Tuesday, April 12, 2016

From the land of incredible diversity and peace~The Navratri Special

This article will be published in two parts.
 Well, I cannot stop at this. India, my country, is also the land of diverse cultures, of and for all seasons and people, of mysticism, of varied religions, and historically the land of one of the worlds most ancient cultures, The Indus valley civilization. It is a rich and exotic country, a land of many festivals and celebrations. We celebrate seasons, change of seasons, equinoxes, birthdays of guru's and swami's, Gods and Goddesses, days important in the Hindu mythology, Sikhism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Buddhism, if I have not missed out on any more. 
And in all of this, one thing is common, we celebrate all our festivals with great involvement,excitement and enthusiasm. There is a lot of cooking that happens, despite the fasting that goes along with some of the important dates. Fasting and feasting go hand in hand normally.Not without its rules to be followed though. Most of the rules have scientific undertones to it. Now, the Navratri festival that literally means nine (Nav) nights (Ratri), is held for nine nights and ten days. The Chaitra Navratri (spring) culminates in Ram Navami and the Sharad Navratri (Autumn) culminates in Dusshera. 
The reasons behind restrictions in fasting are mainly due to the change of season, when immunity is low and infections and illnesses are in the air. This is the time when metabolism slows down, and therefore heavy foods should be avoided. It is our duty to try and lead a healthy life, A change in diet with foods that digest faster can detox our bodies, make us feel good, lively and strong. I will now mention the foods to be avoided, foods that we can eat and digest, and a few mix and match yummy and healthy concoctions made from the stuff we can eat during this festival. They are mostly those recipes that I have had at my Mom in laws place, or some that I have seen and heard about from friends, colleagues and neighbors. There may be lots that I may have missed, like I said India is diverse, every state, every community has their own rules to abide by. Readers with different points of view, or those who can give ideas, or suggestions, are most welcome to pitch in.

FOOD FARE TO BE AVOIDED : Onions, garlic, whole grains, rice, eggs, meat, common salt, lentils and legumes, garam masala, oils made from seeds and lots more. Avoid all that is heavy on the stomach, and takes a long time to digest.Staying light is the trick. 

 FOOD STUFF WE CAN FEAST ON : Potato, sweet potato, Taro root (arbi), Jackfruit, gourds, ginger, cucumber, pumpkin, Kuttu (buckwheat) flour, Singhara (waterchestnut) atta, Barnyard Millet, also called vrat ke chawal, peanuts, makhana ( lotus seeds), dry fruits, Sabudana or Tapioca, Jaggery (gur) milk and milk products, cardamom, cumin seeds,Sendha namak (rock salt), fruits and more.

SOME IDEAS FOR NAVRATRI FOODS :  The important thing is to keep that fire in our bellies by eating simple and eating right. . After all, these nine nights that are dedicated to the Goddess Durga, are meant for prayers and cleansing, both. It's a mind and body alignment, that ultimately makes us go a step further, spiritually and physically.
1. There are innumerable dishes that we can make with Potato.
Potato and cucumber salad, where we can boil and cool potatoes, cut it into small pieces add diced cucumber and small chunks of cottage cheese, sprinkle chopped coriander, mint, green chilies ,rock salt, pepper and a dash of lemon juice. 
It turns out quite yum and has enough carbs, protein, calcium, sodium, vitamin C among other nutrients, to satiate the soul.
Potato cutlets : Mash boiled potatoes, add a little sago( sabudana) for binding, crushed peanuts, chopped coriander, oregano,and green chilies  red chili flakes and grated ginger. Mix it all together till it feels like a soft dough. Pat small portions into round or cylindrical shaped cutlets. Instead of  deep frying the cutlets, use minimum oil and make it crisp on a non stick or scratch resistant pan.
2. Sabudana Khichadi  : A delicacy my mom makes for me each time I fast. Mamma's love. :) Soak a catori( small bowl about 100 gms) of sabudana in just enough water that the sago is immersed in it, for half an hour to 40 minutes.. Do not drown the sago, else its going to become too soft and get mashed up into a mass. We need each grain looking like a transparent pearl. 
Now add a little peanut oil, or ghee in a pan,heat it on medium flame, crackle a pinch of cumin seeds(jeera), add chopped green chilis, , crushed peanuts, few small chunks of boiled potato, salt and the sabudana. Mix it all well for a while. Remove it from fire and keep it covered for ten minutes. Garnish it with chopped coriander and mint and serve with coriander chutney. It can also be had with a bowl of curd.
3. Gourd and tomato broth with Buckwheat flour flat bread ( Lauki ki rassaedaar sabji with kuttu ke aata ki roti) : Chop a small piece of gourd and a medium sized tomato into small square pieces. Put a spoon of ghee in a pressure cooker, crackle a pinch of cumin seeds, add tomato,desired amount of salt and the gourd. Add enough water in it to become a mushy broth. Pressure cook this for 7 minutes on medium flame. Once the pressure is released on its own, garnish this with chopped coriander and eat it with the bread. 
Note: In most Indian dishes we add turmeric and coriander powder for the herbal flavour to seep in the veggies. During Navratri these spices are not used.
4. Paneer (cottage cheese) butter masala: -For a person, dice the home made cottage cheese into cubes. 
-Shallow fry these cubes and keep it aside. 
-In a pan, heated on medium flame, add two tablespoons of pure ghee, crackle half a teaspoon of cumin seeds, add a tablespoon of curd, and pureed tomato mixture. This tomato mixture for the paneer dish made for fasting, will include two medium sized tomatoes, one green chili, a small piece of ginger, a teaspoon of chironjee( also called charoli, have a nutty flavor, used in Indian curries to enhance taste, and for those on fast, it will provide energy). Chironjee can be substituted with about 4 almonds which is a healthier option.Once the mixture with curd, seems to be done well, add the paneer cubes, half a cup of water, and let it simmer. Once done add a dollop of cream, and garnish with chopped coriander. 
-Can be eaten with Kuttu atta rotis, or fried puris. But like I said, avoid too much fried food, its a fast and abstaining from heavy food is important.
Buckwheat flour bread(roti) : The Indian flat breads are simple to make. Make a dough of the desired amount of flour, divide it into portions. Roll each portion into a semi thick two to three inch circle. Each bread will be put on a griddle or a flat pan on medium flame, it is optional to use ghee. It is cooked on both sides, and will remain a bit thick as buckwheat does not soak in too much water, it has its own water content and we have to keep the dough dry while rolling by applying the dry flour to it. Pinch it in places while cooking so that the inside part does not remain uncooked. 
Remember: Buckwheat is gluten free and light on the stomach. Alternatively you can use water chestnut (singhare ka atta) flour, amaranth flour ( Rajgira ) or millet ( Sama ke chawal)flour for making these rotis or parathas.
 Have it with gourd broth, potato broth or any of the vegetables that I will mention in part 2 of this article.
I would really like to hear some suggestions as I know there are many variations to these recipes. Do pitch in. 

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