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.
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.
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. All these are optional, as the basic panagam made the traditional way had only jaggery in water, with tulsi leaves and dry ginger.
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.
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‘.
Panakam -Traditional Indian Summer Cooler of Jaggery and Dry Ginger
- ¾ cup jaggery - vellam/ gur
- 3 cups water - 2 ½ cups of chilled water + ½ cup extra
- 1 inch Dry Ginger piece - chukku/saunth. Fresh ginger will not give the same flavours
- 2 cardamoms - - elaychi
- a few tulsi leaves - holy basil leaves
- ½ teaspoon Fresh ground peppercorns - (optional)
- 1- 2 tablespoons Fresh lemon juice - (optional)
- 1 pinch edible camphor - (optional)
- Soak the jaggery in ½ cup of water for about 10 minutes, so that it softens and is easier to dissolve. Stir briskly to dissolve the jaggery in the water. Filter with a clean white cloth. Add the chilled water to the jaggery water.
- Pound the dry ginger and cardamom to powder, using a mortar and pestle. Remove the tough fibrous pieces of the ginger (retain the peel/ skin of the cardamom as it continues to add flavour to the panakam). Use only dry ginger as fresh ginger will totally change the flavours. Freshly pounded dry ginger pieces will add more flavour than store bought/ bottled dry ginger powder.
- Filter the liquid to remove any particles of ginger or cardamom. Add tulsi leaves (sacred basil), lightly crushed, and serve chilled. Optional: Add freshly ground pepper, a pinch of edible camphor, and/ or lemon juice, as desired, stirring well before serving.
- The recipe is for a mildly sweet drink. Increase the quantities of jaggery or dry ginger to your taste.