Recipes Beyond Borders- sometimes Exotic, mostly Healthy, always Delicious

Ingredient: jaggery

Raw Mango Pachadi with Neem Flowers – Mangai Vepampoo Pachadi

Raw Mango Pachadi with Neem Flowers – Mangai Vepampoo Pachadi

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Memories of growing up, in Kharagpur in West Bengal are filled with images of festivals and celebrations and more importantly, the food that (to us at least) was the highlight of each such day. Every festival meant a traditional meal prepared by my mother with devotion and culinary expertise, and very often, new clothes as well as the freedom to run around the house with friends, playing and getting in everyone’s way. The Tamil New Year’s day or Puthandu, was no exception. Apart from the Neer mor and panakam which we drank by the gallon, one of the special dishes for the banana leaf meal at mid day was the Raw Mango pachadi.

Mango pachadi ingredients -turmeric mustard seeds, mango, jaggery lump, chilli and neem leaves with flowers
Mango pachadi preparation

Made from green mangoes plucked from a tree in our garden (and now of course from the supermarket), dark jaggery, chillies and turmeric powder, the raw mango pachadi or stew was flavoured by fresh neem flowers, fried to a crisp in homemade ghee.

Fresh neem flowers fried in ghee for garnish for Raw mango pachadi
Fresh neem flowers fried in ghee

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Goan Bitter Gourd Kokum Dal – Easy Indian Lentil and Gourd curry

Goan Bitter Gourd Kokum Dal – Easy Indian Lentil and Gourd curry

My first foray into Goan Cuisine, and it turned out so well! I found a large variety of vegetarian recipes to try out, and wanted to use ingredients specific to the Goan and Konkani cuisines. The Goan Bitter Gourd Kokum Dal that I finally came up with, tick marked all the boxes I set for the post: Tasty, nutritious, easy, authentic and it incorporated the two ingredients I had been set for this month’s Goan Theme challenge from the FB group I belong to, Shhhhh Cooking Secretly Challenge. More about this group, later on.

First, a little about some of the ingredients I used to make the Goan Bitter Gourd Kokum Dal. The recipe I finally firmed up  after browsing the internet and the few cookbooks I could find, needed kokum as well as terphal, a species related to the Himalayan Sichuan Pepper (which seems to be variously known as teppal, tefla etc). I consulted my daughter Mridula as to what the ‘tefla’ in the recipe was (I thought it was a kind of fish!)  I could have tried sourcing the kokum and terphal in one of the many Mangalorean stores dotted around Bangalore, but then opted to buy them online from amazon as I was not sure I would be able to get the terphal spice elsewhere. The rest of the ingredients were ones I already had at home. Bitter gourd or karela is a favourite on my dining table. If you hesitate to take karela because of the bitterness, then do try it in this dish – the jaggery, the kokum and the spice all go to reduce the bitterness and in fact enhance the taste of the bitter gourd. And you know it is chock full of nutrition and health benefits, right?

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Panakam -Traditional Indian Summer Cooler of Jaggery and Dry Ginger

Panakam -Traditional Indian Summer Cooler of Jaggery and Dry Ginger

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It is Sri Rama Navami today and as I sat with my mother yesterday, I asked her for the recipes for the traditional dishes she used to make for this festival. The festival of Rama Navami is in April when summer is just beginning (though this year summer has shown its force since February) and the festive feast seems to be tailor made for the hot weather. Every item on the menu is cooling and refreshing. Panakam or Panagam is a traditional item in the food prepared by Tamilians on this day, and is easy to make.

Panakam or Panagam: Traditional chilled drink of Jaggery water with dry ginger -specially made for Sri Rama Navami festival - easy, refreshing and healthy

A glass (or two, or three!) of chilled panakam is great for quenching thirst. With the flavours of cardamom, dry ginger (sukku) in the jaggery water, it is tempting to drink this throughout the day, and then to make it again and again on these hot and humid days.

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I have prepared the Panakam just according to my mother’s recipe, however as an option, lemon juice could be added – about 1 to 2 tablespoons for 3 cups of panakam. Pepper corns may be freshly powdered and added too, to give its distinctive flavours – about ½ teaspoon of pepper for 3 cups of the panakam. A pinch of edible camphor would enhance the flavours, but take care to use just a little as the taste can be overpowering.

Rama Navami is a Hindu festival, celebrating the birth of Sri Ram, the 7th avatar of the God Vishnu, as per Hindu mythology. According to the Hindu calendar, Sri Ram was born on the ninth day of Shukla Paksha of Chaitra month. When we were growing up, at Kharagpur in West Bengal, this was an occasion for my parents’ friends to gather together and cook and enjoy a grand lunch. The thirst quenchers were the panakam and the neer mor (spiced buttermilk), along with a cooling salad of cucumber and moong dhal, green chilli and coriander leaves.

There would be a kheer or payasam, a sambar and tasty vegetables, rasam of course, by the gallon, and fried papads. My father and Manian Uncle (my dear friend Ravikumar’s father), would make their famous Badam Kheer instead of a standard payasam. All in all the food that day was a feast for the Gods, though it was we mortals who tucked into it with gusto.

The house would have been scrubbed and cleaned allover the previous day. Mango leaves would be strung across the main entrance, and early in the morning, my mother would wash the area outside the front door and lay out wonderful designs called kolam or moggu (rangoli) with rice powder. I would do my small bit, adding dots to the kolam wherever they were required. The house would be fragrant with the scent of flowers and incense and all the aromas from the kitchen.

Panakam or Panagam: Traditional chilled drink of Jaggery water with dry ginger -specially made for Sri Rama Navami festival - easy, refreshing and healthy

Here is my recipe then for the easy to make panakam. I hope you enjoy making and having it!

Health & medicinal benefits:

The cancer and disease fighting properties of ginger and of tulsi (holy basil) leaves are being researched internationally and there are several articles accessible online explaining the possible benefits and the anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger on health, such as this one from the International Journal of Preventive Medicine  and the many possible medicinal properties of tulsi, as discussed in ‘A Herb for all Reasons‘.

 

 

 

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Vanilla Apricot Black Rice Kheer Payasam – a Festive Pudding

Vanilla Apricot Black Rice Kheer Payasam – a Festive Pudding

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Ganesh Chaturthi is around the corner and Onam too, and we are all busy planning special sweets and desserts. Make your festival meals exotic as well as healthy, with this Black Rice Kheer Payasam of Forbidden Black Rice flavoured with vanilla and enriched with apricots and pistachio. The result is a delicious festival treat, truly fit for the Gods! As the rice cooks, the aroma wafting through the house has to be experienced to be described! The kheer (pudding) is cooked on low heat for about 40 minutes after the rice is cooked in the pressure cooker. No ghee is used in this recipe. For a vegan version, substitute almond milk for the  dairy milk in the recipe.

 

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