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 always made for this festival. The Hindu 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 is cooling and refreshing. Panakam or Panagam is a traditional item in the food prepared on this day, and is easy to make.
A glass (or two) 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. You might like to read this interesting article I came across, in The Hindu on the health benefits of this ‘cool energy drink’.
I have made the Panakam just according to my mother’s recipe, however as an option, lemon juice could be added – about 1 tablespoon for 1.5 cups of panakam. Pepper corns may be powdered and added to, to give its distinctive flavours – about 1/4 teaspoon of pepper for 1.5 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. When we were growing up, at Kharagpur in West Bengal, it was an occasion for all of my parents friends to gather together and cook and enjoy the grand lunch. The thirst quenchers were the panakam and the neer mor (spiced buttermilk), and another cooling salad was the one with cucumber and moong dhal, with 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 Ravikumar’s father, Manian uncle 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 all over 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 with rice powder. I would do my small bit, adding dots wherever they were required. The house would be fragrant with the scent of flowers and incense and all the aromas from the kitchen.
Here is my recipe then for the easy to make panakam. I hope you enjoy making and having it!