For people like me, festivals, food and memories form a heady combo :). Food and festivals go hand in hand and create everlasting memories. The celebrations one enjoys together with the family, the meals on cherishes with the loved ones, they all hold a special place in our book of memories :). Navaratri time is one such festival in India, when people celebrate togetherness, weave memories and have lots of fun. Food ofcourse plays a central part here too, like any other Indian festival. The word Navaratri blends the word Nava, meaning nine and new (the two meanings of the word "nava" blend well together here) and, ratri meaning night. The nine new nights, the beginning of a new season.....There are two navaratris, one celebrated during the month of Ashvin (Assu in Punjabi), leading to Mahanavami and Vijayadashmi and another one during the month of Chaitra (Chetar in Punjabi), leading to Ram Navami. The Ashvin Navaratri is one of the most popular Indian festival, celebrated across different Indian subcultures.
In Punjabi, Navaratri time is referred to as Narate/Navratre. Both Assu and Chetar Narate are celebrated with equal fervour. People f(e)ast through the Narate and celebrate Sri Durga Ashtami and Maha Navami with lots of festive foods. Throughout the Narate, people worship the various forms of Mother Goddess. To me, this festival reflects the celebration of womanhood.
During fasting, ideally one is supposed to eat light, stick to mostly fruit diet or "phalahaar", no whole grains, no salt etc. However, that usually makes way for the alternative sources of yumminess :-D. People enjoy goodies made out of swaang (literal meaning, pretend) da chawal (samo), singhare da atta (water chestnut flour)-relished as rotis, choora and halva, kuttu de atte di roti (rotis made out of kuttu flour) etc. Salt is replaced by kala loon/kala namak/sendha namak (black salt). The sabzis, daals and kadhis are made sans and onion, garlic and even tomatoes! People enjoy the laddoos/pinnis made out of jaggery and red amaranth seeds (boor, seel, rajgira). Read some notes about samo and rajgira here.
I'll confess, i used to fast when i was a lil' kid :). The fun of doing things together with my friends was what drove me to sustain on bananas and other fruit for the whole day, with an occassional treat in the form of khatte wale aloo :).
Its a simple dish, made out of potatoes, dry spices and tamarind. Really yummy and tangy, and has a lovely deep brown color! I recently made it as an ode to good old times :). Here's how we make it:
Khatte wale aloo:
- 3 potatoes (peeled and cut into big cubes. I use Russet/Idaho varities)
- A pinch of hing/asfoetida
- 1/2 tsp. cumin (jeera)
- 1/4 tsp. kalonji (nigella seeds)
- 1/2 tsp. coriander powders (dhania powders)
- 1/4 tsp. turmeric
- Red chilli powder (to taste)
- 1 tbsp. thick tamarind pulp
- Salt to taste (people who fast traditionally use black salt)
- 1/2 tsp. oil (preferably mustard) or ghee
In a deep vessel, heat the oil/ghee and temper the hing, followed by cumin and nigella seeds Now add the coriander powder and turmeric and mix. Add one and half cup water to this and bring to boil. Now add cubed potatoes, salt and chilli powder, cover and cook the potatoes on low heat till done. Stir in the tamarind pulp and cook for another 4- 5 minutes. Serve hot with thin phulkas. Enjoy :).
On the Durga Ashtami day, or Jyot, as it is known in Punjabi, people invite lil' girls home for a feast. This is called Kanjak Pooja. Kanjak literally means lil' girl. The lil' girls are literally worshipped and enjoy a great feast and are given really pretty presents including beautiful bangles, red chunnis/duppattas/scarves with golden/tilla boder, toys and some pocket money. As lil' girls, my friends and i used to get together and the night before Durga Ashtami, we would apply mehndi and have lots of fun together. The traditional Jyot fiesta includes sooji halwa or kadah (made with either jaggery or sugar, along with cardamom, sometimes saffron and garnished with roasted almonds, raisins or thinly sliced dried coconut ), bhangoor (pronounced like angoor, with the Punjabi BH sound, which is actually a combination of P, B and H sounds rolled into one), which is dry savory dish made from black gram or kale chane, which are soaked, boiled and then cooked in oil and dry spice powders like a lil' hing, dhania and jeera powders, amchoor and chilli powder etc, pooris or phulkas , and dahi-bhalle (vadas in yogurt). The dahi bhalle are kept simple for the festival. No sweet and green chutneys here. Just simply flavored with salt, ground black pepper, roasted jeera and red chilli powder. The bhalle usually are fried in mustard oil and are usually spiced with whole or ground black peppers, very lil' hing, salt and red chilli powder. And yet the taste eclectic! There is certain way of enjoying the kadah, bhagoor and poori, and it is the best way to enjoy it!! You keep a poori in a plate, flatten the poori, top it with kadah/halwa and top it all with some bhangoor, roll it and enjoy!
The Narate culminate in the Dussehra, which is the day to enjoy Ram Leelas and in Punjab, it also marks the first day of welcoming and enjoying the new sugar-cane crops :).
Here's to the cultural pot-pourri that India is, a beautiful land with so many diverse festivals and customs. Lets enjoy each festival by sharing smiles and celebrating our diversity, which also marks our unity.
This is my contribution for the JFI-Dussehra, being hosted by dear Vee of Past, Present and Me. JFI celebrates the different ingredients of our food and culture, and is a get together envisaged by dear Indira.