Crispiest Crunchiest Masala Vadai

I tasted these masala vadais for the first time at Kanniamman Kovil, Manapakkam where we’d gone for my daughter’s first “mottai”. The Mottai is a common custom in Tamil culture. Seen Kizhaku Cheemaiyile? Typically at 9 months of age, babies get their heads shaved at a temple. This is a big occasion, a milestone in the baby’s life and is celebrated with gusto – Pongal is made on a traditional cow-dung fired stove to be offered to god, biryani is made in huge deksas and family and relatives gather to feast and gossip. People arrive early in buses and vans along with their goats, deksas and jamakkalams (a thick durry/bedspread). Menfolk chat idly or play cards, children run around excitedly and women go about preparing the pongal and biryani. My daughter’s was a very low key affair, but it was during the month of Aadi and the temple grounds resembled a carnival with merry-go-rounds and several tiny stalls selling everything from glass bangles, plastic toys and mud pots to fresh curd and Masala vadai. Ah.. those Masala vadais! Now masala vadais are quite commonly made at homes, hotels and tea stalls and they’re all tasty and quite nice in their own right. But these vadais have got be the crispiest, crunchiest of them all and they’re absolutely irresistible. Every time we go to the temple, we make a dash to the vadai kadai and commission the paati sitting there to make vadais full-time for our party there while the children get their mottais, are bathed and dressed and we make the pongal. The secret to these vadais is the chana dal rava. For these vadais, you’ll need to break your channa dal (kadalai paruppu) to a rava. You can get this done easily at your nearest flour mill. Store this rava in an air-tight box and whenever you fancy masala vadais, just soak this rava in water, combine with chopped onions and green chillies and deep fry. There – you have (wait, don’t wince – one more “crunchiest” coming up) the crrrunchiest vadai in town. It’s quite ingenious really. This recipe has the advantage of being way simpler and quicker than the traditional masala vadai recipe. Try it, you’ll love it. Thank you paati for the great recipe. Picture taken during my nephew’s mottai. They’re so cheap too. God bless the paati who serves up these delicious vadais everyday. Replicated...

Sweet Somas – Aadi Pooram/Seemandham special

While other bloggers are gearing up with their Orange, white, green colour coded post for Independence day, I am posting this Aadi Pooram special. Aadi Pooram was last week. Yeah, I am slow like that. So this sweet somas was a revelation to me and is far better than the store bought ones. No, really. This is not a standard blogger phrase (“better than store-bought”) that I am using here although I’ve been guilty of using it too before. This somas really, truly is better and I’ll never be buying them from stores again. What I really love about this somas is the filling. The filling is a very un-assuming combination of roasted coconut, poppy seeds, cashew nuts and sugar. Poppy seeds! I thought. I’ve never been too fond of the store-bought somas, so last week, when we were making these somas for Aadi Pooram, I really didn’t expect much out of it. I was so wrong. I loved these somas. The poppy seeds took the somas to another level adding crunch and a wonderful nutty flavour to the somas. I made these somas alongside my Maamiyaar and I learnt real-time the somas-making process. I am really happy at these times for the joint-family setup. You’ll need patience however to make these somas, especially if you’re making large batches like we did that day. We slogged the previous night making these sweet somas, Murrukku, Coconut burfi, Boondi Laddu and variety rices for Aadi Pooram. It was heady, cooking up all these dishes and I was really excited. I get a great kick out of large scale cooking. This wasn’t large scale at all actually. But it was larger than usual. There are a few things to keep in mind to get those lovely crisp, puffed up somas. The dough has to be really soft and well kneaded. So knead like crazy.  Use only a small lemon sized ball of dough for a somas. Roll it out really thin, so thin that you’re able to see your hand if placed beneath the rolled out disc. To do this, you’ll need to flour your rolling surface generously. These somas are traditionally done for Seemandham (baby showers). Aadi Pooram is when we celebrate Amman’s Seemandham. We offer these sweets and variety rices (the traditional Seemandham Menu) to Amman. Amman is adorned with coloured glass bangles and Temples distribute coloured glass bangles to devotees...

Aadi Maasam/Aadi Thiruvizha – Part II

On the day of the Paal Kudam, women assemble at a nearby temple (not the Amman temple but another one) with turmeric and kungumam smeared pots (sombu) filled with milk. After a brief puja at the temple which is sort of the Ready-Get-Set-Go, the women walk over (run rather) to the Amman temple where wooden barricades are put up to regulate the crowd. Policemen and police-women wait at the Amman temple bracing themselves for the “Om Sakthi-ParaSakthi” chanting women force. It is believed that if you pray for something and carry the paal kudam, whatever you pray for will happen before the next Paal kudam (within the next year).  That’s my husband and that’s me behind him. These paal kudam laden women are force to reckon with, they shove and pull in order to cut through the line. You’ll have to be strong and gutsy to get out of this crowd. When your turn comes, the milk from your pot is poured atop the Amman. After everybody’s milk has been poured, the Amman is washed, dressed up and adorned with jewels and a final puja is done.    The day we offer Koozhu is the most tiring, absolutely back-breaking day of the year. The cooking and preparation starts around 6 or so in the morning and goes on almost non-stop till night time. By now you should know that moderation is not one of my family’s strong points. Largesse and extreme entertaining are. We don’t have as many people over as we used to in the olden days! If we were to invite the whole clan, I think I’d have to be hospitalized for a day or two. I haven’t seen the full crowd myself in my 4 years of marriage but I can just about imagine and just thinking about it makes my head spin. The day’s menu reads like a Muniyandi Vilas menu. Kazhuvattu Kuzhambu (dried fish curry), Meen Kuzhambu (Fish curry), Meen Varuval (Fish fry), Varutha Muttai (Fried hard-boiled eggs), Chicken Korma, Pepper Chicken thokku (Pepper chicken semi-gravy) are just the non-vegetarian side of the menu. There’s a slightly shorter vegetarian menu that includes Murunga keerai poriyal, Vegetarian mixed-vegetable kuzhambu, Ragi and Jaggery based kozhukattai, Rice, Rasam, Idli and Dosai. Koozhu and its accompaniments – Murunga Keerai poriyal, Kazhuvattu kuzhambu and varutha muttai are served mid-morning once at home and then again at the temple. Return home to have a quick bite and then...

Aadi Maasam/Aadi Thizhuvizha – Part 1

Yesterday was the huge Aadi Thizhuvizha at Nagathamman temple, the culmination of 10 days of festivity and processions starting with Paal Kudam and ending yesterday with Koozhu in the morning and the final grand procession at night. I am tired, exhausted and totally beat but with a camera load of not magazine quality but really good Aadi-smacking pictures. Aadi signifies everything Tamil to me – Tamil music (Urumi), Tamil cuisine (Koozhu, Kazhuvattu Kuzhambu) and Tamil customs and having been ignorant of all of this for most of my life, I am finally waking up to these traditions. I finally sat down to write this long-pending piece on Aadi. At home, Aadi Maasam is THE most hectic, activity packed month of the year. Before marriage I had no clue about Aadi other than the Aadi thallupadi (Aadi discount sales) that happens at this time of the year. But Aadi is huge in my in-laws place. It’s the most important occasion of the year even more than Diwali. Aadi for other clueless folks like me is the fourth month of the Tamil Calendar and is usually considered in-auspicious for weddings. Newly married girls are sent off to their mother’s places during this month. Why? Thank Bhagyaraj who famously busted this Aadi-myth in one of his movies. It has nothing to do with Aadi, there’s a very practical though embarrassing reason for this. If women get pregnant during the month of Aadi, they’ll give birth during peak summer which is a very tough time for small babies (maybe not so relevant in this age).  Aadi is generally very special for women and for farmers. Amman (Goddess Durga, Shakti) temples are the centre of action during this month, apart from Lifestyle and Chennai Silks. Picture this: Huge speakers outside the temples blare L.R.Easwari songs, massive lighted Amman cut-outs flank the road leading to the temple, women march to the temple with turmeric smeared, neem-leaves wreathed milk pots (paal kudam) for abishegam, evenings the Amman idol is decorated and taken around the streets of the temple in procession, and then the culmination of all the Aadi festivities in the Aadi thizhuvzha, where Koozhu (Ragi porridge is traditional poor man’s food) is served along with Drumstick leaves poriyal and Kazhuvattu Kuzhambu. In cities, you’ll see the urumi only during the Aadi month. This is a traditional hour-glass shaped drum that is played at Amman temples when...
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