Last Saturday, I had invited my eight months pregnant friend over for dinner. When inquired about her cravings, she replied that she desperately craves for sweets. I wanted to make some special dessert for her and decided to make ras-malai. Ras Malai is a Bengali sweet – primarily comprising of two main ingredients – where “ras” means juice, and “malai” means cream. It is a widely known dessert in India and Pakistan. She absolutely relished the ras-malai and went for second helping too! 🙂
Recipe is fairly simple. Here’s the recipe:
Ricotta Cheese – 15 oz or 1 box
Powdered Sugar – 3/4 cup
Cardamom – 4 pieces – powdered
Whole milk – 3 cups
Condensed milk – 1 cup
Saffron – a pinch
Almonds & Pistachio – chopped, grounded for granishing
Once, Shakespeare said “What’s in the name”? and we all nodded in agreement. But, when it comes to Indian names, his quote doesn’t hold good. Indian parents invest immense time and effort in choosing the ‘best name’ that conveys the ‘best meaning’ of their child. Unlike western names, Indian names hold a lot of significance to the meanings- some are derived from ancient scripts like Sanskrit upholding great values and significance. Indian names usually mean lot of things like celestial objects like sun, moon, star, earth; nature like rose, jasmine, flower, petal, et al; praising one’s beauty like beautiful eyes, lips, smile, etc; ornaments like bindi, bracelet, earrings, etc; musical instruments; intelligence, smartness, bravery, invincible etc.
Last week, Coldplay released their new video “Hymn For weekend” with the desperate attempt to portray the myriad colors of India. This video has received great appreciation as well as flak at the same time. Let me use this opportunity to explain why Coldplay’s “representation” (quoted on purpose) of INDIA is all seriously flawed! The video begins with showcasing saffron clad Sadhus with their foreheads smeared with ash, a levitating sadhu, crowded streets buzzing with people and vehicles, three boys riding triples on a bike, a boy dressed up as Shiva and the Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor, running in slow motion for two nanoseconds. I am really frustrated to know that Coldplay chose all the above mentioned scenarios to represent multitude of colors in India. Seriously, is this what INDIA is all about? Coldplay has definitely missed doing their homework on where to find the myriad colors of India, so let me help them in right direction.
Here are the list of places where you can find more “colors” in India:
January 14th, 2016- Makara Sankranthi (Sankranti) or Pongal is a traditional Indian harvest festival that marks the onset of spring in India. Living in US for the past 6 years, I have always tried my best to celebrate Indian festivals here with the same amount of zeal and enthusiasm. This year too, as always, I celebrated Sankranthi. It being baby A’s First Makar Sankranthi, was a special day for us. P and I took off on January 14th and 15th to celebrate the festival with baby A in a grandiose way. We gave him oil bath in the morning, put new clothes on him and performed all the rituals, all thanks to my mil’s guidance. Usually, for the baby’s first year, we fill the silver chombu (utensil) with ellu(sesame seeds mixed with finely chopped jaggery, coconut) and sakkare achchus (recipe here), take dristi of the baby(to ward off evil eyes) and distribute that ellu and achchus to our friends and family. Seated on a wooden plank, P comfortably made baby A sit on his lap, while I performed the rituals of placing vermilion on baby A’s forehead, took dristi of him by waving a silver chombu in front of him and also performed aarthi in a silver plate with water blended with pinch of vermilion. MIL had prepared delicious festive food like Khara Pongal, Sweet Pongal, Ambode (Masala Vada), pumpkin curry and pumpkin halwa. After fulfilling our appetite, we spent the rest of the day packing goodies for our friends, who would be visiting us the next day, to celebrate sankranthi festival at our home. Since it was baby A’s first sankranthi and because he is a boy, we gifted silver krishna along with yellu and achchus in the goodies.
Goody boxes with Yellu, achchus and silver krishna
Goody boxes with Yellu, achchus and silver krishna
Sankranthi is a traditional Indian harvest festival which marks the commencement of spring in India and Nepal. Known by different names in different parts of India, it is usually celebrated around January 13th to January 15th, every year. Some South Indian states like Andra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu celebrate Sankranthi for three days with each day carrying its own significance – like thanking sun god, cattle, farmers, family & friends for the harvest.
Being a Bangalorean since birth, I have grown up celebrating Sankranthi the way people of Karnataka celebrate every year. We wake up on this auspicious day, clean the house, apply rangoli (colored powder) at our doorstep, have oil bath, don new clothes, prepare delicacies and visit our friends and family to perform a ritual called “Ellu Beerodu” which involves bartering a plate laden with Ellu (white sesame seeds) mixed with finely cut jaggery, dry coconut and fried peanuts; along with sugar molded figurines known as Sakkare Acchu and a piece of sugar cane.
Being born to a traditional family, I remember my childhood days, when we cousins would sit cross-legged on the concrete floor with a piece of wooden mold in front of us. My grandmother used to prepare the sugar syrup on the kerosene stove and we all used to patiently wait until it reached the correct consistency. When the sugar syrup was ready, my grandmother used to lift the vessel containing hot sugar syrup from the stove, and carefully pour it into our wooden molds. Our job was to carefully and correctly tap the wooden mold to ensure that sugar syrup fills it completely. Despite burning our hands in this process, we thoroughly enjoyed being this part of ‘supply chain’ in creating sugar figures during this festival. I still reminisce those olden days. Somehow, this tradition of preparing homemade “sakkare achus” disappeared during my later part of childhood and teenage life. As years passed, we no longer sat around with our wooden mold waiting for sugar syrup to be poured into it. Our homemade sakkare acchus got replaced by store-bought ones which was less tastier and healthier.
When I moved to US after my wedding, I was enthusiastic to re-instate this tradition of preparing homemade sakkare acchus again. Having procured the recipe from my mother-in-law, I was enthralled to prepare it all by myself, for the first time in my life. She even was sweet enough to FedEx me the wooden molds to help me achieve my objective. Years have passed by and I still prepare these sakkare acchus every year, receiving accolades from my friends and family. This year too, I was overjoyed to prepare them last weekend for the upcoming festival on January 15th, 2016!
I recently came across this interesting article on “Washington Post” which explains how researchers at Indian Institute of Technology in Jodhpur have figured out the math and science behind what makes Indian Food so lip-smacking! They have crunched data on thousands of recipes available on famous chef “TarlaDalal.com”.
Synopsis: Western food comprises of ingredients with overlapping flavors; whereas, in Indian food, the ingredients do not have overlapping flavors, or have minimum overlap in their flavors. Hence, in Indian food, your taste buds can easily sense and differentiate the flavor of each ingredient involved in making a delicious Indian meal!
This is a TRUE STORY which happened few years ago, when we lived in downtown.
Seema and her husband Ravi lived in the same apartment complex, facing the river Mississippi, as ours. Seema was newly married and had just arrived from India. She had no idea about the norms and regulations about living in the US!
Usually, in India, every morning, women clean the front porch of their houses and apply rangoli (designs using chalk powder). It is an age old tradition which has been practiced in India since ages. Having no clue, Seema set out to replicate the same thing in front of her apartment door. For Rangoli design, she drew a Hindu Swastika using red chalk.
Swastika has been a sacred auspicious HINDU symbol since eons ago, which symbolizes “Prosperity”, “Sacredness” and “Good fortune”. Co-incidentally, this symbol was used by the Nazi army which symbolizes “terror”, “hatred” and “death” to the Jews. Nazi influence of this symbol has overshadowed the HINDU influence of this auspicious symbol in the West.