CHEF VELU'S ONAM THALI
Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala, is here and it's time for sharing the Malayali pride – the mouth-watering vegetarian dishes that stand as a signature for the OnamSadya.
While standard fare for the OnamSadya served on the banana leaf has 26 dishes, it is interesting to note that vegetarian fare all over Kerala has different flavours. However most famous is Travancore-style Onamsadya which is most "disciplined" and tradition-bound. Here in Delhi Chef Velu Murugan of ITC Dakshin at Sheraton shares his menu with us. Chef Velu belongs to North Kerala but has found his own niche with his brilliance at creating South Indian cuisine to suit all palates.
"In the olden days in Kerala 26 dishes were served," says Chef Velu, "but now we are looking at 17 or 19 dishes, because people are conscious of what they eat."
Velu affirms that the traditional sadya has a beauty about how it's served, which makes it visually appealing to those who savour it. Chips and pickles go on the leaf first and then, in clockwise order, inji (Ginger and tamarind) curry, pickles, three varieties of kichadi (cucumber with mustard, beetroot with ginger and bitter gourd with garlic), two pachadis, thoran, avial, and koottu curry. Velu will make a thalichathu (lentil) parippu and serve it with pappadums and a small spoonful of ghee. On his OnamSadya platter will be an irresistible Payaruthoran, koottu curry, beensmayakaparetti, kaalan, aviyal, a coconut milk based out of Olan (mélange of vegetables), an errusery, rasam, pineapple pachadi and a tempered buttermilk.
"Each curry gets priority," says Velu. "Olan, which is a light curry made with ash gourd and coconut milk, is said to have medicinal properties. Rasam and buttermilk too aids in digestion, over the years people like these dishes best so it has stayed," he adds. Interestingly, none of these dishes have onion, garlic or masalas, its only green chillies and curry leaves, and vegetables done to perfection – reminiscent of the Brahmin lifestyles in Central Kerala.
And how does one enjoy the traditional OnamSadya? With your hands, the rice and vegetables must be mixed with vegetables and gravies into small morsels and enjoyed. The mouth watering array of various vegetables can be concluded with two payasams made by Chef Velu. The Parippapradhaman consisting of cooked roasted lentils, jagery sweetened with coconut milk as well as Paal Adai – a heavenly dessert of steamed rice flakes cooked in milk with a hint of cardamom.
At ITC Dakshin you are also given a beautiful fragrant garland of jasmines that you can adorn your hair with. In an age of selfies, click a picture amongst the flowers, Dakshin looks its robust best on Onam with flowers created for an unforgettable afternoon. Ideally on Onam you should wear a Kerala kasava sari/mundu to add to the mood and the feeling of celebrating Kerala's greatest festival that spells and binds all the communities and people as one secular crowd.