Today is Vishu – a festival which is observed in Kerala with a lot of fanfare and celebrations. This festival marks the onset of the Malayalam New Year, the beginning of the Malayalam month Medam. This festival is celebrated in other parts of India, but under different names like Baisakhi (Punjab) , Bihu (Assam), Puthandu (Tamil Nadu) and Ugadi (Andhra Pradesh).
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The most important ritual on Vishu is the Vishukani. It is a popular belief that the years prosperity and happiness depends on the first object you view when you wake up on the first day of the new year. The ladies of the house set up the vishukani the night before. The vishukani is an arrangement of many things- namely the yellow cucumber, raw rice, betel leaves, flowers of the Konna tree, fresh lemon, araecnuts, a new white cloth, coconuts, the holy text coins and fruits for offering – all in a large bell metal vessel called the uruli. Two lighted lamps called Nilavilakku is also placed alongside. Behind the vessel is a deity of Lord Krishna. This is the first auspicious sighting of the New Year.
Verses are read from the holy book of Ramayana and the new year is started amidst prayer and much happiness. The kaineetam is given by the head of the family to the younger members of the family and to others in need. This is symbolic of sharing thr wealth and prosperity by all. As kids we would eagerly wait for the kaineetam and then swarm the local shop for our favorite chocolates and chips..!! The beautiful, vibrant and bright Konna flowers are seen during this time and are an integral part of Vishu.
The vishu Sadya is another important part of the day. The sadya comprises of a full meal of rice and vegetarian sides, pickles, papadams and is followed by a sweet payasam. The vishu kanji which is made of rice, coconut and spices also is a culinary speciality of the day. Keeping in tune with the festive day, I have prepared for you a simple ada pradhaman. This is a payasam made of flaked rice, jaggery and coconut milk.
- Ada – 1 cup
- Jaggery – 500 gm
- Coconut milk (3rd extract) – 5 cups
- Coconut milk (2nd extract) – 3 cups
- Coconut milk (1st extract) – 2 cups
- Cardamom- 8 to 10
- Dry Ginger powder – a fat pinch
- Ghee – as needed
- Cashew nut – 1/2 cup
- Raisins – 1/2 cup
- Take a large vessel, enough to hold the liquid quantity and enough space to stir it without it getting spilled over onto the stove.
- Put the rice flakes/ ada into the vessel along with the third extract of the coconut milk. Bring it to a boil and keep cooking till the ada is cooked through. The quantity of the coconut milk will reduce during this time and it will become thicker in consistency. Reduce the flame and cook stirring in between so that it does not burn at the bottom. A burnt payasam tastes no good.. so be careful.
- During this time take a thick bottomed saucepan. Put the jaggery pieces and 1/2 cup water into the pan and bring it to a boil on medium high flame. Give it 10 minutes and the jaggery will melt and you will have a dark brown liquid. take of flame and strain it into a separate vessel. Straining is important because sometimes the jaggery pieces have stones or other impurities in them. You do not want to crunch on a small stone when you are having your sweet. Spoils it all I think..!!
- Once the ada is cooked and the liquid is thick, add the liquid jaggery to it and continue cooking on a medium flame. The payasam will slowly become thick and bubbly during this time. It is pretty hot so take care it does not fall on your skin. A trick I learnt from an uncle was that when it bubbles too much add a bit of ghee to it and the bubbling will settle down. The ghee also adds to the flavor and the consistency of the payasam later on. So add 1 to 2 Tbsp of ghee depending on whether you want a less fat sweet or not.
- Once the payasam mix has started thickening add the second extract of milk and repeat the stirring and the waiting and the ghee adding.
- When the payasam has started thickening again, add the first extract of milk. Wait for the first signs of it boiling. when the first bubbles appear, switch off the flame.
- Add the powdered cardamom and the dry ginger powder and stir well.
- Fry the cashewnuts and the raisins in a little ghee and add to the above.
- Your payasam is ready. Serve warm or cold.