredients:

Vepampoo (dried Neem flowers) – 2 tsp

Tamarind- a small gooseberry size

Tomato – 1  small (optional)

Green chillies –  2

Rasam powder- ½ tsp

Cooked Toor dal- 1 cup

Salt – 1 tsp

For Tempering:

Ghee –2 tsp

Mustard seeds- 1 tsp

Cumin seeds- 1 tsp

Dry red chillies – 3 

Asafoetida- a pinch

Curry leaf – a few

Method:

  1. Pressure cook ½ cup toor dal in 3 cups of water. Mix the cooked dal in ½  cup water and keep aside the dal water for the rasam.
  2. Soak tamarind in water for half an hour and squeeze out the juice. In a heavy bottomed vessel, add the tamarind juice and 1 and ½  cup of water. Add  2 slit green chillies, tomato, rasam powder, salt and let it boil well. As the rasam gets frothy, add the dal water to it. Now heat it in a medium flame and let it simmer. When the yellow bubbles begin to appear again at the top,  turn off the heat.
  3. In a separate tadka pan, add ghee. Once the ghee is hot, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, red chillies, curry leaves, asafoetida and finally add the vepampoo or the dried neem flowers to it. As the neem flowers get roasted in the ghee, their colour turns brown (must make sure not to burn them). At this point  turn off the heat and add this tempering to the rasam. Immediately cover it with a plate in order to lock the flavours and let the magic of the  neem flowers blend with the rasam.  

This unbelievably tasty  and refreshing rasam is a  great remedy for all kinds of stomach ailments and is a great immunity booster. It can be had with rice or as a hot  soup or even chilled and sipped with a few ice cubes!

 Both these unique recipes are a must try for all!  Iniya Puthandu Nalvazhthukkal!

Images courtesy: Padma Francis

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