Her favourite festival, while growing up was the Tamil New Year as it often coincided with the famous festival at the Madurai Meenakshi temple which celebrates the marriage of goddess Meenakshi and Shiva every year during the Tamil month of chithirai.
Dharani’s childhood was dotted with memories of mammoth cooking sessions and celebrations during these festivals, especially during the month of chithirai. Recently, when she had gone for a shoot in Madurai, she took a cycle and went around her old ancestral home and the place where her mother had run a huge tailoring-cum-embroidery unit. “In those days, special areas were set up in the backyard for cooking. More than one firewood chula (mud stoves) was used to cook different dishes. Younger women in the family prepared dishes while the older women supervised. Men in the family made sure that we had enough crackers and decorations. The house was filled with laughter, music, the smell of fresh jasmine and the smell of tasty dishes. Tamil New Year was an important day and we used to plan the celebrations much in advance. One day was reserved for the festivities — all the 18 members of the family visited the temple and then shop at the tiny little shops near the roadside,” Dharini recollects.
On the Tamil New Year day, Dharini used to wake up and look at the kani (mirror) and then pour water for the tulsi plant in the front. Then, she dresses up and celebrates with the family. “For the lunch, there used to be a neem flower pachadi for its bitterness, a raw mango sweet and sour chutney and freshly made mango ginger chilly pickle. It was accompanied by vada, akkaravadisal (similar to sakkaraipongal), pal payasam, potato fry, drumstick sambar, tomato rasam, podalanga kootu, coconut rice, plain rice, dal, buttermilk, curd, pappadam and banana,” she tells me. Dharini’s all-time favourite dish is akkaravadisal. This dish, in fact, was created by Andal as an offering to her favourite deity and from then onwards, akkaravadisal was prepared on all auspicious days and offered to god. There is a mention of this dish in literature written during the Sangam period.
Dharini says that after lunch, all 18 members used to watch the latest release from the theatre. “The day ended with lighting lamps and bursting crackers. I also spend hours creating beautiful rangoli designs,” she says. Today, I am sharing the recipe of Dharini’s favourite dish akkaravadisal.
Dharini’s kitchen tips
Use only cows’ ghee
Use whole milk and not diluted toned milk
While cooking directly in the cooker, ensure it does not burn
Raw rice (ponni): 1/2 cup | Moong dal/paasi paruppu: 1/4 cup | Milk: 21/2 cups | Water: 11/2 cup | Jaggery: 1/2 cup | Sugar: 1 tbsp | Cow’s ghee: 3/4 cup | Cardamom: 1/2 tsp | Cashew nut: 6 nos | Raisins: 6 nos | Saffron: a few strands | Cooking camphor: one pinch
In a heavy-bottomed pressure cooker, add 1 tbsp ghee and roast cashew nuts and raisins until golden and transfer to a bowl. Keep aside
Soak saffron in a tbsp of warm milk and set aside Add moong dal and rice to the same ghee and roast for a minute on medium flame. Add milk
Add water, cardamom powder and a pinch of salt Pressure cook for 2 whistles on medium flame
Once done, add jaggery which has to be powdered and ghee, cook together for 4 minutes till all mashed
Add a pinch of cooking camphor powder for the fragrance
Add saffron-soaked milk and stir well
Switch off the gas and add the cashew nuts and raisins and leftover ghee
— Chef Ramaa Shanker is the author of Festive Offerings to the Gods: Divine Soul Recipes