Recipe for Diwali Okkarai

Recipe for Okkarai

This is a jaggery-based, low-fat sweet made from chana dal / kadalai paruppu, does not require much ghee - perfect for health conscious folks.

1 cup chana dal
1 cup jaggery

5-6 cardamoms
1/2 cup freshly grated coconut
2 tbsp gingelly oil / you can use ghee if you dont have this oil
1-2 tbsp ghee for frying cashews
10-12 cashews, halved
2-3 tbsp of raisins

Chana Dal
Dry roast the chana dal till golden brown and aromatic. This will take 7-8 minutes on medium heat. Soak this roasted dal in lots of water for 3 hours or so.
Dry roast the coconut flakes till golden and aromatic. This will take around 5 minutes on low flame. Keep aside.
Remove the skin, grind the seeds along with a tsp of coarsely granulated sugar in mortar-pestle till you get a fairly fine powder. Keep aside.
Cashews and raisins
Heat 1-2 tbsp ghee and fry them till cashews are golden. Keep aside.

  1. Grind the soaked chana dal to a fine paste, adding as little water as possible, to get a fairly thick doughy paste.
  2. Place 3 cups of water in a big pressure cooker (5L+) / steamer. Make loose dumplings of the ground dal and place in a deep, big vessel that fits in the cooker.
  3. Close the lid of the cooker MINUS the weight- so you use it as a steamer.
  4. Steam the ground dal for 20-25 minutes on medium flame. Open the cooker after a few minutes and let these steamed dumplings cool.
  5. Now, you can either grate these cooled dumplings or crumble them with your fingers. The former gives a more uniform look to the sweet.
  6. In a large wok, hear 2-3 tbsp of gingelly oil (Nalla yennai) and fry the crumbled / grated dal mix on a low flame for 5-7 minutes. Keep aside.
  7. Instructions for the Vella-paagu (Jaggery-pak)
Place 1/2 cup water in a heavy bottom pan.
Add 1 cup of crushed jaggery to this and let it melt on a high flame, with constant stirring.
Once the jaggery has melted thoroughly, lower flame and keep stirring.
In 7-8 minutes the mixture will get a deep colour and start thickening.
Keep a small plate handy, and pour a drop or so of this onto it, every 2-3 minutes.
Try rolling this drop between your thumb and index finger. If it turns into a ball and makes a sound when you drop it on the plate, your jaggery-pak (vella-paagu) is ready for the okkarai.
  1. As soon as your paagu reaches this stage, turn off the flame. Remove the wok from the stove and start adding the ready dal crumble in batches, giving it a good mix to coat evenly. Once the crumble is all evenly mixed with the jaggery paagu - it will be soft, sweet and not sticky, but like perfectly cooked basmati rice - fluffy, dry and separate.
  2. To this, add the roasted coconut, cardamom powder and fried cashews and raisins and mix gently.

Your Okkarai is ready for Diwali. If you like a richer taste, you can use more ghee to fry the cashews, but 1 tbsp is more than enough.

It is a labourious recipe, but with just two main ingredients - to get such a flavoursome and healthy festival sweet, it is totally worth it.

The recipe has been given to me by my maternal grandmother, who has been making this for every Diwali as far as I can remember.
I am so glad I made it this year and it is going to part of my Diwali cooking every year, now on. 

Hope you find this recipe useful to recreate your family tradition :)

Fusilli with roasted fennel and carrots in vodka sauce

Yesterday morning, with my son at playgroup, I went off to my favourite supermarket to stock up on vegetables and fruits for the week. This place has the freshest produce I have seen in Hyderabad, including most exotic vegetables. When I spotted fresh bulbs of fennel with vibrant and lush green tops, I had to bring one home. At that point I had no clue what I would do with the fennel, but it was too pretty not to take back home.
I had some vague idea of roasting it with garlic and olive oil, but then i'd have to think of another dish to go with it. That's when it struck me to saute this with carrots and toss it with pasta in a light faux cream sauce.
My spaghetti loving husband pronounced this pasta dish totally out of the world, despite the fact that I'd used fusilli for this dish. The vodka is totally optional, but I just felt happy using it in a Friday night pasta dinner inspired by the pasta sauce Rachel Ray popularised by the name of "You won't be single for long Vodka Cream Pasta".

When you taste the fennel raw it has very strong taste of fennel seeds - but sauteeing mellows down the flavour to a great extent. I trimmed off the greens from the thick stems and stored it overnight in the fridge to make a thuvaiyal this morning. This lovely green chutney made in the tambram style, by grinding roasted red chillies, udad dal and coconut along with wilted fennel greens tasted so fresh and different in flavour. With rice and a roasted papad, it made a super lunch for me. My resolve of not to waste any edible food totally paid off and discovered this new twist on a thuvaiyal. 

You could make a classic white sauce for this pasta, but my faux cream sauce has all the positives of a white sauce minus the calories, so do give it a go!

Recipe for Fusilli with roasted fennel and carrots
 Serves 2 generously

4 handfuls of fusilli pasta
1 fennel bulb
2 medium carrots
1 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 sprig fennel greens for garnish

For Sauce
1 cup milk
pinch of grated nutmeg
3 cloves garlic,finely grated
1/2 tsp black pepper powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp of whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
1-2 slices cheese

  1. Place a large pot of water to boil. Once this starts boiling put the pasta to cook.
  2. To prepare the fennel - cut off the top part with the greens. Take the bulb (lower part) and separate the stalks and slice. Wash these well in a large bowl of water to dislodge all the soil and grit. Drain and keep aside.
  3. Peel the carrots. Slice off the tops and tails. Cut into not-very-thin rounds. Keep aside.
  4. In a large pan, heat the oil and saute garlic for a few seconds, followed by chilli flakes.
  5. Now, add the prepared fennel and carrots. Saute on a medium-high flame till the oil coats them thoroughly and let this brown a bit on a low flame for around 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle salt.
  6. Add 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook till the fennel slices are soft. Since fennel is quite fibrous it will not turn as soft as carrots, there will be a bite to it even when cooked.
  7. Whisk all the ingredients for the sauce with a fork in a bowl and pour it over the cooked vegetables. Let this simmer till thick (3-4 minutes). Add 30 ml vodka to this and then add the drained, boiled pasta.
  8. Add dried herbs, adjust salt, pepper - 1-2 slices of cheese and simmer for 2 minutes, until flavours come together and cheese has melted into the sauce.
  9. Serve hot.

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