The festival of Ugadi is about new beginnings. Give the year ahead a healthy makeover by including millets in your everyday diet.

As we prepare to embark on a New Year, the bevu-bella, a traditional mixture of neem and jaggery, is ready – a bittersweet reminder that the year ahead will have its share of ups and downs too. The mixture prepared specially for the festival of Ugadi, signifies that both happiness and sadness should be acknowledged with the same spirit. Ugadi is the celebration of a New Year that is marked by the start of the Hindu lunar calendar on this day. Traditionally, a festival associated with much-loved rituals such as the customary oil bath and reading of the panchanga, Ugadi hails the start of new beginnings.

It is around this time too that mangoes begin to hang low from trees, signalling their arrival. The fruit that will be ready to eat in a couple of weeks’ time is also an integral part of the festival platter. The juice of the raw mango is added to the bevu-bella to give it that tang and mango rice is part of the hearty main course. “I remember as kids, we would have to get up early on Ugadi and replace the torana with a fresh one before mum would start with the puja,” says Aparna H., a college student. The torana, a simple string of mango leaves, is hung on the frame of the main door. It has a mythological significance. The story goes that Murugan and Ganesha, sons of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, were fond of eating mangoes. It is believed that by tying the torana over one’s door, one would attract the blessings of the gods and further good fortune.

The festival meal or the habbada oota, needless to say, is the biggest attraction of the day. Traditionally, families partake in the festival meal together by sitting down in front of the plantain leaf. An assortment of sweet and savoury delicacies fill up the leaf, but the obbattu or holige is the star of the day, making it synonymous with Ugadi. Called puranpoli in Maharashtra and boli in Tamil Nadu, it is a sweet pancake that is usually stuffed with Bengal gram or grated coconut with jaggery. The other specialities on one’s plantain leaf also include kosambari, a healthy mixed salad prepared with split green gram, Bengal gram, coconut, cucumber, green chilli and a dash of lemon and salt. The salad is an ideal way to start off your oota. Then there is sambar, rasam, potato roast, tovve , yogurt, happla and pickle. Khuskhus payasam, a delicious blend of poppy seeds, jaggery, milk, grated coconut and cardamom provides the perfect finish to the meal.

But, this Ugadi a twist to the traditional platter is in order, so that you start off the New Year on a healthy note. Add millets to your oota and enjoy the change. Millets are ancient grains that have long been forgotten in our kitchens, replaced as they have been by rice and wheat that enjoy a better presence in the commercial market. Millets are highly nutritious, non-glutinous and non-acid forming foods. Being whole grains, millets are rich in fibre, helping you feel full with little. They are also the most digestible grains around and are known to cause little or no allergies. Compared to polished rice, millets release a lower percentage of glucose and over a longer time, which helps lower the risk of diabetes. The grain is also high in minerals such as iron, phosphorous and potassium. Ragi or finger millet has ten times the calcium content compared to rice or wheat, making it one of the most nutritious millets that is locally available in Karnataka.

Most millets can be cooked like rice and can be used to replace rice in dishes such as idli, dosa and payasam. Experts striving for the inclusion of healthy foods into our everyday diet, attest that millets can be just as delicious as rice. A. Santhilakshmy, Director, Bhoomi Network, is passionate about making healthy food delicious. She says: “Moving to millets should be a slow process of transition. The idea here is not to delete protein out of your diet, but to add to it. Which is why I always suggest adding millet to rice, instead of just leaving rice overnight. After making this small change, one must dialogue with their body and observe the changes, before making more changes. I have found that energy levels increases, focus and concentration go up. Each millet has its own health benefits. I have high blood pressure and kodo millets have helped me keep the condition in check.

A friend who has diabetes has gone off all medication and keeps her sugar levels in check with foxtail millets or navane.” Santhilakshmy suggests starting off with kodo millets as the taste is close to rice and the grain is soft, which makes it easy to cook.

This Ugadi, you could give your traditional palate a twist with these delicacies made with millets. Delicious and easy-to-make, they will get you started on a new year of health!