Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ganpati Bappa Moraya!

Like every year, I anxiously awaited beloved Ganpati Bappa's arrival. And like every year, it was time to bid Him adieu before I knew it. The festivities came to an end yesterday as we sang the last aarati (prayer) and immersed the idol in the pool with teary eyes. Along with every Maharashtrian, Ganesh Chaturthi - a festival celebrating the elephant headed God Ganesh/Ganpati - is close to my heart and Ganpati is my favorite daivat (diety). Who doesn't like 5 days of non-stop festivities, aaratis-prayers, visits by family and friends and delicious food?! Decorating the house with family, planning long lists of menus, scheduling time table for aarati at every friend's place and making sure Ganpati Bappa's 'stay' is as comfortable as possible brings a lot of joy to me! 

Ganesh Chaturthi was made popular by Lokamanya Tilak in an effort to bring people together to exchange ideas and bring a sense of community. Over the years, the social aspect has gained more significance than the religious and ritualistic part. Back in India, every community or locality erects beautifully decorated mandaps with different themes depicting mythological stories, social messages or famous structures in the world. Large clay statues of Ganpati are welcomed in a procession of dhol-tasha (drums) with chanting and praises on Chaturthi - fourth day -  of the Hindu calendar month Bhadrapad. Ganpati is hosted communally for 10 days until Anant Chaturdashi when it's finally time for immersion, only to wait for his next arrival. The whole atmosphere during those 10 days is spiritual and celebratory and there’s nothing but happiness in the air!
Ganpati in my house

At home, we observe the festival for 5 days by installing a beautifully sculpted clay idol in a decorated space with colorful flower garlands, shimmery papers, fabric and lights.My heart was filled with joy as we celebrated the festival as a married couple for the first time this year J. Having my dearest friend Shraddha visit us for Ganpati was just the cherry on top! What is better than having your loved ones with you on such a special occasion?

Of all the reasons, I love this festival for the delicious food I get to cook and eat - especially Ganpati's favorite Modak! Modak is a steamed sweet dumpling made of rice flour covering with a sweet coconut filling, shaped like a garlic/onion. Another version of it is made of wheat flour covering and fried golden brown. While anything 'fried' sounds better, ukadiche (steamed) modak are far more popular, and require a lot more deft and skill. However, with some (mental) preparation and quality ingredients, you can make the most delectable modaks, perfectly soft and thin outside with a 'khamang' toasty sweet filling. The success of modaks largely depends on the quality of ingredients; so make sure you have absolutely fresh rice flour and soft jaggery. Since modaks are an inextricable part of the celebration, I'm submitting this recipe to the FSF Janmashtami & Ganesh Chaturthi event in a series of Festival Series Foods

**Note: The recipe below makes 10-12 modaks depending on the size. 

Ukadiche Modak/Steamed Modak

¾ Cup packed grated coconut
¾ Cup jaggery – shaved, cut into small pieces for ease of cooking
½ Teaspoon cardamom powder
1 Teaspoon poppy seeds
1-2 Tablespoons milk (optional)

1 Cup water
¾ Cup rice flour
1 Teaspoon Ghee/clarified butter
Pinch of salt
Oil/Ghee on the side as needed
  • Combine grated coconut, jaggery, cardamom powder and poppy seeds and cook on low flame until the jaggery melts completely and the mixture comes together. If you are using frozen grated coconut as opposed to fresh, add just a tablespoon or two of milk to re-hydrate and soften the coconut. Keep aside.
  • Now the most important part - the ukad (cooked rice flour dough for the covering). You must work very quickly with the rice flour as it can overcook easily and form lumps. Keep a plate lightly greased with oil/ghee ready to knead the dough. Have some oil/ghee available on the side.
  • Sift the rice flour to remove any lumps and grit.
  • Heat water in a pot with a teaspoon of ghee and a pinch of salt. Take it off the flame just at the brink of boiling. Ghee makes the dough soft.
  • Add the rice flour right away to the water whisking vigorously so lumps do not form.
  • Transfer the dough to the greased plate and knead the dough really well until smooth and soft. You can use the back of a spoon to remove lumps and then work with your hands. Make sure you grease your palms as well so the dough doesn't stick. The dough requires kneading while it's still hot. Gloves or even zip-lock bags will work for protection. If you are like me, you'll just suck it up and dig your hands in :D. 

  • Take a golf-ball sized dough ball and start flattening it to form a cup shape, working border in. Keep dipping your fingers in oil/ghee to avoid sticking/breaking of the dough. The center should be tad bit thicker than the border so the modak doesn't break. 
  • Once you have a thin cover, fill a spoonful of the coconut-jaggery mixture and pinch the borders of the covering to make petal-like shapes. The more petals you can make, the better.
  • Start pulling the open end together carefully without flattening the petal shapes. Pinch the end on top to close it  completely. 
  • Steam these modaks in a greased pan for 5-6 minutes on high heat. I keep the modaks in idli-patra and steam them in a pressure cooker. You can also use pessure cooker flat pans. 

Enjoy the modak with a drizzle of warm ghee!!!


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