Category Archives: festival offerings

Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi with ‘Madhu Golakas’ (Modak)’

Ganesha, the Lord of auspicious beginnings is indubitably the most cheerful god in the Hindu Pantheon.Short, rotund and pot-bellied with an elephants head, he is regarded as the governing deity of intellect and wisdom. Hindus the world over celebrate his ‘birthday’ . I’m incapable of explaining the details of the significance of this delightful god, so I’m just going to direct you to this link from Dr. Devdutt Pattanaiks website.

Ganesha is depicted as holding a bowl of ‘modaks’ in his left hand. These sweet confections resemble little bags of money. These modaks are basically a sweet filling with either a fried wrapping made out of wheat flour or a steamed variety with a covering made of rice flour dough. The word modak is thought to be a corruption of the Sanskrit Madhu golaka (Madhu- sweet/ honey; golaka: sphere / ball).

Getting ready to make the steamed version always induced a low level anxiety in my mother every year. She used to say that the lord’s mood determined if the modaks (or kozhakattai, as they are known in Tamil) would emerge perfectly steamed or turned out to be a disintegrated mess. The solution: always make a tiny ‘Ganesha’ by pinching a bit of dough between the thumb, index and middle finger.

The toughest part of making the modak is getting the rice flour dough right. too much water and the dough does not wrap itself well around the filling, too little and the skin cracks up while steaming.
The modaks invariably are made in odd numbers, usually 11, 21 and usually the amount of rice flour made far exceeds the amount of filling. The remaining dough is then seasoned with  mustard, asafetida, chile and curry leaf. The mix is ‘pinched’ off into tiny bits and then steamed to make what are known as ‘ammini’ or ‘mani’ kozhakattai. These tiny morsels are highly addictive, don’t know why, they just are!

Modaks (Sweet & Savory)

Sweet Coconut and almond filling:

You need:
3/4 cup fresh frozen grated coconut, thawed
1/4 cup sliced almonds, crushed roughly
1/2 cup crumbled Jaggery (Gud / Panela)
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
1/4 cup water

Combine the water and the crushed jaggery in a glass bowl and microwave for one minute till the jaggery dissolves. Transfer into a skillet along with the coconut and almonds. Cook down until the moisture evaporates, but before the sugar hardens. Stir in the cardamom and remove from heat. Set aside to cool. Roll into small 1/2 inch spheres.

Savory Urad Dal filling

1/2 cup dehusked split urad dal
2 red arbol chilies
a pinch of asafetida
salt to taste,
5-6 torn curry leaves
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

Soak the Urad dal for an hour in hot water. Drain the water, combine the dal with the chile, asafetida, salt and curry leaves. Grind into a semi-smooth batter . Heat oil in a non stick skillet, add the mustard seeds. when they sputter, add the urad dal batter and over low heat, stir the mixture until the moisture evaporates and the dal resembles large crumbs. remove from heat and allow to cool. shape into oblongs about an inch long.

Rice flour dough for the covering:

1 1/2 cups rice flour
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup milk
pinch of salt.

Sift the rice flour with the salt into a large & deep mixing bowl. mixing the dough by hand is excruciatingly painful, not to mention the very high possibility of obtaining a lumpy ball of dough that is terrible to shape. I found this fool proof technique to eliminate lumps and the occasional dislocated shoulder. *Drumrolls*. A Kitchenaid Hand mixer.. , yes the kind you use to whip eggs for a cake  (except this operation uses the dough hooks).
Fit a hand mixer with the dough hook attachment. With the mixer set at a low speed, slowly add 1 cup of the boiling water into the rice flour mixing it simultaneously. Add the milk gradually. The mix should now come together into a pliable ball of dough. If its still crumbly, add the remaining water teaspoon by teaspoon with the mixer running until it comes together.

To assemble the modaks, grease your fingertips and your left palm liberally with oil. Pinch off a dollop of dough, roll into a sphere and gently  rub the dough with the oiled fingertips into forming  a thin 2 inch circle. place the filling in the center of the flattened dough, and gently fold the edges of the rice flour ‘skin’ to completely cover the filling. pinch the top of the modak to form a peak. remove any extra bits and mix with the remaining dough. Set aside and repeat until the filling is finished. For the urad dal fillings the dough is wrapped over the filling to obtain a semicircular shape. Pinch the circumference of the semicircle to seal.


 Heat about an 1/2 inch of water in a large pan (wide enough to fit a steamer).  Gently place the modaks on the steamer and steam them for 15 minutes.

Sweet modaks

Savory Modaks (yes, this one looked like a little white rhino!)

Remove from the steamer onto a plate, allow to cool slightly before tucking in.

Ammini (Mani) Kozhakattai:

Heat a tablespoon of oil, add a teaspoon of mustard seeds (allow to sputter), salt and your choice of seasonings ad add them into any remaing dough. Fold in to combine. pinch of teeny bits with your fingers and gently place them on the steaming tray. Steam for 10 minutes until the dough ‘firms up’.

Bon appetit! Here’s wishing everyone auspicious & lucky new beginnings in whatever you’re planning to do!


Heralding the Sun God – Sankranti

With the advent of the New year as per the Gregorian calendar, comes the first wave of festivals celebrated throughout India (We Indians simply LOVE to get the day off, celebrating festivals, religious as well as social, Heck, when no religious conforming to our personal faith is in sight, We’ll happily participate in other festivals from other religions and I’m not joking). Christmas morning at home would be heralded by my dad playing ‘Mary’s Boy child’ & Silent Night (the only Christmas related songs we had on a cassette tape at home).
Fifteen days into the year arrives the first Harvest Festival of Thanksgiving known in Tamil Nadu as ‘Pongal’ ( Literally translated as ‘bubbling over). It marks the end of the month of Margazi (generally considered a non auspicious month where everything is left dormant, perhaps because it fall during the winter solstice). 
The advent of Sankranti marks a new beginning, old stuff is tossed out to make way for the new, and prayers of thanks are offered for the new harvest.
Up North, the season is marked by the festival of Lohri, celebrated with bonfires and offerings of Gajjak & Revdi, two confections made with Jaggery & Sesame seeds. In the west in the state of  Maharashtra the festival is marked by offering rolled sesame brittle to friends & family with the saying’ Til Gul ghya aani goad goad bola‘ (partake of this offering of sesame brittle and may you only have nice things to say)
Gajjak (the slices) & Revdi (the bite sized morsels)
But as all fun festivals have in common, there’s awesome food. The traditional South Indian offering is the sugar (Shakkarai) Pongal which is basically newly harvested rice, Toasted mung, milk & jaggery (unrefined sugar)  flavored with cardamom. The traditional pot is adorned with leaves from the Ginger & turmeric plants and set over a fire to cook, when the pot begins to bubble over, the family gathers around to chant the words ‘Pongal o pongal’ wishing for a prosperous year ahead bubbling with happiness.
At the cost of turning a bright Beet red (or whatever my wheatish complexion will turn into), I don’t have any  photographs (& consequently any written recipes) of the traditional versions of the dishes, thanks to a RAM malfunction on my previous laptop which went south even as the sun stated its northern journey. But here is a compilation of recipes that I’ve created over the past year that would be made (in their traditional avatar) in a typical South Indian home

Venn Pongal (savory Mung & Rice Kedgeree)

Medu Vadai (one of my earliest posts, and experiments)

Paal Poli (Mille Feuille style)

 Lentil Fritters

Wishing everyone a great, happy & Prosperous year ahead!

Fudging the basics… basic ricotta fudge and applications thereof!

My initial idea was to call this post ‘Eating your mistakes’ but it turned out to be such a delicious deviation of intended results, I just did not have the heart to tag it as such.

It started out with the intention of making a beloved bengali dessert the ‘Sandesh’. My memory cells are pretty much swamped by gustatory inputs about classics like ‘Rosgolla’ & Cham Cham, that I do not have many memories about the third in the triumverate of Bengali sweets. So I turned to a classic bengali food blog, The Bong Moms cookbook and sure enough, came across this elegant recipe for bhappa sandesh. Scrolling down the list of ingredients, mentally ‘checking’ off the ones I had on hand…Ricotta, condensed milk (check & check… YAAY I was on a roll here) & I flew off to try this out, entirely forgetting the remaining list of ingredients which I did not have on hand, or a serious look at the simple technique described. That was the end of the Sandesh attempt.. and after that I took off on my ‘fudge’, winging it as I went along.
The end result was a delicious concoction with 3 different applications (possibly more to come) along the way.

Basic Milk Fudge:

1 lb. Whole milk Ricotta Cheese
1 can condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners (icing) sugar
3-4 pods cardamom, crushed
10-12 strands saffron + 1 tablespoon milk to dissolve it in
1 tablespoon corn flour mixed in 1/4 cup of milk
1/4 tsp Pure orange extract (optional)

In a food processor jar, combine the ricotta cheese, condensed milk and the icing sugar.

Process to a thick & smooth consistency. Add the heavy cream to the mix while keeping the appliance running.

Pour the mixture into a large non stick pan. Keeping the heat on low, (this is crucial, at no point should the bottom of the pan heat up enough to caramelize the sugar in the mixture) keep stirring the mixture frequently with a wooden or bamboo spoon.
Dissolve the saffron strands in the milk and add to the mixture along with the powdered cardamom.
When the liquid has reduced to half the original volume, dissolve the cornflour in 1/4 cup of milk and add to the mixture.
In about 60-90 minutes the mixture should have thickened enough that a spoon run across the bottom reveals the bottom of the pan for a goo couple of seconds before the liquid covers it up again.

At this point, you may terminate the procedure and freeze the mix in small bowls or kulfi molds to make an awesome creamy & rich Kulfi (application # 1).

Disclaimer: these are miniature versions made with small amounts of the mix!

Should you want to go further, continue heating the mix further on the same (maddeningly!) low heat (add the orange extract at this point) till the mixture gives up all its moisture (you can see the butterfat sizzling from the edges at this point). At this point pour (more like dropping) the mix onto a greased plate, and cut into squares to serve as is when cold,  or  simply scoop a tablespoon of the mix when cold, shape it into little spheres and roll in some toasted pistachio. Place into tiny paper baking cups. (application # 2)

 The final application that I used this fudge for were these gorgeous tiny ‘money bags’ (yea, I know, the French call them ‘beggars purses’ but I beg to differ!).

 Ricotta ‘Money bags’

You need:
Milk fudge,
Phyllo pastry sheets
plenty of melted butter and a pastry brush for brushing it.

 Preheat the oven to 300 F. Line a baking/cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Scoop about 1/2 – 1  tablespoon of the milk fudge and shape into little spheres as shown.

The specks result when the mixture is cooked on a higher heat.. It does not affect the taste as much as the eye candy value!

Thaw a packet of phyllo pastry dough as per instructions. Remove as many as you require (You’ll get about 6 purses from one single sheet of dough). Keeping them moist under a wet kitchen towel, Cut them into  squares (~ 5-6 inches sides).

Lay a sheet of phyllo on a stone surface and liberally brush with the melted butter. Place a sphere of fudge at the edge of the phyllo sheet as shown.

Roll the sheet over the fudge.

Gather the ends of the roll towards the center. pinch together and lightly twist the fringe over. Press the phyllo over the fudge  to seal the dough.

Arrange the purses on the baking sheet,

and place in the preheated oven for ~ 10 minutes till the tips of the dough turn a golden brown color.

Remove from oven, allow to cool and serve at room temperature as a dessert confection as is, or with coffee.

Bon appetit!