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.
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.
The different tastes forming this sweet sour hot and astringent dish are believed by Tamilians to represent the different facets of life and living and therefore are part of the meal on this auspicious start of the year. Pungent heat from the chilli, sourness from the mango, sweetness from the jaggery, salt, bitterness of the neem flowers and the earthy slightly astringent taste of the fresh turmeric – this is indeed a flavourful dish.
All the ingredients are seasonal and at other times of the year dry neem flowers are substituted for the fresh ones. Most of the ingredients were easy to put together as raw mangoes were plentifully available in the market and I had dark jaggery which would lend a rich colour and flavour to the pachadi. Fresh zero pesticide turmeric powder from First Ago Farms were on hand. The neem flowers though, led me quite a dance. In Chennai these flowers of the neem tree are easily available, either from a tree in a neighbours garden or in the vegetable market.
At Bangalore however, the neem in our apartment was just a sapling and not ready to put out flowers. Other trees in the neighbourhood didn’t seem to have flowers and were anyway too tall to attempt to pluck flowers from them. Our apartment ladies WhatsApp group suggested that I try with the vegetable vendors who sit at a makeshift roadside shop a short distance away. The first visit 2 days ago was promising, as the lady vendor said she would get the flowers for me and to come back next day. Four trips in the hot sun on a dusty road with tearing traffic and no pavement to speak off, and she said she would ‘pakka’ get them for me this evening.
I decided to make the Raw Mango pachadi without the neem flowers, when to my delight and gratitude, my friend Nisha ‘raided’ a tree at a temple nearby and got me a bunch of neem leaves, with, as my friend Kevin commented, star like pretty pretty little flowers. Carefully snipping off the flowers without stalks and leaves, I had my 2 teaspoons full of precious Neem flowers for an authentic raw mango pachadi! If the friendly roadside vendor does get me more flowers this evening, you will very soon see a post for a neem flower rasam, on the blog!
Other traditional recipes :
Panakam – the Jaggery Summer Cooler
Neer Mor – Delicious Buttermilk