Today is Day 3 of Navratri. Did you wear today’s traditional color? How is your Navratri going? Missing the Garba and the festivities. Well, in a way, isn’t it good. This way, we get to celebrate Navratri in other ways, to focus on the spiritual aspects of the festival, the power of the Adi Shakti, and to work on our spiritual well-being. The Divine Goddess represents the past, the present, and the future. She is a part of every atom of the entire Universe in the form matter, energy, and consciousness.
This is also the perfect season for fasting or even beginning to eat healthy. Traditionally, there are many delicious recipes made during these nine days. My family was never a very orthodox one, so things were never strict about fasting or any rituals of any festival. The only fast I used to do as a kid was the Gowri Vrat for five years, followed by the Jaya Parvati Vrat for some years. My parents would observe fasting during both the Chaitri Navratri and Sharada Navratri as an Ektano Upavas (Having a proper meal only once a day, for us, mostly dinner).
There were some recipes that are an inseparable part of my childhood memories of Navratri. These are recipes my mom used to make for us during the Navratri festival. In this blog, I share my memories of these dishes.
Upavas nu Bataka nu Shaak
In some parts of India, this dish is called as ‘Vrat ke Aloo ki Subzi’. There is no turmeric (haldi) used in this recipe, it just has Sindhav Namak. Sindhav Namak is the special salt consumed by Indians when fasting, as during this time the normal iodized table salt is not consumed. This dish is simple diced potatoes tempered with oil and cumin seeds (Jeera). Sometimes, diced Suran (Also called Elephant’s Foot or Yam) is also added to the dish. The subzi is had with curd or dahi. Some people do not consume any salt during the entire nine days of fasting, in which case the subzi would be tempered only with oil. Mom would make this dish for lunch almost every day during Navratri. This dish is also a common staple during most other fasts, especially the Ekadashi fasting, where it is eaten with Moraiyo ni Khichdi. I have loved this dish since I first tasted it. My school would serve us lunch in the school itself, e didn’t have to carry our lunch from home. And I loved my school lunch, I still miss it a lot and think about it at least once a week, if not more. Nobody, I swear, nobody makes Rajma, Chhole, Seviyan ki Kheer, Dhaniya patte wali Chhas, Chhootti vaghareli khichdi ane kadhi as yummy as I used to get in my school. (If any of my school mates are reading this, I would love to know if you miss that food too) Despite that yummy lunch, when I would come home a few hours later, mom would save me some of this bataka nu shaak, which I would eat as a snack. Once I got into college, I used to have it for lunch like rest of the family. The beauty of this dish is in its simplicity. There is no complex process, no elaborate mix of ingredients. Just potatoes, oil, salt, and cumin seeds. It also gets cooked pretty quick, so even if you are not fasting or at any other time during the year, this is a good quick fix for meals.
Sabudana ni Khichdi
As I said above, the only fast I observed in my school days was the Gowri Vrat. Gowri Vrat is the five-day fasting observed by young girls where they grow different cereals in small baskets, and offer prayers to it each morning. No salt is consumed during this fast, and meals are allowed only once a day, though you can snack any number of times throughout the day. A lot of girls struggle to complete the fast and end up breaking it well before five days. That has never happened to me. I have diligently completed all the fasts I have observed till date. A day or two before the fast ends, mom would ask me what I would like to eat once I end the fast – I have no eaten any proper meal or any salt for five days, and have been living off dry fruits and snacks, and rotis once a day. And the first thing, I have almost always said I wanted to eat after my fast, was Sabudana ka Khichdi. And mom would smirk. She would wonder why this girl would finish her upavas and then ask for more upavas food! Simple answer – I love sabudana ka khichdi, the one my mom makes. This is not like the Maharashtrian Sabudana ki Khichdi or like the one we get in steet-side stalls and carts here in Gujarat, which is quite dry, ever sago pearl is separate and free. The one my mom makes is a lot more moist and flowy. IT is loaded with potatoes (loooovee!) and peanuts, and spiced with green chilies. Like the Upavas na bataka nu shaak, the beauty of this recipe is in its simplicity, and it is also eaten with dahi. Temper the oil with cumin seeds & slit green chilies, add soaked sabudana, potatoes and peanuts, sindhav salt – that’s more or less it. Sabudana ki khichdi is also an integral part of fasting in India – Navratri or otherwise.
Leela Tameta nu Shaak
Green tomatoes are not just cute, they are quite tart and make delicious subzis. Green tomatoes are unripe tomatoes, plucked before they turn bright tomato red, and are called as ‘Leela Tameta’. Even when there is no Navratri, make leela tameta nu shaak with bataka (unripe tomatoes and potatoes subzi), and it tastes so yumm, especially when served with dheeli khichdi and oodles of ghee. Leela tameta nu shaak is a great fasting subzi, and adds the perfect tartness to the meal. Have it with rotis and some dahi, and you will sure ask for second helpings. A version of the recipe can be ordered via Faasos (You can download the Faasos app and order the hare tamatar ki subzi meals from it). I am not a huge fan of the Faasos version, because my mom’s version beats it all. You would need to add some sweetness in the form of jaggery or sugar to cut out the tartness of the unripe tomatoes. This is not because Gujarati food is sweet (No, it is not sweet, get that misconception out of your head! I will judge you for it surely) but because the unripe tomatoes would be really tart and almost inedible if the tartness is not balanced out.
Unlike all the items on my list today, Kansar is not a farali (fast-special) dish, but it is one of the most important and my personal most awaited part of Navratri. Today, our communities have progressed (at least in terms of the Prasada offered to the Gods and Goddesses), I even see cakes, biscuits, brownies, and even savory dishes as Prasada. But the first prasada during Navratri in my household was Kansar. Kansar is a delicious halwa or pudding made from wheat flour, sugar and ghee in Gujarati households. Kansar is not just made during Navratri, but it is a staple at every auspicious occasion in our households. So, every time a new academic year began at school, or during the Bestu Varas (Gujarati New Year after Diwali) or my sister or me got a medal or had earned some achievement, any auspicious good occasion, mom would cook the Kansar. Kansar is cooked wheat flour, the ghee and powdered sugar (buru sugar) is added afterwards while the Kansar is still hot. This is similar to how we make ghaun ni sev during Holi. Kansar is undoubtedly my favorite ghar ki mithai. It doesn’t need any dry fruit , any cardamom or mace or nutmeg to be added to it like we do to Sheera, it is super delicious as is. Kansara is offered as a Pradas to the Goddess. My family has been ardent believers of Ambe Ma, we have always had a big idol of her in our Puja Room, and Dad would lead the prayers, while all of us would stand behind him with folded hands, bowed hands, and closed eyes. Well, not really closed eyes, I would keep opening one eye to look at the plate of Kansara being offered to God, wondering when I could finally dig into it. A small portion of the whole that mom made was offered as Prasada, which was to be shared among all. The rest we would eat with our meal. Kansaar is also an integral part of the wedding rituals in my family and community.
Shakkariya no Sheero
This is again a fast-special recipe. In our culture, sweet potatoes have a reputation for being a fasting staple. Unfortunately due to this, they don’t often make it to our plate when we are not fasting. Sweet potatoes are loaded with nutrients and should be eaten regularly when in season. And if they are roasted on a chulha or sigdi with smoke, eating them is what you call being in ‘Food Heaven’. Back to Shakkariya no Sheero. In a country ruled by Gajar no Halwo, be a Shakkariya no Sheero. And that was a very lame one on my part, my apologies. Some people just roast the shakkariya or sweet potatoes and mash it to make a sheera (the usual ghee, sugar, water or milk recipe). Some people also add some mawa (khoya) to the pan along with roasted sweet potatoes to make the sheera. My mom made it without the mawa. Mawa adds a unique richness to the sheera, so there is no harm in adding it, it is one’s individual preference. Mom made this occasionally, and whenever it was made, no matter how much I ate, I always felt I got less, because the sheera is so yummy, you can never have enough of it. But the sheera could also feel a little heavy so you might not be able to eat a lot of it. I have had another delicious version of the Shakkariya no sheera at the ‘Bhojan no Anand’ by Agashiye at the House of MG, a boutique hotel in the walled city of Ahmedabad, by Abhay Mangaldas. This is one of those recipes that can be considered as heirloom recipes, passed down the generations from mother to daughter or daughter-in-law, as each family will have their own unique version of it.
Singhoda no Sheero
What is fasting in my part of the country without water chestnut flour, isn’t it? As a kid, I have always seen that grocery shopping was something the whole family did together in my family. My parents would compare, and then buy. Dad would teach me the great ‘atla ma atlu, to atla ma ketlu’, basically ratio calculations to figure out which out of two or three items is more expensive, and based on the price and value offered, what to buy. Thanks to that, I am an expert at ‘atla ma atlu, to atla ma ketlu’ calculation. Mom would always leave it for dad to do those calculations, and I would always hang around dad, he would go about teaching me, and then allow me to calculate and select and put the things in the cart, which felt like such a responsible and ‘adult’ thing to do (Even if dad had already done the calculations in his head, and decided what had to be bought). During this grocery shopping, one small golden colored packet that would make its way to the cart sometimes was Singhoda no lot (water chestnut flour). There weren’t many brands selling it, in fact, I remember there being just one, the same small golden packet on all shop shelves. It would cost like Rs. 5 or 10 at that time, that’s how small the packet was. But it was enough to make the singhoda no sheero for prasad during Navratri or any other festival in my household. Sometimes, mom would take 2-3 packets, because in India festivals are spread through the year like candies in a candy box, so it often needed stocking. The sheero is a little sticky, because of the starchy flour, and is super delicious. But it is very heavy, so you can’t have more than some, even if you want to.
Singhoda Bataka ni rotli
In some parts of India, this is also called Singhade ke aloo paratha. Basically, it is boiled aloo mixed with or stuffed into dough made from singhoda no lot (water chestnut flour) and then cooked on a tava with ghee. This rotli/paratha, call it what you like, is immensely flavorful and very filling. They are easy to make, except the rolling part. The singhoda dough can get a bit sticky and it can be a little tricky to roll them into rotis/parathas. Use sufficient ataman (flour for dusting) to roll them, but not so much that you end up doubling your dough! Mom used to make these with the leela tameta nu shaak, and they make for a great pairing, with a side of dahi. The inherent sweetness of potatoes adds an altogether another flavor dimension to these parathas. I would spread a little extra desi ghee or makhan on them, and they get even more delicious.
Sabudana ni Kheer
As I said above, nobody makes seviyan ki kheer as delicious as I used to get in my school when I was studying there. I had it fourteen years that I spent at that school, and I can still have it any day, anytime. Then there is the rice kheer that was seldom in my house, and it was also a part of my graduate studies in a subject we learnt in the second semester I think – Traditional Indian Dairy Products (TIDP). In this course we would make all the traditional Indian sweets as part of syllabus, study its properties, sensory attributes, proportions, how its attributes can be improved, etc. So, making gulab jamun, penda, barfi, rice kheer, kalakand, rasgulla, paneer, channa, etc. was pretty usual in the practical sessions. Cooking in the TIDP class in college is very, very different from cooking at home. Cooking in class is all according to fixed proprotions, everything is weighed, everything has a defined process. Cooking at home is intuitive, and Indians, especially Indian mothers are champions of intuitive cooking, I don’t think anyone can beat them at that. During Navratri, mom would make sabudana kheer. This was an occasional treat, and always a fond memory. We would add a few drops of vanilla essence to give it a lovely flavor, along with powdered cardamom. My favorite pastime when eating sabudana is trying to cut a sago pearl with my teeth, which is quite a task since it would keep squirming and squeezing away. Mom would have made sabudana kheer in the afternoon when I was still in school, dad was at court (he was a lawyer), and then keep it in the fridge to chill. So, when I get home, and open the fridge, bowls of the delicious kheer would be sitting there. And then my watch begins, I would keep counting minutes and hours to dinner time, when dad would do the Aarti, I would follow my ritual of peeking with one eye, waiting for it to be over so I could eat the kheer!
Rajagra ni Farali Kadhi
This is a recipe mom grew up cooking and having during fasting. It is not limited to Navratri, and is had during mostly every fast through the year. Mom’s grandmother used to make it, mom learnt from her, and now she makes it for us. This farali kadhi is made with Rajgira flour (Amaranth flour), and does not contain any major spices. All you need to make this kadhi is dahi, rajgira flour, ghee, cumin seeds, ginger, green chilies, sindhav namak, and the secret ingredient that transforms its flavor from ordinary to extraordinary – roasted peanuts. It is also super healthy and packed with lots of nutrients. Mom would make this with leela tameta nu shaak and singhoda-bataka ni rotli, and it made for the perfect healthy meal. This was a traditional meal at my house during Navratris and I have many fond memories of having this meal in the evenings for dinner, or on weekends for lunch, with Kansar as the prasad.
These are the top recips for Navratri made in my household. Apart from this there were kacha pendas, gulab jamuns, rajagra na thepla, buffwada, rajagra no sheero, and many other dishes that were made in my house during Navratri, but the ones I mention above are those with which I have my fondest food memories of the festival. What are your fondest food memories of Navratri festival? Is there anything specific that your mom or grandmother or anyone would make that you will never forget? Any dish that signifies Navratri for you? And no, papdi no lot from the stall at the garba venue does not count. Tell me more in the comments or drop me a comment on my Instagram @banjaranfoodie.