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Nine hog days

It is that time of the year again, Vidhi Bhargava on what makes Navratri food so special.

india Updated: Oct 03, 2008 13:23 IST

It is that time of the year again, when galouti kebabs are replaced by kuttu ke pakode, biryani with sabudana khichdi and chicken drumsticks with fruit chaat. Food prepared during Navratris must follow several restrictions, prime among them the use of meat, onion, garlic and chemical salt. Across households and even in restaurants and hotels, the focus of the menu shifts from non-vegetarian cuisine to farali or vrat food.

Flour power
The novelty of vrat ka khana lies in the use of different flours like kuttu (buckwheat flour), singhara (waterchestnut flour), rajgira, sama ke chawal or varai ka atta and ingredients like sabudana (tapioca) or sago. A delightful number of dishes can be made with these, such as puris, vadas, pakoras, and khichdi. These are usually eaten with aloo ki subzi,fried arbi,khatta meetha bhopla, aloo kutto-singhare ki kadi and batata or sabudana khichdi. The idea is to stay away from grains like wheat, rice and pulses.

Go green
Most fasts allow the use of vegetables but the range is limited in Navratris. While potatoes are the preferred choice, other root vegetables like yam, shakarkand (sweet potato), arbi (colocassia), pumpkin, raw banana, papaya and water chestnuts are an integral part of the Navratri days.

Popular recipes include kuttu or paneer pakoras,khuskhus aloo, fried arbi, banana chips, sabudana papad, aloo raita, vrat ke chawal and spicy shakarkand chaat. Bhindi (okra), karela (bitter gourd) and capsicum are some vegetables that are not used. All fruits are taken during Navratris, and the most popular way of doing so — apart from having them raw, of course — is to make spicy fruit chaat.

Spice route
The spices used are limited to rock salt, red chilli, cumin, turmeric, cardamom, black pepper, khuskhus (poppy seeds) and water melon seeds. The spices used in garam masala are usually avoided during the preparation of farali food. The food is garnished with fresh coriander and seasoned with green chillies, lemon and ginger.

Sweet delights
Vrat dishes make heavy use of dry fruits, coconut, sugar, butter, ghee, and milk products like milk, yoghurt, cream and paneer. And that is one reason why, for those with a sweet tooth, the festive cuisine couldn’t have been better.

While the focus here is mostly on milk-based desserts like rasmalai, makhane ki kheer, sabudana kheer, singhara barfi, coconut barfi and badam milk, other sweets like coconut ladoos and kuttuka halwa are also popular.

The spread is high on fat and carbohydrates, so if one of your reasons for fasting is to lose weight, abandon the thought now. The nine-day festival may be about fasting, but it is by no stretch of the imagination about depravation, because thanks to the range of delicious dishes, Navratri food is a veritable feast.