There’s a reason why we hail spring, why it’s so widely celebrated, odes written about its youthful exuberance. Spring is the season of hope, it’s all about celebrating rebirth or rejuvenation. Spring celebrates life. The fresh green leaves shooting out of branch browned by harsh winter, the colourful flowers blooming all over, the singing birds – the world seems to have awakened from the winter hibernation. Song of Spring is a colourful melody expressed so beautifully by none other than John Keats:
And O and O,/ The daisies blow, / And the primroses are wakened;/ And the violets white/ Sit in silver light,/ And in the green buds are long in the spike end.
No wonder then Spring is blithely followed by lovingly playful Cupid. First, comes visiting Saint Valentine from the far West and we Indians paint the town red and pink to welcome him. Though many may not know who Saint Valentine is, Valentine’s Day has become the most important day on desi lovers’ calendar. It’s all about red roses and pink hearts or rather pink heart-shaped pastries and chocolates and trinkets and gifts followed by expensive dinners. Those already in love take a lot of pain to make their cherished one feel special. Those yearning for love, hope to find that special someone on Valentine’s day. While the florists and the bakers make hay, we are or imagine ourselves to be Cupid struck! Naysayers may cynically nod their head, but I feel great about dedicating a day to love. After all, love does make the world go around!
Then comes our very own Holi that encapsulates the fun and frolic of Lord Krishna with his beloved Radha and his favourite Gopis. Though Holi also signifies the victory of good over evil, the triumph of Prahlada over the evil king Hiranyakashipu, it is the image of fair Radha playing with colours of love and passion with her dark mischievous lover Krishna in Braj Bhoomi (Vrindavan) that captures the popular imagination. Holi celebrates the many colours of love, the divine love of Radha Krishna – love of Krishna for his married distant relative Radha that is considered to be the epitome of love and adoration. Ironically, our society that frowns upon love that doesn’t fit into its narrow norm of caste, creed and morality, celebrates and embraces the divine love of Radha Krishna.
Even today, Holi in Vrindavan reflects the amorous love of Radha Krishna. It could be the Raslila’s being performed in every corner, the songs celebrating the Divine Love or gulal in so many colours, Vrindavan’s Holi does create an aura of mischievous, defiant love. Red, yellow, pink, purple and green gulal floating in the air create their magic. For Holi is all about celebrating love, the many colours of love and the many hues of life, shades that often leave us confounded. We so often witness during Holi red, yellow, green and purple coming together to create a hue that flouts all definition. Holi, the Spring festival, the festival of colours celebrates these varied defiant shades of love and life!
Memory of my dida (dadi) brings back the taste of her signature dishes – toker daal, sheem bichir torkari, kochur shaag, nobody can make these dishes like her. When I visit my didun (nani) I am immediately reminded of her musurir daal, jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja and dhokar dalna. Didun is too old now and doesn’t cook anymore. Sadly, these dishes cooked by others, even my mom, don’t taste the same. There’s some flavour missing, that I can savour only in my memories.
Dadi nani’s signature dishes! They are either no more or too old cook, and we don’t have the time or patience to recreate their culinary magic. Also, our taste buds have evolved, we have been exposed to a whole lot of cuisines and we often choose international cuisine over our own desi khana. Not just food cooked by our grand moms at home, every region of India has a huge array of cuisine that we are unfortunately losing out on – food that is so rooted to our tradition and culture. Each region has so much variety, for instance every district of Bengal has its distinct cooking style and signature dishes. Some of these tastes and flavours are deep rooted in our memories.
We Indians are food lovers, no festival or celebration is complete without a few signature dishes. I will attempt a few posts trying to recreate the taste of our authentic cuisines, both the everyday food that dadi nani used to make and the special dishes cooked during festivals. Since Holi is around the corner, the traditional delicacies served during the festival of colour would be a good place to start.
Holi is a festival popular across India, especially North India. There are many dimensions to this beautiful festival of colours. It is the festival of spring that celebrates the victory of good over evil. According to Hindu legend, Holi is celebrated to mark the victory of Prahlada, an avatar of Vishnu, over the evil King Hiranyakashipu. Holika Dahan the night before Holi, commemorates this victory. Festival of love, Holi symbolizes the divine love of Radha Krishna. Lord Krishna, the purna avatar of Vishnu, was known to play with colours with his lady love Radha and many Gopinis in Braj Bhumi (now known as Vrindavan) on this festival. It is this fun, frolic and playfulness associated with the many legends of Lord Krishna colouring his women in many hues of spring and love, that captures the popular imagination.
Food served during this intoxicating festival of colours naturally captures its spirit. Bhang is intrinsic to Holi, bhang wali thandai or bhang pakora add to the headiness. Gujiya, dahi vada and chaat add to the chatpata flavour of frolic. However, not many of us know, that each state has different signature dishes that are made during Holi. In Uttar Pradesh, Holi is incomplete without gujiya, kanji vada and kanji. Malpoya and dahi vada are essential to Holi in Bihar, while in Himachal they definitely make kadi on the day of the festival, besides gujiya and dahi vada.
“Before Holi, ladies from the entire community would get together to make gujiya,” says my friend Sanchita who originally hails from UP. “With my mom, chachi and aunties from the neighbourhood working in tandem, the tedious process of making gujiya seemed so much fun.” Sanchita still makes Gujiya, kanji vada and kanji at home during Holi. Kanji vada, urad or moong dal vadas immersed in tangy mustard flavoured liquid, is a delicacy from UP and Rajasthan. Kanji is a fermented drink served during Holi, made with water, black carrots, beetroot, mustard seeds and hing. They are both tasty and healthy, so you can ahead make them part of Holi or any other festival menu.
Sharing below Sanchita’s recipes:
1/4 cup split mustard seeds (rai na kuria)
1 tbsp black salt (sanchal)
1 1/2 tsp chilli powder
salt to taste For Vadas (makes 20 Vadas) 2 1/2 cups urad daal, soaked for 4-6 hours and drained (You can add a bit of moong daal if you want)
1 tsp ginger-green chilli paste
1/2 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
1/4 tsp hing
salt to taste
oil for deep-frying
Method For kanji, combine all the ingredients and blend in a mixer to a smooth powder.
Transfer the powder into a deep bowl, add 5 cups of water and mix well. Cover it with a lid and refrigerate for 24 hours.
1. Blend dal in a mixer to a coarse paste with ginger-green chilli paste, fennel seeds, asafoetida and salt and mix well. Keep it aside for an hour.
2.Wet your hands, take 1½ tbsp of the dal paste on your palm or on a sheet of wet muslin cloth spread over a bowl, shape into a 25 mm. (1″) diameter circle. Drop it in hot oil and deep-fry on a medium flame till it turns golden brown in colour from all the sides. 2 to 3 vadas can be deep-fried at a time in one batch.
3.Drain on an absorbent paper and soak the deep-fried vadas immediately in a bowlful of like warm salt water for at least 1 hour. Drain and squeeze out all the water by pressing each vada gently between your palms.
4.Place vadas in kanji and refrigerate it. Allow them to soak for at least 1 hour. Serve chilled.
Glass jars or jugs, Mortar & pestle or Spice grinder, Cheesecloths/muslin, Rubberbands
If you don’t have any of these, wrap the seeds in muslin cloth, place flat on a cutting board and crack them open carefully with a hammer or belan
Ingredients: 1 large beet
2–3 large carrots
1–3 tbsp mustard seeds, pinch of hing, 6–7 cups drinking water
(You can make kanji with just carrot or beet as well. Veggies like cauliflower, shalgum, raddish etc. can be added)
Crush mustard seeds with mortar and pestle
Wash your beet and carrots and dice them into long pieces that will fit the height of your jars.
Fill jars with veggies.
Add crushed mustard seeds, hing and fill jars with water. Cover with cheesecloth/muslin and secure with a rubber band. Let the jar sit in a sunny spot on the counter for at least 2-5 days. Every day, with a dry wooden spoon (or the handle of that spoon), give the mixture a stir.
Once drink tastes zingy/tangy, it’s fermented and ready! Refrigerate it and enjoy the drink. You can add vodka if you want more zing! Enjoy the tangy vegetables as well