Ganesha’s favourite food gets a flavourful twist in different regions of India. Join us on a Modak trail across the country.
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It is Lord Ganesha's favourite food earning him the moniker Modakpriya (he who loves Modak) in Sanskrit. But even as the much-loved elephant-headed God is entitled to whatever fillings that take his fancy, on earth, different regions stuff the modaks with ingredients indigenous to the terrain. Sure, there's no end to new age permutations and combinations, but there's something to be said for recipes that take you back to your roots and help you realise the close connection between nature and festivities. This popular sweet is offered as Prasad or offering to Ganesha in Maharashtra, Goa and the Southern states where they call it modhaka (Karnataka), modhakam (Tamil) and kudumulu (Telegu).

Why Maharashtra Loves Ukadiche Modak
True enough the steamed modak with jaggery and fresh coconuts are the most popular variety, especially along coastal Maharashtra including Mumbai and Pune where Ganesh Chaturti is celebrated at a scale few other cities can match. The most popular variety or the steamed version is made with rice flour kneaded in hot water, with a filling of fresh coconut and jaggery. Known as Ukadiche modak (ukadiche is steamed, in Marathi), it is traditional to regions where fresh coconut is easily available. This means Konkan and parts of Maharashtra where rainfall is abundant.

Apart from freshly grated coconut and jaggery, raisins and poppy seeds are added to the filling. The outer covering is fashioned out of wet rice flour dough. It needs both patience and practice to get the pleats of the modaks right.

Here’s the process to make Ukadiche modak
For the dough: 2 cups rice flour; for the filling: 1 1/4 cups grated jaggery, 2 cups freshly grated coconut; 1 tbsp poppy seeds (khus khus, 1/2 tsp elaichi powder).

Other ingredients: 1 tsp ghee for kneading and greasing.

For the dough: boil 2 cups water in a pan. Add the water slowly to the rice flour in a bowl. Mix well and knead into a smooth dough. Cover the lid and keep aside.

Filling: Heat a deep pan, add the jaggery and cook on a slow flame for 1 to 2 minutes or till the jaggery melts, while stirring continuously. Add coconut, poppy seeds, elaichi, mix well and cook on a slow flame for four to five minutes or till all the moisture evaporates. Keep aside. Now divide filling into 11 or 21 equal portions.

Knead the dough once again using ½ tsp of ghee and keep aside. Grease a modak mould using very little ghee. Take a portion of the dough, press it into the cavity of the modak mould until it is evenly lined on all the sides. Fill the dough cavity with a portion of the filling. Take a smaller portion of the dough and spread it evenly at the base of the modak mould so as to seal the filling. Remove the modak from the mould. Repeat to make the remaining modak. Steam inside steamer on medium flame for 10 minutes.

You could also use readymade moulds that are available in both plastic and steel. Once the modaks are stuffed with the fillings, steam them, within a steamer. Put a banana leaf on the plate before placing the modak.

Vidharba loves the fried modak
As one travels into the eastern Maharashtra, the modak gets a slight twist. As educationist Sulabha Chandorkar, who is originally a Nagpur resident, settled in Pune, points out: "Fresh coconuts were not easily available in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, and so we made modak that were essentially maida coatings stuffed with desiccated coconut, mawa and nuts.” While there is no direct comparison between the fried and steamed variety of modak, kids generally enjoy the fried version for the crunch factor.

Besides, unlike ukadiche modak, the steamed version, which is a slightly long drawn process, it is relatively easier to make the fried variety. "You could add some suji or semolina to the outer covering of wheat flour. This gives it a crisp texture," says Chandorkar. 

Simply put, here's how you make it: 

Vidharba-style modak: 

For the filling:
Combine 1 cup desiccated coconut, 1/2 cup sugar and 2.5 tbsp mava in a broad pan, mix well and cook till light brown. Add chopped dry fruits and cardamom powder, mix well and cook on a medium flame for 1 minute, while stirring continuously. 

Divide the mixture into equal portions. Keep aside to cool completely.

For the dough:
Combine 1 cup maida and 1 tbsp suji in a bowl. Add 2 tbsps hot ghee. Add salt and knead it into a semi-stiff dough using enough water. 

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Divide the dough into balls of equal portions. Roll a dough ball into 7 to 8 cm  diameter circle, put a portion of the prepared stuffing in the center, pinch it all over the circumference at regular intervals, and bring all the pinched sides together in the center and seal it. Next, deep fry few modaks till they are golden brown in colour from all the sides. 

Mango modak of Ratnagiri
There is another rare recipe for modak made of the pulp of alphonso mangoes found in Ratnagiri. This is essentially constructed from mango pulp and khoya. Of course, this is quite an expensive affair and the consistency at every stage needs to be just right.

Here’s a recipe for mango modak
Take one cup khoya, sugar as per taste, 1/2 cup mango pulp or 2 fresh mangoes pureed, a pinch of elaichi and saffron strands each and a little ghee to grease moulds.  Heat ghee and crumbled khoya in a pan, add sugar and stir till the mixture acquires a molten consistency. Now add the mango puree and mix well. Keep stirring the mixture for six to eight minutes; add saffron and cardamom and cook till the mixture reduces. Stir on low flame till the modak mixture changes color and starts leaving the edge of the pan.

Switch off gas and allow mixture to cool. Make small balls while still warm-and then transfer to the moulds. Put them in a steaming plate over a banana leaf in a steamer. Unlike other versions, this one can be served cold and will still taste yummy.

The Goan version of modak
The tiny coastal state is a confluence of cultures and celebrates Ganesh Chaturti with much fervour. While Ukadiche modak is popular among the Saraswat community of Goa, there is a fried version of modak that is an all-time favourite with everyone. For the filling, freshly grated coconut is combined with jaggery (1 cup each), a sprinkling of sesame seeds and one tablespoon of powdered roasted chana dal in a kadhai. Crushed cardamom is added to this. This is cooked until it is light brown and the jaggery has melted to combine with the other ingredients to form the ‘Choon’ or filling, for the modak. Fried modaks are very popular in the state and the sweet treats are also offered to neighbours and guests who arrive to wish you for the festival. 

Modaks of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu

The modhakam or sweet Kozhukattai are pretty similar to the Goan version, with the presence of fried gram dal along with the coconut, jaggery and cardamom. A few steamed modhakam are prepared to offer to Ganesha, and a batch of fried ones to light as diyas. The process is almost the same as Ukadiche modak.

The steaming is also done in the idli pot as per homemaker Archana Suresh. "Heat water in the pot. When it starts to boil, place the idli plate arranged with the modhakam and steam for 10 minutes. When it becomes stiff and slightly changes color, you know it's done."

Andhra’s Savoury Kudumulu

In this southern state, the Modak gets a savoury touch. It is made with ground urad dal and steamed with mild seasonings. Called Aviri Kudumulu, this is traditionally prepared in Andhra and Telangana. The ingredients consist of urad dal, ginger, cumin, green chilli, salt and ghee. But they are not really modaks—just simple dumplings.

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In a nutshell:  While there is no end to the fillings you can come up with, as a rule of the thumb, traditional works best. Invest in readymade moulds and prepare the filling a little before you actually make the modaks—in case the process seems cumbersome. The flour for the dough can be store bought. When you are making filling, it is a good idea to cover with a damp cloth to prevent it from getting dry.
Never over fry or over steam; delicacy is key to getting the flavour pat. Above all, modaks are made (and offered) in batches of 21-or 11, just the way the elephant-headed god would like them. Most of these modaks can last a day or two with refrigeration, while the fried ones may be stored in air tight containers.

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