Celebrating sweetness


Paal payasam, cherupayaru parippu payasam, ada pradhaman or something else altogether: which Onam sadya dessert is your favourite?

People look forward to the Onam sadya all year round. They give up on strict diets, meal plans and restrictions; some even give up breakfast to do justice to the elaborate single-course meal.

Everyone knows the routine followed: the meal is traditionally served on a banana leaf, eaten while seated cross-legged on the floor and followed by an intense food coma.

Ideally, the sadya should be eaten somewhere in Kerala on (at least) one of the 10 days, each kootu teamed with the fat-grained Kerala red rice, with a glass of warm jeeraga-vellam (water boiled with cumin seeds, which gives it a golden yellow hue) by the side. For those who can’t make it to Kerala, there will always be a restaurant doing its version of the sadya. And while it may get everything right, from the inji curry to the olan, it’s always hard to get the payasam spot on.

If you’re lucky enough to have a sadya in Kerala, the best is usually saved for the last — dessert is at least three different kinds of payasam, made with different ingredients that range from rice, lentils, or even fruits such as banana and jackfruit, and sweetened with either sugar or jaggery.

The other main kind of payasam served is the pradhaman, where instead of regular milk, only coconut milk is used.

As far as the payasam hierarchy goes — and there are many who may argue with this — the pradhaman wins over the payasam. Mostly because it makes an appearance only annually, while the payasam is more commonplace. The simple rice or semiya version of the paal payasam is even made for smaller festivals and occasions such as house-warmings or weddings.

The palada, on the other hand, takes about two hours to cook when made the traditional way in a wide-mouthed urli over a wood fire. Instructions from original recipes call for slow cooking over a traditional hearth, stirring continuously for hours, until a watery, soup-like consistency transforms into the thick, sweet concoction that forms the crowning glory of a sadya.

Today, however, you can pressure-cook the lentils until mushy and go from there, but to achieve the right consistency still requires a lot of elbow grease.

The lesser-known pradhaman has a charm of its own, although it is an acquired taste. Jaggery and coconut milk together add a nutty, earthy sweetness, unlike the obvious saccharine sweetness of the sugar and milk payasam, whose cheat versions even come with condensed milk.

The cherupayaru parippu payasam, made with moong dal, coconut milk and jaggery, for example, is one of the healthier ways to end a sadya, and an easier one to make as well.

The ada pradhaman is a more elaborate dish where the main ingredient — ada — is rice batter rolled up in banana leaves and steamed, and later cooked in coconut milk sweetened with melted jaggery and lightly flavoured with cardamom, dry ginger and, sometimes, even a hint of cumin powder.

The garnish is almost always standard across payasams — crisp coconut slivers and cashews deep-fried in ghee until golden.

Purists might scoff at the thought of adding fried raisins, although they have become a common addition.

As with many other things, payasam is a lot sweeter to eat than to prepare from scratch. So, skip that no-sugar resolve, or schedule an intense training session at the gym to make up for it, but don’t skip dessert this Onam.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 11:26:27 AM |

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