When I was a kid, my sisters and I usually ‘fasted’ with my grandmother during Navaratri. My mom used to call it a ‘charat’ (non-stop feast) instead of a ‘vrat’ (fast) with affectionate mockery, because grandma would spend the whole day in the kitchen, cooking up little ‘vrat delicacies’ to make sure her little darlings didn’t suffer any discomfort because of the fast. And so, of course, we used to end up stuffed fuller than normal as a result of the Navaratri fasts!
And why not? It is a festive time, after all. Cleansing and detox with a diet change is all very well for adults—let them stick to kuttu-lauki chillas (buckwheat and grated gourd pancakes), aloo raita (boiled potatoes in yogurt) and fruits—but for kids, it’s the special Navaratri treats that put the sparkle of joy in their eyes and a spring in their step for the daandiya nights!
Here are some of my personal favourite Navaratri delicacies:
1. Kuttu/ Singhada Pooris and Pakodas
Kuttu or buckwheat is a seed from the mountains and singhada is water nut. Flour made from both is a staple in Navaratri dishes. Pooris and pakodas are, of course, a universal favourite of the Indian palate. And these are quite simple to prepare too.
For pakodas (fritters), you simply substitute one of these flours for besan in the pakoda mixture, add chopped potatoes, ginger, green chillies and coriander leaves, season with rock salt (sendha namak) and red chilli powder. Drop tablespoonfuls of the mixture in hot oil and deep fry. Drain them on tissue paper and serve with mint chutney!
For pooris too, you make the dough with kuttu/ singhada flour. Use very little water, otherwise the dough becomes unwieldy and difficult to roll. Roll or pat into pooris with a soft hand and fry them. Serve with potato curry.
2. Kadhi Chawal
Yes! Kadhi Chawal for fasting! Just substitute kuttu or singhada flour instead of besan and rock salt instead of your normal table salt, and viola! And of course, instead of normal rice cook the ‘Samakya’ or fasting rice (it’s actually a wild seed called barnyard millet). Soak it for 30 minutes and cook in one and a half times water till tender. Pour a liberal tempering of ghee, jeera, red chillies and curry leaves over the whole and indulge to your heart’s content!
3. Pakodi-Papdi Chaat
Yup! Another traditional feast in a finger licking, fasting avatar—the chaat of Chandni Chowk and Darya Ganj, but made with fasting ingredients! This one’s a little complicated, but if it’s for the whole family, it’s well worth the effort. Plus, you could always get your little ones involved.
First, the papdis: make a stiff dough of kuttu/singhada flour, roll it out thin on the kitchen counter and cut out rounds with a cookie cutter or a small bottle cap, and deep fry it in batches (yes, this is a shortcut recipe and my perfectionist grandma must be wagging her finger at me from heaven—sorry Amma!).
Now for the pakodis: make a dropping consistency mixture of one of the attas, add a pinch of baking soda and cover for 5 minutes. Drop tablespoonfuls of the batter in hot oil and deep fry the pakodis. Immerse them in water mixed with rock salt for 30 minutes and then squeeze them out.
To assemble: Dunk the papdis and pakodis in beaten yogurt, add boiled potatoes, top with tamarind and mint chutneys and season with a mix of rock salt, chilli powder and roasted jeera powder. You can also garnish it with ginger juliennes and pomegranate seeds!
Or, to cut a long story short, you could simply order it at your nearest Indian Street Foods outlet –most of them serve ‘Vrat’ or ‘Faraal’ food during Navaratri!
The last two in my list today are desserts, and for these I’m just going to give you brief instructions and send you over to some amazing food blogs- Simplyvegetarian777 and Veg Recipes of India - by Indians in different parts of the world. Of course, it’s a bonus, because once you’re on these blogs, you’ll find many, many other scrumptious fasting goodies to tempt you
4. Magaz-Makhana Kheer
A truly mouth-watering delicacy to pamper your sweet tooth during your fast—in fact, in many households (mine included), this one is an all-time favourite and not just confined to Navaratri. This requires full cream milk, makhanas (fox nuts), melon seeds, almonds, raisins, saffron, sugar/jaggery, and of course, samakya (vrat rice). This is how we make Magaz-Makhana Kheer!
5. Rajgira/ Chaulai Kheer
Rajgira or Chaulai is also known as Amaranth, and the kheer is to die for! Very simple to make.
So what are you waiting for? Get cooking—or ordering from the nearest takeaway, as the case may be—but do introduce your little ones to the true delights of Navaratri ‘fasting’ :D