Be it Vishu (for Malayalees), Bihu (for Assamese), Baisakhi (for Punjabis) or Poila Boishakh (for Bengalis), celebrating the New Year the traditional way has a charm that is all its own. Celebrated as the day of sowing seeds that also signifies new beginnings, these festivals are as much about food as they are about other celebrations.
For me Vishu has always meant being woken up along with my cousin at crack of dawn by my grandmother to see the ‘kani’ she set up with grandfather the night before, gathering pocket money from elders and settling down to savour a hearty meal of Vishu kanji (porridge), upperi (fried bitter gourd) and puzhukku (steamed raw jackfruit with jackfruit seeds).
Eventually, even when it was just me, mother and grandmother, the tradition continued. We were always joined by my mother’s sister and her husband and a family friend or two for my grandmother’s famous Vishu kanji. Even my North Indian friends who always expected a meal of sambhar, aviyal, rice and thoran at my place, were initially taken aback - rice porridge (Vishu kanji) for a special occasion? Now mind you, Vishu kanji isn't plain’ old rice porridge but fortified with vitamins, minerals and lots of flavour as Vishu kanji also contains roasted field beans (vaal for Maharashtrians), coconut and fenugreek seeds.
Besides the Vishu kanji, there’s pavakka upperi or bitter gourd that’s slowly cooked till crisp and a steamed dish made from raw jackfruit and jackfruit seeds. The fare on Vishu is supposed to be simple yet nourishing, since it is the beginning of summer. As the weather turns hot when farmers go to sow seeds, they eat seasonal food to provide them with plenty of energy. Also, since it isn’t harvest season yet, the fare is kept simple in the form of porridge made with rice and lentils.
However, food traditions vary in north and south Kerala. In North Kerala, mostly in Palakkad and Trissur and a few other villages, the kanji puzhukku combination is made instead of Vishu kanji . While, in Southern Kerala, from Kochi onwards until Trivandrum, people tend to prepare a Sadya. However, viewing the Vishu Kani is a tradition followed throughout Kerala.
Vishu Kani is an assimilation of fruits, vegetables, kanikonna or Cassia Fistula flower, a picture or statue of a deity (mostly Krishna), a mirror, money placed on rice and lentils and a lit-up lamp. On Vishu morning, everyone is supposed to wake up to this sight. This assembly of all things that symbolises prosperity is supposed to give you an auspicious start to the year. Family members then get ready in traditional wear and seek blessings from elders. In turn, elders give children kaineetam (gift of money). Again, a symbol of prosperity, kaineetam is supposed to bring you luck and wealth.
Also Read: Easy Ideas for Onam Sadya at Home
The entire family then sits down for the Vishu kanji meal or for the Sadya. The kanji itself is specific and made usually only during Vishu or the onset of summer due to the cooling and nutritional value (fenugreek seeds act as a natural coolant and the beans are rich in minerals) of Vishu kanji. An altered form of this Vishu kanji or porridge is eaten during karkidakam or rainy season again, owing to the nutritional benefits of Vishu kanji .
Vishu Kanji Recipe
1 cup par boiled or Kerala broken rice (red)
Three quarters cup-full of grated coconut or coconut milk
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/4th cup field beans or vaal
Salt to taste
Cook the rice with the water, proportion being 1:3, in a vessel with the lid closed. This could take thirty minutes on a low flame. In the meantime, roast field beans and fenugreek seeds till an aroma is released. Cook the field beans in sufficient water (three whistles, if in a cooker). Now, combine the beans, rice and the fenugreek mixture. Add grated coconut, salt to taste and serve with pappadam and puzhukku.
Loved this Vishu kanji (rice porridge) recipe? Do try it at home and let us know how this kanji turns out in the comments section below.
Images courtesy: Shutterstock
To feed your hunger for more
Want more? Click on the tags below for more videos and stories