One of the major festivals of India, the harvest festival, celebrated throughout the nation, is known by various names in different states. Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Sankranti in West Bengal, Karnataka and Andhra, Lohri in Punjab, Makar Sankaranti is Maharastra and other northern states, and Bihu in Assam.
Each region has speciality dishes that use newly harvested rice, jaggery, coconut, and lentils as the main ingredients for preparing regional special harvest festival dishes.
City dwellers miss out on such festivities, but in the rural areas the festive fervor assumes a brighter dimension. . In Tamil Nadu, the Jallikattu event takes place in certain places during the Pongal season.
Likotia or Gheela pitha for Bihu in Assam
On the day of Magh Bihu (January 14) Assamese people follow a different food routine starting with breakfast. , The famer’s hardwork is honoured and the bounty from the field is prepared with newly harvested rice, fresh jaggery and roasted black sesame seeds. Apart from the usual pitha-pona (sweetmeats made from rice) like til pitha ( traditional white pitha made with sesame-jaggery/coconut and jaggery), gheela pitha ( like the south Indian arisey, but thicker), poka laru (hard laddu made with roasted rice flour and jaggery. It is made hard on purpose to test each other’s jaw strength) there are an array of roasted puffed rice products like muri, hurum, akhoi, kumol saul, korai guri that are served with cow curd or fresh cream. All these food items form the brunch menu with sides of fries made from kaath aloo (air potato) and koni pitha (a fried dumpling made with rice flour and egg).
Traditionally, everyone avoids eating their staple rice meal for lunch. Folklore surrounds most preparations— the air potato fry is a must-have so that one is born human in the next birth.
This dish is like the Korean tteokbokki. Made with freshly harvested sticky rice, likotias pitha can be sweet or salty. Likotia means stretchy which comes from the gluten of sticky rice. This Pitha is crisp on the outside, sticky and gooey on the inside.
Bora saul (Assamese sticky rice, red or white ) 2 cups
Jaggery¼ cups or a pinch of salt to taste
Water for kneading
Mustard oil for frying
A rust-free iron tawa for frying.
Wash and strain the rice and let it air dry completely. Once dried, grind it to obtain a coarsely ground powder. Making sure not to destroy the glutinous property of the rice ( instead of a hand held rice pounder, a blender can be used but should not heat up too much). Then sieve with a not-so-fine netted sieve. Once done collect the rice flour and start grating the jaggery and mix well. Alternatively, use salt for the salty version. Add water to get a night-soft dough. The dough shouldn’t be too soft or too firm. Once done, leave it aside without covering away from direct air for 30 mins. Then make carrom-coin-sized circular discs (.5cm thickness, not too thick).
In the iron tawa pour mustard oil and heat well. Slowly slide one disc at a time and stir continuously to avoid burning. The discs may stick to each other— they can be separated once done. Both sides should be evenly fried. ( Preferable to use a wooden chopstick to flip and stir). Once done can be had with black tea and jaggery.
Recipe by Sanjukta Das
Gokul Pitha for Sankranti in West Bengal
As 84-year-old Kalyani Mahata from Kolkata gathers ingredients to make the Sankranti special sweet gokul pitha, what she lays bare are not just ingredients but pages from her life lived in Kolkata and Panditpur (a suburban area in West Bengal). Even after moving to the city in 1982, one of the few rituals that have remained constant is the preparation of the lesser known gokul pitha — whose whiffs and aromas spell home.
“In our Panditpur home, on the day of Sankranti, grains and paddy would be collected from the fields, fresh date palm jaggery ( nolen gur) was bought from the market, sweets made of jaggery and ground coconut would be offered to Lord Narayana, small children would polish off sesame balls infused with jaggery, gokul pitha and pur pitha would be distributed amongst family and workers in the farm,’‘ remembers Kalyani.
Kalyani was married to Gangesh Narayan Mahata in her teenage- over the years her knees have become weak, she has lost her husband and son but what makes time stand still is the familiar taste of the sweetmeat.
Poush Sankranti or Sankranti marks the last day of the Bengali month ‘Poush’ which usually records the lowest temperatures of the winter season. In the city, as the mellow winter sun comes out, the sun god is revered, colourful kites are flown and goddess Laxmi is worshipped. The three-day festivities begin the day before Sankranti.
Makar Sankranti the transition of the Sun from the zodiac of dhanu (Sagittarius) to makar (Capricorn). Holy men and pilgrims from across the country congregate at Gangasagar (the confluence of the Ganga and Bay of Bengal) to take a dip in the chilly river water. The holy dip is believed to absolve one of all sins; following which pilgrims offer prayers in the Kapil Muni temple. The Gangasagar mela that is held during this time is a huge crowd-puller.
Grated coconut - 1 cup
Date palm jaggery (nolen gur) 1 cup
Khoya 2 cups
Maida 150 gram
Ghee 2 cups
Green cardamoms 3-4 small pods
Sugar 2 cups
To make the sugar syrup, add water and bring to a boil. Add sugar thereafter (for 4 cups water, add 2 cups sugar). Add grated coconut and dry fry in a pan over medium-low flame for 2-3 minutes. To this pan, now add jaggery, allow it to melt, and let it blend well with the dried coconut. When the jaggery and coconut have blended seamlessly, add khoya and keep stirring the mixture on medium-low flame. Once the khoya has blended with jaggery and coconut, increase the flame and continue defining the mixture for 1-2 mins. Turn off the flame when done. When this mixture is warm, take it in your palm and shape it like small round dumplings. This is called the pitha. To prepare the batter for the outer covering for the pitha, add flour, ghee, and some water in a separate utensiland set aside. In a pan add ghee or oil. When the oil is hot, dip the pithas in the batter and fry them in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown on medium flame. Place the cooked pitha into the sugar syrup, add green cardamoms and allow it to absorb the sweetness for about two minutes and remove. Arrange the sugar drenched pitha on a plate, and garnish with dry fruits (optional). Serve hot.
Recipe by Kalyani Mahata
Gul Poli for Makar Sankranti in Maharashtra
Makar Sankranti, as it is known in Maharashtra, is a harvest festival. People exchange sesame-jaggery sweets and wish each other ‘ tilgul ghya aani goad goad bola‘ (Have the sesame sweet and speak sweet words).
Gul Poli (Jaggery and sesame stuffed poli) is a special preparation that is made on the day of Makar Sankranti and served for lunch. It is the filling of ground sesame seed and groundnut, jaggery and besan that gives it a crunchy, sweet flavour. Whereas, poli is flatbread.
Wheat flour one cup
Maida one cup
Warm oil (groundnut or vegetable oil) 2 table spoons
Water as required
For the filling
Jaggery grated 3/4 cup
White sesame seeds 3 tbsp
Roasted groundnut powder 2 tbsp
Besan 11/2 to 2 tbsp
Cardamon (to be ground) 2 to 3
Ghee as required
Sift the wheat flour and maida together. Mix the salt. Make a depression in the middle of the mixture. Heat the oil and pour in the lukewarm oil. Mix well. Now, add lukewarm water to the mixture and knead well. The dough should not be too soft. Keep the dough aside. Apply a teaspoon of oil on your fingers and apply it lightly on the dough. Keep it covered with a wet cloth for an hour. In the meantime, make the stuffing for the poli.
Place the jaggery and cardamom in a non-stick pan, add two table spoons of water and heat it on a low fire. Keep stirring while the jaggery dissolves and forms a thick syrup. Keep aside. In another pan, dry roast the sesame seeds separately till they are golden in colour. Grind it and keep aside to cool. In a non-stick pan, add one tablespoon of ghee and roast the besan flour on low heat till it changes colour and the aroma wafts up. Remove from pan to cool. Now, add the besan, sesame, and groundnut powder to the jaggery mixture and mix well. This is the stuffing for the Gul Poli.
Take the dough and make lime-sized balls. Roll it out with the help of some flour into circular shapes, like a spoonful. Don’t make it too thin, Keep one tablespoon of stuffing in the middle and close the edges carefully. Do the same with the rest of the dough and the stuffing. Roll out the stuffed balls carefully—they should be a little bigger than a puri. Heat a tawa and cook the gul poli on medium heat till both sides are golden brown. Apply ghee while the poli is being cooked. Serve hot with a dollop of ghee.
Recipe by Smitha Prabune
Mochai Kulambu for Pongal festival in Tamil Nadu
“It’s essentially a thanks giving festival to Mother Nature,” says J Gnana Saravanan, an award-winning agripreneur about Pongal, celebrated in the month of Tamil month ‘Thai’ that lasts for three days. “The principal theme of Pongal is thanking the Sun god, the forces of nature, and the farm animals, and people who support agriculture. It starts with bhogi, then suryan pongal and patti pongal,” explains Saravanan whose Deesan Farm at Meenakshipuram on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border is a model sustainable integrated farm where he grows coconut along with inter-crops like banana, nutmeg and arecanut.
After the first thanksgiving ceremony to the sun which influences weather and hence has an immense influence on the outcome of the yield, farmers also dig small square pits at their farm called theppa kulam, layered and readied to hold water to ring in the Patti Pongal festivities. “Small idols of Ganesha made from fistfuls of cow dung are placed around the theppa kulam. We thank the pancha bhoothangal, the five prime elements of nature- earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Farming depends entirely, almost 99 percent on the cooperation of these elements.”
No festival is complete without food. Around the time of Pongal, the fields are ripe with plentiful crops and hence the farmers bring home the fresh produce including vegetables and varieties of beans and make dishes like pacha mochai (field beans) raw butter where plump, fresh and rawbutter beans and thattai payir (cow peas)are dunked in a tangy preparation along with seasonal vegetables like brinjal and pumpkin. A buttery mashed kollu parruppu (horsegram), kollu rasam and yellow pumpkin stir fry are relished with steamed raw rice, made from newly harvested paddy.
Lima Beans (Mochai) 1 cup
Black eye beans (Thattai Payir) 1 ½ cup
For the masala
Shallots, a handful
Cumin 2 tablespoons
Coriander seeds or powder 5 tablespoons
Dry red chillies 10
Curry leaves a few
Garlic 15 to 20 pods
Chopped/diced yellow pumpkin 1 cup
Diced brinjal 1 cup
Chopped tomato 1 cup
Tamarind, size of a gooseberry soaked in warm water
Salt as required
Pressure cook fresh mochai. Add a spoonful of castor oil to make it soft. Repeat the same for thattai payir. Then, mix them together in a pan, and allow to boil. Grind the masala without roasting and add it to the beans. Once it begins to boil, add the vegetables and tomatoes and lastly the tamarind water. Make a tadka with small onions, split red chillies, mustard seeds, and curry leaves and pour it over the curry.
Recipes by farmer K Meenathal, Moolathara Village, Meenakshipuram near Pollachi
Chakkara Pongali for Sankranti in Andhra Pradesh
In Andhra Pradesh, the harvest festival is spread over three days - Bhogi, Sankranti and Kanuma. Sankranti dishes take on slightly different variations depending on the region. Some of the popular dishes include boorelu, ariselu, kajjikayalu, bobbatulu, chakkara pongali and sunnundalu.
Ingredients: Rice 1 cup
Moong Dal 2 tablespoons
Channa Dal 2 tablespoons
Cashews 20 numbers
Dry grapes (Kishmish) 2 tablespoons
Cardamom powder 1/4 teaspoon
Sugar – 1 1/2 cup
Ghee - 1/2 cup Milk - 2 litres
Heat the pan, and dry roast moong dal and channa dal until it turn light brown. In a thick vessel, boil milk. Now add the roasted moong and channa dal and cook until it softens. Mix rice with 1 tablespoon of ghee and add this to the milk. Stir well and let it cook on low heat until the rice turns soft. Add sugar and stir continuously to avoid burning. Cook till it thickens. In a thick pan, fry the cashew and raisins in ghee until they turn golden. Set it aside. Add the cardamom powder, raisins, and fried cashews. Serve it hot or at room temperature. (Recipe by Kusumlata Dantu, a resident of Visakhapatnam)