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Undrallu: Celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi With Sweet and Savory Rice Balls

वक्रतुण्ड महाकाय सूर्यकोटि समप्रभ ।

निर्विघ्नं कुरु मे देव सर्वकार्येषु सर्वदा ॥

vakratuṇḍa mahākāya sūryakoṭi samaprabha

nirvighnaṃ kuru me deva sarvakāryeṣu sarvadā

Ganesh Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chavithi (as it is called in my family), is the day that brought my Andhraite family together every year, to celebrate Lord Vinayaka, and welcome him into our hearts and our home. A peetham and mandapam, or a special platform, housed Lord Ganesha’s clay idol, and as a child, I always enjoyed the lovely task of decorating the mandapam with flowers, maalalu or garlands, the Lord’s umbrella, garika or grass for the Elephant God, fruits, deepams or lamps, agarbathulu or incense sticks, and a mouse made out of turmeric paste and seated at the base of Lord Ganesha’s feet on a tamalapaaku or betel nut leaf, to symbolize his vaahanam or vehicle. 

Our family would be seated together in front of the mandapam to begin the Ganapathi pooja vidhanam or the prescribed sequence of ritual offerings and prayers, to help us meditate on Lord Ganesha with dhyaanam, invite the God into our home with aavahanam, and continue the sequence of pooja vidhanam, to pay our respects to the God who has been invited into our home.

The Ganapathi pooja would conclude with the naivedyam, or the ritual of offering specially-cooked food to Lord Vinakaya. Once the naivedyam ritual is complete, the food becomes prasaadam or the food that has been blessed by the God. We would then break our fast by eating this prasaadam. There are various beliefs about the significance of prasaadam and what it stands to symbolize, and I believe that, eating this blessed food as our first food on the day of the pooja, cleanses, heals, and energizes our mind, body, and soul.

I always remember waiting with bated breath to eat a dish that is considered to be Lord Ganesha’s favorite—the undrallu (oon-draa-llu) or steamed rice balls. Undrallu have a delicate and sophisticated flavor. Every family in Andhra Pradesh most likely has its own recipe for undrallu, with regional variations stretching across India. But this is how my mom made them, and this is how I make them. Here I give you, not one, but two undrallu recipes, to celebrate the arrival of Lord Ganesha.

Undrallu (oon-draa-llu)

Savory Undrallu (Image from blendswithspices.com)

Savory rice laddus or rice balls

Yield: 12 small savory laddus

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon chana dal or split bengal gram or split chickpeas
  • 1 cup rice rava  
  • 2 cups water (plus 1 cup for steaming)
  • 1 sprig curry leaves, washed, leaves removed, and torn in half by hand (optional)
  • 2 cayenne green chiles, stems discarded, washed, and finely chopped into circles (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ghee/vegetable oil
  • Salt

INSTRUCTIONS

Step 1: Rinse the chana dal. Add the dal to a small bowl, fill it with water until the dal is completely underwater. Soak it for 30 minutes, drain the dal, and discard the soak water. (If you wish to speed up this process, then you can soak the dal in hot water for 10 minutes and then discard the soak water.)

Step 2: Boil 2 cups of water in a deep stockpot and bring it to a rolling boil on high heat. Add the soaked and drained chana dal, cover the pot with a lid and cook the dal on medium heat for 10 minutes or until the dal is nearly cooked through, and easily breaks apart between your fingers (test it by scooping out one piece of dal out of the water, let it cool down for a few seconds and then try breaking it in half between your thumb and index finger). Make sure that the water doesn’t spill over when the pot is covered. 

Step 3: Heat a small sauté pan on medium heat. Add the ghee or oil, and mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds begin to splutter, add the curry leaves, and chopped green chiles. Stir and sauté for 10 seconds. Add the rice rava, and salt to taste. Stir continuously and dry roast the rava with the other ingredients for 30 seconds. (Roasting the rava will ensure that it doesn’t clump-up or stick to the bottom of the stockpot.) Rice rava was always made from scratch at home. But I’ve shortened this two-hour-long process of making the rice rava by replacing it with store-bought rava. Do try and buy a fine-grain rice rava, because coarser rava needs longer to cook.

Step 4: Slowly pour the seasoned and roasted rava to the water that has been boiling with the chana dal, and keep stirring as you pour the rava in.  The water level should be slightly higher than the rava. (If you need to add more water, do so by slowly adding a little water as you stir.) Cover the stockpot with a lid and cook the rava on low heat for 6 minutes or until the water has been fully absorbed, and the rava is almost fully-cooked. Stir occasionally so that the rava doesn’t stick to the pot. Turn off the heat, leave the lid on, and let it cool down for a few minutes because you will soon be shaping them into balls by hand.

Step 5: As the cooked rava begins to cool down, heat 1 cup of water in any type of stovetop steamer you use (a veggie or dim sum steamer, or an idli pressure cooker without the whistle). Cover the steamer and bring the water to a rolling boil on a medium heat.

 Step 6: Grease the steamer basket or idli plate with ghee or oil so that the rava balls do not stick to it. Transfer the cooked and cooled rava onto a wide plate. Make sure that it is cool enough to touch. Dip your fingers in a small bowl of water, pinch off about a one inch portion of the cooked rava and roll the rava tightly into a ball between the palms of your hands. Place the rava ball in the greased steamer basket or plate. Repeat the process for each rava ball, and arrange them without crowding them.

Step 7: Once the water in the steamer has come to a rolling boil, place the steamer basket or plates in the steamer, cover it, and let the rava balls steam for about 6 minutes on a high heat, until they are plump and cooked through. (Make sure the water doesn’t dry out.) The steamed rava balls or undrallu are now ready. Transfer them into a serving dish.

NOTES

  1. If you don’t have chana dal, then you can use broken cashew nuts.
  2. Traditionally, when undrallu are part of the naivedyam or food offered to Lord Ganesha, my mom would leave out the chopped green chiles and curry leaves.
  3. Rice rava was always made from scratch at home. But I’ve shortened this two-hour-long process of making the rice rava by replacing it with store-bought rava.

Bellam Undrallu (bell-um oon-draa-llu)

Sweet Undrallu (Image from blendswithspices.com)

Sweet jaggery laddus or rice balls

Yield: 12 small sweet laddus

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup rice rava
  • 2 cups water (plus 1 cup for steaming)
  • 2 teaspoons ghee
  • 1 cup grated jaggery
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1 tablespoon broken cashew nuts, dry roasted

INSTRUCTIONS

Step 1: Add the water to a stockpot and heat it on medium-high heat. Add the grated jaggery. Once the jaggery melts, filter the jaggery water through a fine sieve to remove any dirt or debris. Return the filtered jaggery water back into the stockpot and bring it to a rolling boil on medium heat for 5 minutes. If you have coconuts at hand, you can add ¼ cup of freshly grated coconut along with the cardamom powder and cashew nuts in step 2. Darker colored jaggery will yield dark brown bellam undrallu.

Step 2: Reduce the heat to its lowest setting. Add the cardamom powder, dry roasted cashew nuts, and a teaspoon of ghee to the jaggery water. Now add the rava in a slow and steady stream into the water and keep stirring as you add the rava to avoid any lumps. Stir until the rava is fully mixed into the jaggery water. 

Step 3: Cover the stockpot with a lid and cook the rava on low heat for 6 minutes or until the water has been completely absorbed and the rava is almost fully cooked. Turn off the heat, leave the lid on, and let the jaggery rava cool down for a few minutes because you will soon be shaping them into balls by hand.

Step 4: As the cooked jaggery rava begins to cool down, heat 1 cup of water in your stovetop steamer, cover the steamer, and bring the water to a rolling boil on medium heat.

Step 5: Grease the steamer basket or idli plate with ghee or oil so that the jaggery rava balls do not stick to it. Transfer the cooked and cooled jaggery rava onto a wide plate. Make sure that it is cool enough to touch. Grease your fingers and the palms of your hands with ghee, pinch off about a one-inch portion of the jaggery rava and roll the rava tightly into a ball between the palms of your hands. Place this jaggery rava ball in the steamer basket or plate. Repeat the process for all the rava balls, and arrange them without crowding them.

Step 6: Once the water in the steamer has come to a rolling boil, place the steamer basket or plates in the steamer, cover it, and let the rava balls steam for about 6 minutes on high heat, until they are plump and cooked through. (Make sure the water doesn’t dry out.) The steamed jaggery rava balls or bellam undrallu are now ready. Transfer them into a serving dish.

NOTES

  1. If you have coconuts at hand, you can add ¼ cup of freshly grated coconut along with the cardamom powder and cashew nuts in step 2.
  2. Try not to over-steam the undrallu in either recipe or they will become hard. 
  3. Store them in an airtight container once they have completely cooled down or else they’ll develop an unpleasant crust if left out in the open once they’ve cool down. They last in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat them in the microwave or by steaming them for a couple of minutes.

Bae is an artist, book author, food writer, and creator of Bae’s Kitchen Show. Find her latest works on Instagram @queenbaeshive.


 

Ganesha’s MahaMementoMori

MahaMementoMori: Fables Beyond COVID’s Warning Wall  – The first in a monthly series that gently reminds us to remember what life would be like if we succumbed to a pandemic. While settings shift from India to America, and characters change as well, each story explores the vital nature of relationships in life and death.

I, Ganesha, have transcribed the entire Mahabharata, so the few hundred words that follow will go by in a prosodic flash.

At 200,000 lines of verse, Vyasa’s great Indian epic (“Maha” means great;  “bharata” is another name for India) is the world’s longest poem. Eons ago when it was written, I agreed to be Vyasa’s scribe on one condition: he had to recite the Mahabharata without pause, barely catching his breath between verses. In turn, the great sage insisted that I understand all that he said before I wrote it down, all in one sitting. In that era, we did not shake hands; we merely exchanged our “Namaskars” and proceeded with the recitation and transcription.

I wrote and wrote until my feather pen broke, but Vyasa continued his dictation unimpeded. Per our agreement, I had to keep up. What to do?  

It is now a matter of common knowledge that I broke off a tusk and used it as my writing utensil. But there were several concerns that I had to address before making this decision: Could I have availed myself to another feather? Had Vyasa been a bit more patient, might I have taken a few minutes to search for a quill of a different sort?  Which one of my tusks, left or right? How painful was it to perform auto-dental surgery? Should I have imbibed bhang or an anesthetic of another sort?

No one has ever asked me these questions except for one man whom I shall call Dr. Devotee (or DD for short).

Over the past many millennia, and most definitely during the past quarter-century in this Silicon Valley mandir that I call home, many have taken my darshan. Some devotees like DD are regular visitors, seeing my elephantine trunk daily. However, most so-called devotees come to me only when they are launching a new enterprise or purchasing their first vehicle; they seek my blessings as the Lord of Beginnings who removes obstacles. I believe this latter group of temple visitors considers me to be some kind of proactive management consultant or preemptive car mechanic. At the end of their Sanskrit prayers, they say in a mix of English, Hindi, Tamil, and a host of other Indian languages, “Please Ganesha-ji, make the journey ahead trouble-free.”

After belonging to the category of regular visitor for many years, one day DD arrived at my mandir teary-eyed. He told Pandit-ji that his mother had been diagnosed with an illness. Pandit-ji brought him to me, did a small puja, and insisted that all would be fine. After Pandit-ji moved on with his evening rituals, I motioned DD to sit and reflect on life. Like many before him, and countless who will follow, he began with an arti:

Jai Ganesha, jai Ganesha, jai Ganesha deva

Mata jaki Parvati … Pita Mahadeva.

When he came to the part about mothers being like my own mother, Parvati, he broke down weeping. I consoled him. Holding back sobs, he continued reciting Pita Mahadeva…fathers are like my father, Shiva.

Dr. Oza and Ganesh at the Sunnyvale Temple.

DD asked me if it was true what Pandit-ji had said, that all would be well with his mother.

I told him that I do away with all obstacles except one — death. There are cancers of different sorts: AdrenocorticalAnalAtypicalteratoid, BoneBrainBreast, LaryngealLiverLung, PancreaticPenileProstate, VaginalVascularVulva. This A-to-V list is sadly longer than the Mahabharata’s cast of villainous characters. To those imploring that I assist with treating carcinomas and metastases, I compassionately say, “Please know two things: (1) I am not an oncologist, just the simple elephant-headed son of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva; and (2) death is not an obstacle, it is samsara’s portal enabling rebirth.” They usually leave vaguely unsatisfied with my response but believing that Gods must know of what we speak.

DD was different. He pondered, “Hmm. Portal. A part of the cycle of life. Yes, death is but a portal. But don’t all of us want our loved ones to stay on this side of that door as long as humanly possible?” With that, he left the temple and returned home to his wife who surely consoled him better than I could.  

After an understandable interregnum, he resumed his regular visits. On the day that DD returned, he placed 101 ladoos near Mushak, the mouse who sits loyally near my feet. Grinning from ear to ear, Mushak inquired about the sweet largesse. DD quietly whispered as if demonic carcinogens would be awoken if he spoke too loudly, “Mom’s cancer is in remission. Jai Ganesha, jai Ganesha, jai Ganesha deva.  Mata jaki Parvati.  Pita Mahadeva.”

Years went by. At our mandir’s 25th anniversary, DD and his wife celebrated with us by bringing along his mother and father.

Years went by. DD and his wife asked Pandit-ji to officiate their children’s weddings.

Years went by. DD and his wife fed all of the temple’s devotees in honor of his father’s 90th birthday, a day when his mother and father renewed their marriage vows in front of friends, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. 

One day, he asked me the unasked questions about the time so long ago when I broke my tusk to complete the Mahabharata. Like all storytellers, I thoroughly enjoyed regaling my audience with the stories of my life. This audience of one patiently listened to my tangents about feathery pens and my embellishments about copious bhang before making a request: “Ganesha-ji, would you kindly serve as my scribe?”  

Stroking my belly, I murmured something about being quite busy with my prominent role in the mandir. He looked crestfallen and said, “I don’t have much time. As such, I’m writing a series of fables about Gods I have prayed to, objects that have served me, words that I’ve written, work I have done, people I have known, the neighborhood I live in, and a garden that nurtures me.”

Intrigued, I said, “Please know we have time.  What is the title of your book?”

Cheered by my interest, he responded, “Memento Mori: Stories Beyond COVID’s Warning Wall.”

My Latin is not as sharp as my Sanskrit, so I asked, “Memento mori? As in ‘remember your death’ is it?”

Dr. Devotee shared the smile of a man who is grateful to be known by another. “Quite right. Remember your death. I hope our readers see themselves in these stories and appreciate every day as if it’s their last.”

Triumphantly, I pointed to the tip of my left half-tusk and said, “Our readers, indeed!  Come here every morning when the mandir opens. You recite. I write. Our readers will have their MahaMementoMori.”


Dr. Raj Oza has written or contributed to: Globalization, Diaspora, and Work TransformationSatyalogue // Truthtalk: A Gandhian Guide to (Post)Modern-Day DilemmasP.S., Papa’s Stories; and Living in America.  He can be reached at satyalogue.com or amazon.com/author/rajoza.