Tomorrow is the first day of Navaratri, or Nine days of special religious significance among Hindus, which occurs twice a year, during which many people fast. Although it might seem rigorous, such fasts are relatively quite lenient, with an array of permitted ingredients, and a flexibility to be as strict or as lax as one’s capability or belief permits.
Traditionally, permitted ingredients could include fruits, few vegetables, especially potato, leafy greens, bottle gourd, nuts, ghee and dairy products, (starches from) buckwheat, water chestnut, amaranth, arrowroot, foxnuts, or makhane (see here), Little millet (sama), sweeteners like sugar, honey and certain spices. Even the salt used has to be ‘Sendha Namak’ or natural rock salt (see here for types of salt).
|Clockwise from top left: Makhane, Dry fruits, Buckwheat flour, Sendha Namak, Sago pearls.|
My grandmother was strict about fasting, and would keep a ‘Nirjal’ fast (without drinking water), taking just one light, simple, faraal meal a day after sundown. So would my mother, though in the later years, this began to include one cup of tea once during the day.
In my case, the rules are much more relaxed: liquids (water, buttermilk, lemon juice, milk) without restriction, one or two light meals comprising of fruits and vegetables (preferably raw, or steamed or lightly cooked with bare-minimum seasoning), dry fruits and nuts. This is generally the most suitable option for me, though I have kept a ‘Nirjal’ fast too, at times. More so because it’s easier while travelling, which happens often, since Navaratri coincides with school vacations. And also the reason why I like to keep track of any restaurant that caters to the special requirements of this fast.
Of course, the biggest draw is the element of Detox that inevitably happens by giving my system this much-needed break. The feeling of being re-vitalised, the freshness and energy at the end of the fast is a huge incentive!
While the whole idea behind fasting is one of abstinence rather than indulgence, some faraal dishes have evolved to become a gourmet’s delight. This could be a win-win, because, especially in homes where the person who is fasting needs to (oftentimes!) plan and prepare the non-fasting dishes for the rest of the family, so finding kosher common ground makes common sense!
Last weekend, I was at at Mast Kalandar, where I’d been invited to an exclusive Food Tasting Session of their Special Navratri Traditional Thalis, which are available on their menu starting from tomorrow till the end of Dashera, each priced at Rs.229/- for dine-in.
All in all, it was a morning well-spent. Pallavi Gupta (co-founder of Mast Kalandar) told of her background and experiences with fasting and festive times. There was also a live cooking demonstration by Samta Gupta, chef at Mast Kalandar. Pictures and recipes follow.
Mast Kalandar is a 65-strong, quick-service chain of restaurants, with a presence in four major Indian cities. It provides affordable, home-style, authentic North Indian fare using traditional recipes, at times with a contemporary perspective.
It is a good food destination during festive times, because they usually have something special for all the North Indian festivals like Lohri, Holi, Navratra, Dusshera, and Diwali.
On the occasion of Navaratri, which begins on 25th September this year (2014), Mast Kalandar is offering two Special Maha Thalis:
1. Vrat Maha Thali
A veritable feast, yet following the traditional norms and restrictions of the vrat or fast. (For eg. use of Sendha Namak, Kuttu ka Atta and Makhane). This thali will be available on all the nine vrat days.
It was simply delicious. And very heavy. I had a half portion of everything, and skipped dinner that night. But that’s just me; I’m the one who does a deep fried dish once or twice a year! I can think of several people I know who would not have any issues with the portions!
Chef Samta’s philosophy of using just one spice that constitutes the main flavour (like dhaniya or ajwain) was brought out in good effect here.
Dishes could include Aloo ki Subzi, Paneer ki Subzi, Kuttu Puris, Kuttu ke Pakore, Nariyal Laddoo, Makhane ki Kheer, Sabudana Papad, Raita, Salad, Chutney.
2. Utsav Maha Thali
Equally delicious, the koftas are delectable and very rich, virtually a sort of savoury gulab jamun, if you will.
Dishes could include delicacies like Shahi Kofta, Pindi Choley, Aloo Gobhi, Paneer Ajwaini, Pulav, Masala Poori, Shakkar Para, Gulab Jamun, Ras Malai, Raita, Salad.
The live cooking demonstration was of three dishes.
1. Makhane ki Kheer (Popped Lotus Seed/Foxnut Kheer)
A divine indulgence, one that ought to be made a part of regular desserts! My recipe for making this is slightly different from the one demo-ed, I will share that one soon.
2. Papaya Chutney
This works well also with ripe mangoes (when in season) or, even more exotic, watermelon!
Chef Samta Gupta’s recipe –
• Ripe papaya – 2 cups cut into small cubes
• Oil 2 teaspoon
• Green chillies,finely chopped, 2-3, or, to taste
• Rock salt (Sendha Namak) to taste
• Fresh coriander, chopped, 1 table spoon
• Sugar 2 tablespoons (or, to taste)
1. Heat oil in a pan
2. Temper with whole green chilies
3. Add the papaya and toss well for a minute
4. Add in the salt and sugar. Mix well. Do not over cook
5. Add the coriander
6. Serve with the pakodis
3. Kuttu ke Pakode (Buckwheat flour Potato Fritters)
Oh, wait, one more thing! Two, actually.
Mast Kalandar also has a selection of pickles and condiments.
Of the three pickles below, I really like the Mixed Pickle, it is the closest to the one my grandmother used to make at home. The Karela one is ok. Haven’t tried the Heeng Pickle yet, will update when I do.
Churans, or digestive aids, such as the kind you might really need after a large and heavy meal come in myriad shapes, sizes, textures, tastes and colours. I liked both the ones below in small doses. The aam papad reminded me of Mango Jelly that we get in Andhra. The Rasila Aam has the more typical taste of khatta-meetha churan.
Have a great Weekend!