It’s Vishu, the Malayalam New Year, a season of plenty and prosperity. Despite the mercury soaring to new heights, folks are getting ready to usher in yet another year of health, wealth and happiness.
It’s the best time of the year; nature is in full bloom with the Kanikonna's (Indian golden rain tree, Indian laburnum) rich golden boughs hanging down in splendor to let us know that Vishu is just around the corner.
It’s boom time for native fruits too. The jackfruit, mango, chickoo and cucumber in all colors and shapes make a merry medley lending vigor to the festivities.
The best feature of Vishu is the spread of goodies galore! Traditional dishes have not given way to new-gen fads. Our naadan (local) dishes including the lip-smacking payasams still hold center-stage.
Vishu is no Vishu without the taste and aroma of ripe chakka and manga (jackfruit and mango).
We share a few dishes made and served only for Vishu. Here you go:
Every child’s favorite, the sweet vishu katta is made by mixing pachoru (cooked raw rice mixed with thick coconut milk) in jaggery extract. It’s blended well, wrapped in plantain leaves and steamed. It’s then cut into square or rectangular pieces. The subtle taste of rice, leaf and jaggery is a temptation in itself.
The festive gruel is made by blending cooked rice in thick coconut milk. Unhusked rice, coconut milk, jaggery and cardamom for flavor are the main ingredients. Add to this an exquisite side dish of a chammanthi (kind of chutney or sauce) of mangoes preserved in brine. There! You are already drooling at the very thought of it.
How to make the manga chammanthi: Ground coarsely (of course, on a grinding stone) slated mango slices, coconut, green or red chilly and shallots.
The ideal side dishes to go with vishukanji are chammanthi and chakkapuzhukku (raw jackfruit, cooked with turmeric and other ingredients and steam-dried to a coarse paste.)
Unakkalari (raw rice with bran) is powdered, mixed with water and a pinch of salt to form a dosa-consistency batter.
The next step is to prepare the ada filling. Ripe red banana (kadalipazham), jaggery, sugar candy, raisins, powdered cardamom and coconut are mixed well. This is set aside.
The rice batter is mixed with a wee bit of ghee and poured on to plantain leaves cut into squares. The ada mix is then spread well on the leaves. Two teaspoons-full of the filling are placed in the center of the thick batter. The plantain leaf is then folded in two and steamed.
It’s all very native - very Malyali. Medium-ripe mango squeezed into cooked rice, accompanied by buttermilk, makes for a deadly combination. The whole dish is washed down by the rest of the mango pulp mixed in a little warm water. Yummy!
To a generation fed on pizzas, burgers and broiler chicken, mango delicacies for which Kerala is famous, adds that trademark fizz to Vishu.
Manga thera (Mango mat)
This heavenly delicacy is the essence, literally, of the tastiest, ripest and juiciest mango. The pulp extracted from mangoes is sieved and spread in a layer on bamboo mats (parampu). The mat is then carefully placed in the hot blazing sun. This is the best time of the year to make this candy. The next day, another layer of pulp is spread over the first layer. Each layer of the pulp mixed with a little honey or jaggery, is laid on the previous day’s layer. The day-time heat ensures that it’s safe from flies and insects. When all the layers turn slightly brown, the thera is ready for use. This can be preserved for months. Bite into it to the accompaniment of black coffee. Ah! Sinfully delicious!
Native variety of mangoes is used for this dish. The fruits are skinned and then cooked. To this sizzling pot, a combo of well ground coconut, green chilly, red chilly, and cumin is added (do not make it into fine paste). If the mango is over ripe, a bit of curd can be added to the mixture to give it a tangy flavor.
Come meal time, the mangoes are squeezed into the rice to make it a memorable culinary experience.
Mangoes are again thinly sliced, mixed with salt and dried in the sun. After a few days under the sun, the mangoes curl up when the water content in them dries up completely. Mangoes dried thus, can be pickled. The dried ada manga is a year-round feature at the dining table.
Ripe fruit is sliced thin and cooked well to make it a pulp. Melted jaggery mixed with cardamom is poured into this fruit pulp. Then the thick coconut milk extract is added. The gruel is then flavored and garnished with small pieces of coconut deep-fried in ghee.
Pappadams made from dried tapioca are the star items of the Vishu lunch.
Dry tapioca is powdered, mixed with double its volume of water. Add to it powdered asafoetida, chilly powder and a pinch of salt. It’s then boiled till the gravy thickens. Sesame seeds and jeera (cumin) are thrown in and the thick batter is left to cool. Once it cools, it becomes lumpy which can then be made into balls and rolled out into small pappadams. These are sun-dried and stored.