jump to navigation

The Royal Picnic of the Full Moon February 21, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.
trackback

In a certain month of the year, the Pandiya kings of the south changed into gourmets under the full moon, discovers C. Y. Gopinath


WHAT DID GOOD SOUTH INDIAN PANDIYA KINGS
do on full moon nights in April?

According to an unusually reliable source, they would take their wives and children to the riverside and have a great old picnic. While the moon grew fulgent and gravid in the sky, they would entertain themselves in kingly ways, singing old kingly Pandiya songs, telling Pandiya tales of valour and conquest, and finally, in a frenzy of Pandiya hunger, eat some royal Pandiya food.

This royal picnic fare, whose precise cooking details have just reached me, would have been prepared to exacting specifications earlier that April day. Because it would almost certainly be quite cold, or at least tepid, by the time it was dished out, it had to be conceived so as to be quite delicious even when cold.

Because of the unelectrified lunar light it would be served by, the food had to be independent of visual appeal. It had to be dry and gravy-free but should not render royal gullets arid during its passage. It should not require consumption in any particular order, nor call for any particular accompanying dish.

Finally, it should please a king.

The cuisine that met all these criteria was called chitrannam, and carried to the riverside during the month of Chitra (14 March to 15 April) on the day of Chitra Purnima (which, by the way, just passed us all by on 15 April). As I write this, the next full moon is on 15 May, and that too will be a thing of the past by the time you read this. However, 14 June is not far.

Chitrannam is made entirely from rice.

The things Pandiyas did to glorify rice, without recourse to a single vegetable or meat, surpass the merely amazing. A typical Pandiya picnic hamper might have included tamarind rice, lemon rice, coconut rice, sesame rice, mango rice and curd rice (and, of course, some payasam or kheer to sweeten the aftermath). In addition, there would have been papads, and perhaps pickles. I had best get down to details now, as each rice is slightly different in its preparation.

The basic chitrannam is boiled rice with a certain garnish. However, because the garnish varies marginally between the recipes, you have to prepare each rice separately. Also, the red chillies in the garnish merely add pungency, so do modulate their quantity according to taste. Below, I furnish the recipe for the basic garnish; with each recipe, I will indicate the ingredients that must be left out or added to the garnish. Finally, there will be the special ingredient — lemon, sesame, coconut and so on— that will distinguish the rice.

Of the six recipes, tamarind rice is unique in requiring a special gravy to be prepared in advance, so I have provided this recipe last of all.

Basics
To make rice to feed 4-6 people
3 kgs of basmati rice
3/4 sprigs of curry leaves, finely shredded
2-3 tbsps unrefined sesame oil
Salt to taste

Boil the rice, and let it cool a bit. Add the curry leaves, salt and oil, and mix it into the rice with a wooden spoon. Break it into roughly six parts and keep aside.
Garnish
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp chick peas (chana ka dal)
1 tsp urad
4 sprigs curry leaves
1/2 cup of unrefined sesame oil or ghee (clarified butter)
10-12 red chillies (or according to taste) broken in halves

Heat the oil, and then throw in the mustard seeds, chick peas and urad. When the mustard begins to crackle, add the curry leaves, red chillies (and any additional ingredients as indicated with each recipe). Stir the mixture for a while, and then add the rice. Salt to taste. Mix it all together well with a wooden spoon. This garnish must be prepared afresh for each recipe below; certain additions and subtractions must be observed as indicated.

1. LEMON RICE

Garnish (as above)
Use sesame oil

PLUS
A fistful of cashew nuts, broken into bits
3-4 chopped green chillies
A little chopped ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
Juice of about 4 lemons

Prepare the garnish, throw in the rice, stir awhile. Remove from the fire, and add the lemon juice. Mix well.

2. COCONUT RICE

Garnish (see above)
Use ghee
PLUS
A fistful of cashew nuts, broken into bits
3-4 chopped green chillies
A little chopped ginger
1 coconut, grated

Prepare the garnish, and keep stirring till the grated coconut and the cashew nuts begin to brown a little. Throw in the rice, stir awhile. Remove from the fire, mix well, and keep aside.

3. SESAME RICE

Garnish (see above)
Use ghee
PLUS
3-4 chopped green chillies
A little chopped ginger

MINUS
Red chillies (leave out of the garnish, or reduce in number, as they are part of the powder)
Make a sprinkling powder using
1 cup sesame, roasted
10-12 red chillies, or to taste, roasted
A small cube of asafoetida, roasted

Prepare the garnish, and when it is ready, throw in the rice. Stir awhile. Sprinkle the sesame-red chillies powder. Remove from the fire, mix well, and keep aside.

4. MANGO RICE

Garnish (see above)
Use sesame oil

PLUS
3-4 chopped green chillies
A little chopped ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 raw mango, cut into small bits

Fry the mango shreds in hot oil for about 2 minutes, and then keep aside. Prepare the garnish, and when it is ready, throw in the rice. Stir awhile. Sprinkle the fried raw mango bits. Remove from the fire, mix well, and keep aside.

5. CURD RICE

Garnish (see above)
Use sesame oil
PLUS
3-4 chopped green chillies
A little chopped ginger
1/2 tsp of methi (fenugreek)
A pinch of dry ginger root, powdered
A small cube of hing, soaked in water for about 30 minutes
2 cups of fresh milk, lukewarm
1 cup of fresh curds

Prepare the garnish, and when it is ready, throw in the rice. Stir awhile. Remove from the fire, mix well, and keep aside to cool. Add the milk, curds, sprinkle the ginger powder and the water the hing has soaked in. (If you’re wondering why, the answer is that the Pandiyas were wondrous wise. They knew that if they used pure curds alone, the rice would have soured before it was eaten.)

6. TAMARIND RICE

To make the tamarind gravy
Garnish (see above)
Use sesame oil
PLUS
1/2 tsp of methi (fenugreek)
A fistful of shelled peanuts
1 lemon-sized ball of fresh tamarind
Grind into powder
4 tsps sesame seeds, fried in a little oil
A small cube of asafoetida (Hing), fried in a little oil

Soak the tamarind in warm water for about five minutes, and then squeeze out the juice. Keep it aside.
Prepare the garnish as described above, including the peanuts and methi with the other ingredients of the garnish. Add the tamarind water, and salt to taste. Simmer the mixture till it thickens somewhat. Sprinkle the sesame seeds powder over the thickened tamarind gravy. Add the boiled rice to the tamarind gravy, mix well with a wooden spoon, and keep aside.

I have early childhood memories of chitrannam, though we called it a vennila picnic — or White Moon Picnic — because it was not the month of chitra and besides, we were not Pandiyas. Only once was the venue faintly reminiscent of a river. We rented a boat at Delhi’s Boat Club lawns and rowed down the man-made waterway just about wide enough to catch a full moon’s reflection. An uncle rowed, his ebony biceps rippling, and my mother served that wonderful food. Bats flitted about peacefully, night owls chuckled, and we yawed and pitched gently, eating, eating, eating.

Comments»

1. TLS#20 | Rupali's Notebook - February 14, 2015

[…] is sad that this blog is no longer active – humour and food presented together like never before – i have read literally all the entries ever […]

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hi Rupali — Sorry to be so late in reverting. It is true that this blog has been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I have shifting everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com. Please do come back — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: