“Everyone says I am bitter…,” Karela catchingly said in a low voice.
“What would you like to be if there is a makeover?”
“I want to be saucy with an attitude.”
“Well, that’s easy. Let’s invite jaggery and tamarind. Our friend red chilli will also be there. How does that sound?”
“Sweet and sour with a spicy-saucy attitude. Yum… I like that. My bitter blues are over.
“You are welcome karela.”
Karela, Jaggery and Tamarind
Saucy Karela (Kakara Pulusu)
(makes a side dish for two meals for two adults)
4 to 6-inch length karela – 5
Tamarind pods – 4
Jaggery, crushed – 2 tablespoons to quarter cup
Red onion – 1 medium size, or shallots 2 big ones
Oil, cumin, mustard seeds, curry leaves, turmeric, chilli powder and salt
Soak tamarind in water for about 15 minutes and extract thick pulp (about quarter cup needed for this recipe).
Scrape karela ridges with a peeler. Wash and cut karela into small, bite-sized pieces (about 2 cups of cut pieces).
Slice onion into thin pieces (about half cup pieces).
Place a thick-bottomed skillet on stovetop. Add a tablespoon of peanut oil and heat. When oil is hot, add 6 curry leaves, a pinch each-cumin and mustard seeds. Mix with spoon and when seeds start to pop, add onion. Sauté onion for couple of minutes to soft. Add karela pieces and quarter cup of water. Cover the skillet tightly, and steam-cook karela.
Halfway through the cooking, add tamarind and jaggery. Also add half teaspoon each – turmeric, salt and chilli powder. Mix, and cover the skillet with lid again. On medium-low heat, cook until karela pieces become tender, and tamarind-jaggery sauce thickens and start to coat the karela pieces.
Saucy karela tastes sweet and sour with a touch of spicy-bitterness. Great with sorghum roti or chapatis.
Friends. We know what they will bring to the table. Joy, substance or seriousness. Like we need shadruchulu, they each meet a need. When it comes to vegetable friends, I know exactly what will potlakaaya bring to the table. A beatific bajji. Traditional Andhra food, prepared during festival celebratory meals, potlakaaya bajjis make a great snack item. With a tad of unique potlakaaya sweetness and aroma, they make tasty bajjis. Give it a try when you find this vegetable on your trip to Indian grocery.
Potlakaaya ………………….Potlakaaya Rounds for Bajjis
The recipe is for 12-inch long potlakaaya. Makes about 30 bajjis.
Potlakaaya – 12-inch length
Besan (gram flour) – 1-cup
Rice flour – quarter cup
Red chilli powder and salt – half teaspoon each
Baking Soda – a pinch
Peanut or Sunflower oil for deep-frying – about two to three cups
Prepare Potlakaaya: Pick a firm and fresh looking potlakaaya for bajjis. Wash the potlakaaya. Cut and remove the ends. With a sharp knife, cut the body into rounds about quarter inch thick like shown in the photo above.
Prepare Besan Batter: In a vessel, take about a cup of besan. Add quarter cup of rice flour, a pinch of baking soda and half teaspoon each – salt and red chilli powder. Mix thoroughly. Make a well in the flour. Add quarter to half cup of water. Using a whisk or hand, adding water if required, make a thin and smooth batter free of lumps.
Prepare bajjis: Heat about three cups of oil in a deep skillet. When oil becomes hot, dip the potlakaaya rounds into besan batter. Drop them gently into hot oil one after another. Deep fry to crisp.
Enjoy this traditional Andhra snack hot. Great on its own or with rice and daal/sambar/curd combinations.
This pagoda water fountain is a decorative item in our front room. Now it has become Kittaya’s dedicated water fountain. He seems to enjoy drinking from the fountain all the time. It is always a great sight to watch him drinking from the flowing water so peacefully, particularly during mornings when sunlight falls on him through the window.
Jayasri Srinivasan is a long time reader and a friend of Mahanandi. I thank Jayasri for this special contribution to Bhakthi~Bhukthi series to celebrate the new year festival Ugadi tomorrow.
“In Whatever Form” – A Tribute to Annamacharya
By Jayasri Srinivasan
Every so often, I like to remember, dust-off and re-touch a distant memory, much as one would open an antique chest of precious old sarees, feel their softness, air them out and put them safely back in.
I am seven years old, it’s another typical Bangalore morning-fresh and crisp, and I am suspended in that delicious, mysterious state between sleep and wakefulness. Sounds and smells slowly seep into my consciousness: the sharp sizzle of boiling water percolating through the stainless steel coffee filter, the tantalizing aroma of my grandmother’s rasam, the gentle clinking of pots and ladles as she works her culinary magic to feed and nourish us, and the pure, resonant voice of M.S Subbulakshmi pouring out of the tape recorder, drifting in the air and lingering long after the tape stops playing….
A particularly beautiful krithi I remember from the vast repertoire of M.S Subbulakshmi songs that were such a staple in our house is a composition by Annamacharya, the great poet-saint of the 15th century. The krithi beginning “Enthamathramuna” roughly transliterated “Whatsoever be your form” is a paen to Lord Vishnu and in typical Hindu fashion goes on to emphasize his universality by extolling him as the embodiment of multiple divine forms.
Whether as a serious student of Karnatic music or as an enthusiastic rasika, the krithis of Annamacharya are part of one’s singing or listening repertoire alongside other compositions by luminaries like Tyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Purandaradasa, to name only a few.
Born in Tallapaka village (about 500 km from Hyderabad and 75 km from Cuddapah town) near Tirupati , the boy who would grow up to become of the greatest Telugu hymnographers was named “Annamayya” after Lord Vishnu. “Annam”, a Sanskrit word commonly denoting rice but more broadly used to denote food itself, appears in the iconic Vishnu-sahasranama-stotram- (Literally, “Hymn of a 1000 names of Vishnu”). As Adi Sankaracharya explains in his commentary on the hymn, Lord Vishnu is “Annam”. In a dual sense-he is both the “eater” (he devours the universe during pralaya-the great deluge) and the “eaten” (for the enlightened seeker, he provides spiritual nourishment).
Annamacharya belonged to the sect of Vaishnavas, specifically the Vishishtadvaita sect who believe that Lord Vishnu is the all-pervading divine being of the Universe. To the already existing theological framework of Vaishnavism, Annamacharya brought his own special humanistic interpretation. His gospel of Universal brotherhood was expressed in lyrics of transcendent beauty. Annamacharya’s Vishnu is not the exclusive deity of a defined sect or religion, he is untouched by trappings of caste and creed. Instead, his Lord Vishnu is the glorious “Supreme Spirit”, the “Divine father of all beings” and we are all his children. At this time, now more than ever, the truth of this concept becomes all the more poignant. There is no place in this world then, for anger and hatred, violence and war. It is time now for love and peace, understanding and harmony. This message of universal love and tolerance was Annamacharya’s greatest legacy, his medium was his music, and it is by embracing the spirit of this message in our daily lives that we can best pay tribute to one of the greatest poet-saints of all time.
In the first stanza of the krithi “Enthamathramuna”, Annamacharya extols Lord Vishnu thus “O Lord, you become whatever one thinks of you, you are the same Lord in whatever form one worships you.” Particularly notable is the fact that Annamacharya, being a householder himself, drew upon simple, everyday examples to illustrate esoteric truths that might otherwise be difficult to grasp. In this song, he uses a pithy and practical metaphor by drawing on the versatility of a humble kitchen staple-the ubiquitous and sustaining flour. “One can make it whatever one chooses”, sings Annamacharya, referring to flour. “The size of the pancake depends on the quantity of flour used.” An interpretation of this could be that our perception of the divine is limited only by the extent of our spiritual stamina and seeking. Whether we hedge our bets and place our faith in a beloved personal God or a universal life force, every route is unique. Each path to self-realization is valid.
Stanzas 2 and 3 contain a spiritual checklist of sorts. Annamacharya lists the various names of Lord Vishnu attributed to him by his interestingly diverse cohort of worshippers. “The Vaishnavas adoringly call you Vishnu”-sings the saint. “Those who profess a knowledge of Vedanta call you Parabrahman. Devout Saivites think of you as Shiva. The Kapalikas sing your praises as Adibhairava. The Sakteyas worship you as Goddess Sakthi. Thus, different devotees visualize you differently”. And now, gently, unobtrusively and lyrically, Annamacharya slips in two lines of such depth and meaning that one has to stop and ponder their significance. “To those that show you little regard”, says the poet-saint, “you look small. To those that are enlightened / think nobly of you, you appear lofty.” Isn’t this a stunning and sophisticated illustration of spiritual relativism?
In the concluding stanza, he continues the earlier theme. “The weakness does not lie with you. You are like a lotus in the pond that rises and falls with the level of the water. The waters of the river Ganga alone are to be found in all the wells by the riverside.” And then comes the beautiful last line of the composition. In its eloquence, simplicity and truth, it needs no further elaboration. “You hold us under your sway, O Lord of Venkatadri. I surrender myself to you and this to me, is the Ultimate reality.”
Here is the video link to the rendition by Smt. MS Subbulakshmi.
As you listen to this enchanting song composed by a saint and sung by a goddess, may you find peace and new meaning in the coming year. Happy Ugadi and Gudi Padwa!
Note: In writing this piece, I want to acknowledge the two excellent scholarly sources that I drew upon for a translation and interpretation of this song from the original Telugu. The references are listed below. References:
1) Annamacharya (1989) Adapa Ramakrishna Rao. Published by Sahitya Akademi.
2) Annamacharya-Lyrics of Humanism (1999) An anthology of some Annamacharya Keertanas rendered into English. Edited by Acharya I.V. Chalapati Rao, Translated by A.S. Murthy. Published by Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Hyderabad. Notes
1. In the rendition by MS. Subbulakshmi, a Tamil shloka precedes the krithi “Enthamathramuna”.
2. There is a slight asynchronicity between the sound and image in the rendition of the song.
About the author: Jayasri Srinivasan has been a connoiseur of music, food and everything associated with her grandparents from birth. When not doing postdoctoral research in neuropharmacology, she enjoys reading Agatha Christie mystery novels and chasing after her bouncy two year old.
“That sounds interesting. Your wish is my dish today. ”
“We now have green and gold. To complement, let’s invite the yellow, mellow mung,” methi recommended.
“Some protein? Good thinking. Let’s get all together.”
Plants brought into home. Leaves plucked and washed. Carrots grated. Yellow mung daal soaked in water for about an hour.
When it was time for nastha, kura was made in ten minutes for chapatis. Carrot’s sweetness, mung daal nuttiness combined with methi’s goodness. It was light, yet filling and extremely tasty. Loved my meal today.
Methi, Carrot and Mung Daal
(for one or two meals for two adults)
1 big bunch of fresh methi or about 4 cups of tightly packed methi leaves
3 carrots or 3 cups of grated carrot
1/2 cup yellow mung daal. (Soak in water for about an hour)
Oil, curry leaves, cumin seeds, hing, turmeric, salt, red chilli flakes and coconut
Heat a teaspoon of peanut oil in a wide, thick-bottomed skillet.
When oil is hot, add 10 curry leaves, half teaspoon of cumin seeds and pinch of hing. Sauté for a minute or so, until leaves become golden brown.
Add grated carrot, soaked mung daal and methi leaves to the skillet. Mix.
Add half teaspoon each – turmeric, salt and red chilli flakes. And a tablespoon of grated coconut. Mix thoroughly. Cover the skillet with lid. Keep the heat on medium and cook, mixing in-between. The moisture from carrots and methi steams the mung daal to tender. It would take about ten minutes.
Serve this light and delicious Indian dish with chapatis or rotis.
“When I get a home with backyard, I will plant this, this and that too.”
As long as I can remember, this has been my dream about home ownership. I know nothing is owned by us forever or this won’t be permanent, but at least for now, we are home. And there is a backyard. I am enjoying tilling the land and planting the seeds with dear Vijay’s help.
The backyard space we have is in rectangular shape. In the middle, in a row, we planted fruit trees. We think this would give the fruit trees ample space to grow without encroaching on the neighbors spaces. On the sides, we placed plantar boxes suitable for raised bed gardening. After considering all the options for vegetable gardening, we have decided on raised bed method. We thought they would look clean, and it would be easy to control the weed situation. So went and bought lumber from Lowe’s. Constructed 3′x6′x2′ and 2′x6′x2′ boxes. Four for each side, a total of 8 boxes.
Here are the photos:
Fruit trees: from left to right
Pomegranate, Guava, Fig, Mandarin, Loquat, blueberries, Barbado’s Cherry. We purchased the plants from Urban Harvest and FBMG fruit tree sale.
Right Side of Rectangular space:
I have kept the four boxes for kitchen basics:
Box 1: 6 kinds of tomatoes and 1 tomatillo plant
Box 2: chilli peppers – Indian hot variety also known as Thai chilli pepper, 2 Serrano’s, 1 bell pepper and 1 chili pequin (small, round peppers similar to tadka chilli type).
Box 3: Red onions, shallots and red potatoes
Box 4: I kept it for herbs and strawberries. Right now spearmint rules the space.
Left side of Rectangular space:
In four boxes, one box is for green leafy veggies like methi, gongura and spinach. Another one is for brinjal and okra. Remaining two boxes are for beans. So far I planted brinjal seedlings, gongura, methi, and okra seeds. Also beans, Indian broad beans, cucumber, lima beans, turai, peas, and zucchini. Each variety in a row. 5 rows for a box. There is still some space left.
My wish list:
Gawar, Karela (Indian type), Lemon cucumber, Parval, and Tindora seeds or seedlings.
Green brinjal and drumstick (Munagakaaya) seeds or seedlings.
Banana (apple banana) and papaya seedlings.
Catnip for kittaya.
What are you planning to plant this spring? Any tips and advice for this garden newbie? I would love to hear from you.