Festivals are always about food. I have always maintained that the only way I can explain the significance of any festival is through the food that is served on that day. I had heard this term, "Vadai Payasathoda saapaadu" which means a meal which includes vadai and payasam (kheer). In our family, this was sort of sacrosanct. While we didn't follow any "kitchen religion", Amma would always make vadai and payasam for any festival. And well, no one complained.
I talked earlier about why Deepavali is so special to me. Somehow, I never gave the religious significance of this festival even a thought earlier. It was about the "mangalsnan" and the goodies. I was never into firecrackers, but new clothes I looked forward to. Even if it meant that I got a pavadai chokka/ davani while my classmates got salwar kameezes. There was never a puja per se at our place for Deepavali. Also, there was no lighting of lamps all over the house on Deepavali. That ritual was saved for Karthikai Deepam. This year, we spent our first Deepavali after marriage in Gurgaon. It was just the two of us. So, we celebrated a very Tamil Naraka Chaturdashi on Monday, complete with the mor kuzhambu meal.
Lit oil lamps and placed them all over the house as is done in Konkani and Telugu homes.
And combining local traditions with what is done back home, we made gift hampers with the goodies made at home and went visiting friends and relatives.
The only thing that we hadn't thought of was doing all this with an unwell me. Winter is just around the corner and I just know it because I am down with a terrible cold and fever.
But sure as I am that night turns to day, I know that, this, too, shall pass. And I bring you a much loved payasam that is dear to me at any festival.
1/4 cup Roasted Vermicelli
1/2 can (200g) Sweetened Condensed Milk (Milkmaid/Mithai Mate)
1/2 litre Milk
½ tbsp Clarified Butter (Ghee)
½ tsp Cardamom Powder
a pinch Saffron, dissolved in some milk
For the garnish
1 tbsp Ghee
2 tsp Raisins
2 tsp Cashews
Heat the ghee in a vessel and roast the vermicelli for a couple of minutes. Add enough water to cover the vermicelli and cover the vessel. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the milk and the condensed milk to this. Keep stirring until the mixture is even (else you'll have burnt condensed milk) and bring to a boil. Add the cardamom powder and saffron mixture. Simmer the mixture for about 10-15 minutes.
For the garnish, heat the ghee in a frying ladle. Add the cashews. When the cashews turn golden, add the raisins. When the raisins become plump, pour the contents of the ladle into the simmering mixture.
This can be had hot orcold. When kept in the fridge, this payasam takes on a creamy, pudding like texture. No festival meal is really complete till you have savoured a helping of this divine stuff.
Happy Deepavali everyone!