Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gowri Ganesha Festival series 1 - Home made urad dal Chakli

As I said, I am here with a short series on Gowri-Ganesha festivals. I am sure a lot of you have similar experiences to share, I would love to hear about them. Do drop in a line when you visit.

Gowri-Ganesha habba(festival) was a big deal growing up for many reasons. Unlike many other festivals we celebrate, this one had the definite aura of being a community celebration. Ganesha habba is celebrated outside the confines of home in most states in India. This set of festivals (sometimes on the same day and sometimes on consecutive days based on the Hindu calendar) would be kicked off days before with the preparations.

At nammamma's, we do the Swarna Gowri Vrata which is an extended version of the festival. Not all families do the vrata and so lot of amma's lady friends would come to our house for that part of the festival. My father was the unofficial purohit/priest who led all the ladies through the elaborate pooja. During these days, the professional priests are extremely busy, if you had a priest come in to do the pooja, it meant you had to adjust your schedule according to the time they gave you, your cooking should be done by a specific time, all of you had to be ready before the priest showed up etc which was a hassle. My father made one swell of a purohit and everyone was happy with the arrangement.

The preparations for the festival used to start atleast a month or so before. For me the essence of Gowri habba is in the special 'Morada baagina'. Gowri vrata is performed by ladies/girls praying to the Goddess of Shakthi for her blessings. On this day, it is customary to prepare 'baagina' which is comparable at some level to a gift hamper with a bunch of things put in and is exchanged among the ladies. So the traditional 'mora' or 'winnow'(imagine a wide 3 edged cup made from thin strips of bamboo), this is used to separate grains from chaffe in Indian homes will be bought new, washed, sun dried, applied with turmeric powder and decorated (if you are one of those artistic people). An array of things went into the baagina based on whether it was a married woman or a young girl giving it to her contemporaries.

Small plastic bags of Wheat, Chana dal, Toor dal, Urad dal, Moong dal, salt, rice, jaggery had to be prepared along with a bunch of mangala dravya/auspicious things such as a small mirror, new comb, kumkuma-arishina, a small bunch of black beads, bangles, blouse piece for every set of baagina. Everything was arranged in one of the decorated winnows while the other was put on top as a cover. At that age, finding a nice pair of glass bangles to add to my collection made my day. I kept aside the shiny new comb and the bangles after the festival while the grains and other stuff went back to Amma :-). On the day of the festival, amma added some sweets and savories before the baagina exchange. In addition to her regular number, she used to have one or two extra sets to tide over if there were unexpected guests on that day. Things have changed and the mora is replaced by cute looking plastic containers but I think it was more fun in the 'mora' era :-).

Other than the baagina and the food, Gowri habba was special due to the decorations we did on the altar. Most homes set up a separate place in their living room specially to build a mantapa/altar.This is a festival where we had lot of visitors and everyone worked hard at making their altar look beautiful. The artsy kind of people were in great demand. Anna was incharge of the mantapa while akka would take over dressing up the idols for pooja. In our family I am the most 'uncraftsy' person, my creative best stops at counted cross stitches while my akka could come up with ideas and also make them from everyday materials. Akka made these beautiful jewelry with cotton to dress up the idol. She would get glittery, thin papers and other small trinkets to adorn those white necklaces. I did try my hands at it later on, when she was married and gone but mine were no where closer to what she used to make. She would also dress the idol with a nice, new piece of cloth.

I loved going to the market with my father on the day before the festival, crowded, extremely chaotic and noisy though it used to be. In addition to all the usual flowers and fruits and paan leaves and vegetables, special request would be for the lotus flowers. I don't remember getting lotus flowers for any other festival, maybe it was the season. But we would pick a few lotus flowers in yellow, red and pink colors, bring them home and put them in a bowl of water until the next day. These flowers do not open up on their own as they have been cut, so we gently pulled open each petal until a beautiful flower was ready. Both my parents being garden enthusiasts, we always had a lot of home grown flowers to deck up the altar.

Amma used to start the day very early, I don't even know when she actually got up as she made all the dishes for the naivedya after her bath. We joined her much later in the morning as we got up and took our bath. All little kids were assistants to other people and we would help Anna to build the mantapa. We picked out blemish free, green mango leaves that were uniform in size so he could build an aesthetically beautiful and geometrically perfect Torana/decoration with the leaves. Washing the front door, making nice Rangoli/kolam designs was part of the day and there always was an undeclared competition in the neighborhood to produce the best design in front of their home. This was one of the areas where I could mask away my clumsiness by making decent looking  'count and draw' designs :-)

The pooja used to start once all the ladies assembled and go on for an hour and half. After all the post-pooje events including the baagina exchange, it was lunch time. Having already eaten all the goodies from the time Pooje concluded officially, this was one of the lunches I used to pick at for a long time :-). Typical naivedya for Gowri habba is kayi obbattu (coconut-jaggery filling), kobbari mithai, chakli, chitranna along with the usual festival fare including saaru/rasam, palya, kosambari, paayasa. I left the big item out this year and prepared chakli, chitranna and kosambari.

I wish I had pictures to share with you about all this, I have been going through my albums for the last couple of days but haven't found blog worthy, non-personal pictures in my collection. Maybe some day I will revisit these posts to update pictures.

Chakli doesn't need an introduction if you are used to South Indian deep fried savories. It also goes by the name 'murukku'. The traditional chakli is one made with urad dal and rice and nammamma followed a process of soaking rice and shade drying it before sending it to be powdered with roasted urad dal. Since I don't have nammamma's home made chakli hittu/powder, I follow my SIL's recipe for a delicious urad dal chakli. You do not need to worry about making a fine powder as this recipe calls for making a paste of boiled urad dal which is so much easier on the blenders we have here.
What do you need to make Chakli/Chakkuli? 
Makes about 60-70 chaklis depending on the size, takes about 1.5 hours to fry them
1 cup urad dal (without husk)
4 cups rice flour
1 Tblsp sesame seeds
2 Tblsp butter
1.5 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
3.5 cups water - divided use
Oil to deep fry

How do you make chakkuli?
  • Roast urad dal on medium heat until it turns light pick in color. 
  • Cook the roasted dal in your pressure cooker with 2 cups of water until it is soft.
  • When the dal comes to room temperature grind it to a soft paste using another 1/2-1 cup of water as needed.
  • Combine urad dal paste, rice flour, sesame seeds, butter and salt in a wide bowl and mix it into a soft, pliable dough. Use the remaining water as needed. 
  • Knead the dough for 5 minutes until it is a soft mass.
  • Heat the oil in a wide pan, if you drop a pinch of the dough it should come up to the surface right away. 
  • Put a handful of the dough in your chakkuli press and make chakkuli on a plastic sheet or aluminium foil.
  • Drop the chaklis one by one carefully into the hot oil, fry until golden brown and crisp and take them onto a plate lined with paper towels.. 
  • Finish up all the dough, let the chaklis cool off before storing them in airtight containers. This keeps well for a couple of weeks if you don't eat them :-)
  • Chakli making is quite easy but needs some practice to create those concentric circles. Hold the press at 2 inches above the surface and follow the flow of the dough as it comes out of the chakli press. Lightly press the tip of the outermost circle inside so the shape holds when it is fried.
  • Use a wide pan to heat oil, so chaklis have space to cook, do not crowd them one on top of other.
  • Keep the heat on medium and let the chaklis cook thoroughly so they stay crispy for a long time. Over heating of oil or quick frying results in a burnt outer layer and soft inner core. 
  • Chaklis tend to turn a shade darker as they cool, take them off the oil once the oil stops bubbling so they do not get over cooked.
  • Keep the butter outside for a half hour so it softens up before you use it in the dough. 
  • Before you load the chakli dough into the press, smear a few drops of cool water around the inside edges where it touches the dough so the press moves easily. 
  • Wet a paper napkin or a piece of cheecloth, squeeze the water out and use it to cover the chakli dough to keep it from becoming dry. 
  • This Chakli dough is much softer and pliant than the regular chapati dough.
  • I usually make 5-6 chaklis on the aluminium sheet away from the hot oil and then slowly ease them one by one into the hot oil. I have seen some people use the chakli press directly in the oil pan to make chakli, it is just a matter of your preference and ease.
  • Once you put the chakli in hot oil, do not disturb them for a minute and half, Flip them only after they have had a chance to cook for this time else you will end up breaking the chaklis into pieces. 
  • A nice even golden brown color of chaklis indicate it is done as well as the stopping of the bubbles in the oil. 
  • Butter makes chakli crispy and light but too much of butter will break it into pieces. 
  • Amma usually added white sesame seeds to the chakli, you can get an alternate flavored chakli with cumin seeds.
Here is a plate of crispy, tasty chaklis for you to munch on while I will come back tomorrow with more dishes.


Anonymous said...

Kudos for the fantastic narrative...both for the family story as well as specialty chakali... Wish you happy festivities.

Prathibha said...

Our festival is celebrated in a similar way..right nowi m in blore and already tired with the festival arrangements and also eating lots of goodies

NamsVeni Pothas said...

very nice Chakly . this recipe is new to me. it is tasty. thanks for sharing the festival celebrations of your childhood goldendays.

kitchen queen said...

crispy and tempting chaklis.

Priya said...

Such a beautiful write up, i do almost the similar way too..Crispy chaklis looks fabulous.

Kannada Cuisine said...

Good read...reminds me of years gone by...

LG said...

Should i say same pinch! I share similar experiance with festive preps. Chakli looks yummm. I have seen adding urid dal flour, your way should be tried once for making chakli.

Bharathi said...

excellent Chaklie .This recipe is new to me. Very Very tasty. Everybody liked this Chakli. Thank you very much for posting this receipe.....