Cooking Anything Special For Holi?
Not really! Eating anything special sounds more close to the heart.
Festivals were created to gorge on delicious rich food. And, in the old times, when everyone including our grandparents was young, cooking special dishes amounted to a party preparation together with friends and family and eating those dishes was yet another festival altogether. Each festival had its own typical dish. Later those dishes became standard dishes for any festival.
So when you ask a Gujju what they eat on the festival of Holi, most would say ‘Undhiyu’ or ‘Sev ni Lapshi’. Undhiyu is a dish of baked mixed winter vegetables including broad beans and root vegetables with flour koftas made with fenugreek leaves. Mainly dry, and made in the farms, the dish used to be enjoyed by itself without the accompaniment of any breads. Holi is perhaps the last time one would be able to make authentic Undhiyu as the same fresh vegetables would be no longer available after that.
These days readymade sev, thread-like vermicelli, is available in any grocery store. Making a lapshi from it is very easy – just roast broken pieces in a tiny bit of ghee and cook it in very little water added as and when needed and add sugar last along with a little cardamom powder. The lapshi comes out light and fluffy and not sticky at all. One can always garnish it with chopped nuts.
Hasmukhben Parekh of Flushing, New York, remembers the ritual of hand-making the sevs in Lusaka, Zambia, where she was born. She says after the dough was made from whole wheat flour, one person would sit on a bench with a table in front of her and roll the sev out thin with hands as two others caught them and transferred them to a plate to dry. The fresh sev was then boiled in water and drained like pasta and then sugar and cardamoms were added. Priyamvada Trivedi, also of Flushing, New York, remembers how she and other women looked forward to a tasty meal after fasting the whole day. Sev lapshi and ‘batata wadas’ were much looked forward to in the evenings.
Actor-Producer-Filmmaker Tirlok Malik who has lived in Manhattan, New York, from a young age, tried to remember what Holi was like in his childhood in India. He remembers the Holi fire and dancing around it. But the taste of the Sarson da Saag and Makke di Roti is still in his mouth, he says. This, of course, would be followed by creamy ‘gajar halwa’.
For Sangeeta Pandit, resident of Valley Stream, New York, memories of Holi feasts are mixed with the joy of the colors, which fed her childhood passion of being an artist. The typical Maharashtrian treat she remembers is Puran Poli with milk and lots of ghee, specially made tart, sweet and spicy Kataachi aamti, Kesari Bhaat, Puri, Batatachi Bhaji, Koshimbir or Raita, Pakodas and Pappads. It is almost sad that no one can have all those items in a two-day festival any more. One is allowed the indulgence perhaps once or twice in a year and one item at that.
So then what would be a typical special occasion South Indian dish? Sridhar Rajeswaran, visting professor of English, says it is Pongal. Now Pongal or rice can be both sweet and savory. But the sweet dish made with coconut and sugar or jaggery requires art to come out perfect. It is easier to make Payasam, a milk based item. Remember the sev lapshi of the Gujaratis? After roasting in ghee, the vermicelli can be cooked in milk which is boiled to a thick consistency. Saffron, sugar, crushed coconut powder, chopped nuts, all can be added to make the dish even richer. And the rule is not to eat more than a one-cup serving of it. Or be prepared to have a sugar hike which will make you fall asleep.
Asha Shukla of Jacksonville, Florida, still remembers having Malpuas at a Rajasthani friend’s house. Malpuas are pancakes made with liquid wheat dough deep fried in ghee and topped with chopped nuts. More ghee is poured over it traditionally. Sometimes, they are eaten with milk. Now that is also a dish one cannot have much and often. That ghee is clarified butter and does not create cholesterol problems is a fact. But only if taken in moderate proportions.
So then, what can one do for a treat? Modify, reinvent these dishes! Instead of Sarson da Saag, one can create a dip with baby spinach and some mustard added for tang and have it with corn chip spoons. One can make ‘puran’ out of sweet potatoes, add no sugar, and bake them in philo pastry shells readily available in super markets. And one can roast chopped carrots with a honey glaze in the oven and mix them with a little ricotta cheese when serving. And voila! You have a Holi feast!
Traditionally, produce was eaten at only certain times during the year. Holi ended the consumption of dates which were eaten in plenty during the winter. With day time temperatures rising over a hundred degrees, dates and figs were not to be eaten after Holi. Whereas mangoes could be eaten only after Holi even if they were available before that. Now how does one find seasons today when everything is available all the time!