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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
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.
Savory rice laddus or rice balls
Yield: 12 small savory laddus
- 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
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.
- If you don’t have chana dal, then you can use broken cashew nuts.
- 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.
- 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 jaggery laddus or rice balls
Yield: 12 small sweet laddus
- 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
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.
- 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.
- Try not to over-steam the undrallu in either recipe or they will become hard.
- 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.