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If all the people of Kerala - India's southernmost state were to vote for the most popular and important festival of the state, they would choose Onam unanimously. Coming almost at the end of the monsoons - around August/September, the festival celebrates the mythical return of the good kin ahabali to his subjects each year. According to legend he was relegated to the netherworld by Lord Vishnu, because MahaBali though a benign king, was also a powerful demon. The annual return of Bal s celebrated with style - richly caparisoned elephants are marched in processions, boat races are held in the backwaters of the coast and homes are decorated with artistic torans made of young coconut leaves. Ten days before the festival, floral patterns and pyramids of fragrant flowers are made outside every house. People wear new clothes and Onam becomes a veritable food festival of the state. The festivities open in the morning with flowers, new clothes and a breakfast of bananas and fried papadams.
The high point of the festival is the family or community lunch served on green, shining clean banana leaves arranged in a row. The feast is traditionally vegetarian and includes banana wafers, crisp popadams, pachadi, aviyal, kootu, payasam, rice and sambar, pickles of several varieties and puliinji - a ginger chutney.
Serves 6 Ingredients:6 raw bananas, peeled and cut into short pieces <LI>3 green chillies, sliced <LI>2 cups coconut scrapings <LI>8-10 curry leaves <LI>Â½ tsp. cumin seeds <LI>Â½ tsp. mustard seeds <LI>Â¼ tsp. turmeric powder <LI>2 red chillies <LI>2 tbsps. coconut oil <LI>Salt to taste Method:Mix banana pieces with a little water, turmeric and salt and cook till soft. Grind 1 cup coconut, 1 red chilli and cumin to a fine paste. Add to mashed bananas and set aside. Heat oil and add mustard seeds, green chillies, curry leaves, red chilli pieces, one cup coconut scrapings and fry till golden. Mix in the banana mash and serve hot.
Serves 6 Ingredients:<LI>3 tomatoes, chopped <LI>1 cucumber, chopped fine <LI>Â½ cup coconut scrapings <LI>2 green chillies, chopped <LI>2 tbsps. coriander leaves, chopped fine <LI>6-10 curry leaves <LI>Â½ tsp. mustard seeds <LI>2 cups yoghurt <LI>1 tbsp. oil <LI>salt and sugar to taste Method:Grind coconut and mix with tomatoes, cucumber, chillies, salt and sugar. Add yoghurt and mix well. Heat oil, add mustard seeds and curry leaves. When they pop, pour over the pachadi. Add coriander and serve cold.
CHANA DAL PAYASAM
Serves 6 Ingredients:<LI>2 cups chana dal <LI>1 cup jaggery <LI>1 cup thick coconut milk <LI>1 cup cashewnuts and raisins <LI>1 tbsp. cardamom powder Method:Dry roast chana dal and then cook in 4 cups water till soft. Add jaggery and coconut milk and cook till well mixed. Fry cashew and raisins separately in hot ghee. Add cardamom powder, mix everything together and serve warm.
Serves 6 Ingredients:<LI>100 gms white pumpkin, peeled, cubed <LI>100 gms yam, peeled, cubed <LI>3 raw bananas, peeled, cubed <LI>2 drumsticks, peeled, cut into 3" pieces <LI>2 brinjals, cubed <LI>1 cup french beans, chopped <LI>3 cups coconut scrapings <LI>5 green chillies <LI>8-10 green curry leaves <LI>3 red chillies <LI>Â½ tsp. cumin seeds <LI>1 cup yoghurt <LI>1 tsp. turmeric powder <LI>4 tbsps. oil <LI>salt to taste Method:Wash all vegetables, add salt, turmeric, ground green chillies and curry leaves. Cook in a little water pan till all vegetables are soft. Grind the coconut finely and mix with the yoghurt. Add this paste to vegetables, and cook for a few minutes to blend. Heat oil, add red chillies and pour over the aviyal and serve hot.