Ramadan Kareem! My blog is the busiest at this time of the year and it has become a ritual of sorts picking and planning on what to share with you. This year, I started looking into recipes from my parents’ time. A few of them were dishes Umma made only during Ramadan too. With all the recipes out there, I was convinced that there would be some variation of this drink on the internet. It is part of planning process to see how many variations of the recipe are available and only pick to publish those recipes that aren’t too common to avoid adding more to the mainstream. So imagine my surprise when I found no recipe even remotely similar to this. I did a quick pop quiz with the above photograph too with the grand prize of a sinfully chocolate cake freshly baked. Alright, I did make it difficult and gave the bare minimum clues. I thought given the few ingredients seen, I would have at least one right guess. The guesses bordered on the dessert spectrum including panna cottas and cheesecakes. Nothing remotely traditional except for one lovely lady who suggested a beverage particularly given to increase lactation in new mums. If you’ve drunk that, I’m wincing with you too.
Everyone, meet Chakkara Paalu. Vellima had this made for her only son every day during the holy month and it was the sole reason Vappa would wake up for the Suhour meal. In Umma’s house it was a part of the celebrations of Eid-Ul-Fitr and was had to end lunch on a sweet note. It’s made from bananas native to South India combined with melted jaggery and fresh coconut milk and stirred coconut meat. Umma would make this particularly during Ramadan for Vappa and I would happily skip dinner for a couple of glasses to myself. In fact, I would stick my share into the refrigerator for a half hour after it was prepared and indulged myself with a spoon. It has tiny lumps of banana which would weigh down in the glass and I didn’t quite like forcing it to the top via gravity. I preferred picking and chewing on them at leisure. The ingredients sound rather basic (right?) but believe me, this is something you have to try once.
Given the recipes I’ve seen and written from both my grandmothers’ repertoire, sugar was never one of them. At least not in the form we use today. Jaggery was what was used to sweeten recipes. The juice extracted from the sugarcane is prepared exactly how you’d prepare caramel. It’s boiled in humongous vessels for hours and over high heat to allow the water content to evaporate. It boils down to a sticky paste which is ladled on flat surfaces, cooled and then moulded into blocks or mounds. The taste from jaggery is deeply mellow, in comparison to sharp spike of sweetness of white sugar. It is very similar to Maple Syrup but the consistency, when melted, is much heavier and thicker.
When it comes to Jaggery, I’ve learnt to pick the darkest looking mound available. It will be the most purest form of extraction and the least refined. A lighter gradation is directly proportional to its refinement as is the case of white sugar. At home, a block of Jaggery is placed in a saucepan with water and left to melt for a while till it foams and is reduced to viscous gold. It is always strained before storing to separate sand(!) particles and assorted minuscle grime. The sieving stage is another litmus for the test of jaggery quality. You shouldn’t unearth, quite literally, a lot of particles while sieving if it is a good one. Invariably during Ramadan, Umma used to melt jaggery in bulk and refrigerate it for quite a few recipes, the culmination being for Payasam on the day of Eid.
Convenience has shortened hours we spend in the kitchen. Gadgets blend, puree, whisk, extract, chop, slice, spiral and even (my favourite!) wash up after we’re done. And with all the time we have saved, there is still a million things to plan for and schedule and complete and yet, it is never enough. We’re all wishing for longer hours in the day, especially when you have children. I think about how things were so different in the home kitchen in Kerala even half a century ago. Close to none of these inventions existed and yet menus, simple and elaborate were made. Meals where tiny stones are picked and sieved from rice and lentils and fish scaled and cleaned in under 20 minutes. Where hand powdered rice is transformed into dough with the help of boiled water and paves the way for scores of options for breakfast and dinner, coconuts cracked and their meat grated by the dozen and sun soaked spices ground on the Ammi Kallu. Piping hot meals prepared on an open hearth made it to the table like clockwork. All this, and more, done with only bare hands.
When I think of traditional recipes, one of the sore points for me is the extraction of coconut milk. Sure, even that is available in cans with the option of Organic too. But when convenience replaces the old-school method, the flavor I’m hoping to savor from memory is almost always lost. There is a Naadan Parippu, a Moong Dal Curry I can eat for days, where freshly squeezed coconut milk is added to the mushy-beyond-recognition lentils in the very end, right before tempering. And the first time I made this adding milk from a can, I felt defeat. When a dish as simple as dal is cooked entirely differently 275 km south from your hometown in Kerala and you’re desperately cooking it for familiarity and comfort, I learnt why coconut milk has to be made from scratch. It was barely a quarter of a cup but it made a world of difference to me. Now, I will take the luxury of buying freshly grated coconut. A few tablespoons of warm water is blended briskly with coconut meat to ease extraction. I bought a tea strainer and set it aside exclusively for sieving coconut milk. Umma says back in the days the meat would be squeezed tightly between palms with a few drops of warm water to extract the thickest milk. That’s when I thought a muslin cloth would do my job and involves minimal mess. I get more volume compared to straining from the sieve and it’s far easier to clean. It spoils pretty easily even in the refrigerator so I’m guilty of adding more than what is required when I’m cooking. Let me tell you no dish of mine has ever been ruined by that.
When I think about the meals we had in Kerala over the summer school break, there isn’t a meal without bananas. In the form of Plaintains, or Robasta, a parrot green skinned variety similar to Chiquita and of course, Cheru Pazham. It’s a smaller banana that is very soft and has a note of tanginess at the end. Ali loves these and we’ve named them baby bananas. Marrying into Trivandrum exposed me to varieties of banana I hadn’t eaten before and the fact that these bananas are called Rasakadali. It took me three attempts to write that down here so I don’t even try pronouncing that.
I do remember, very clearly, while washing up after eating lunch, Vellima would call out to either Umma or my brother and I to have one baby banana. I’d eat it depending on my mood and if I didn’t eat one she’d remind me persistently to have one every hour. I did love it squeezed into my Puttu and Umma would sprinkle sugar on top and give me a spoon. It has a rather slimy texture once squished and I didn’t fancy using my fingers then.
To safeguard the sanctity of this recipe, I’m using only my hands to prepare this milkshake. You could use a hand blender but I cannot guarantee a similar experience of satiety. To assist in the instructions given below, I’m hoping these step-by-step photographs will help elaborate the process.
Let’s begin. Start by adding three peeled bananas into a daily large bowl. Gently, using your fingertips, coarsely mash the bananas. You could use a potato masher but I’d rather you not be a spoil sport. The banana pulp will start becoming a bit watery so continue till the texture resembles the photograph above. If you’re doing this for the first time, I’m stressing on being gentle, because we do want small bits of pulp to chew on in the very end.
Begin adding two teaspoons of melted jaggery and continue mashing and mixing the pulp together. Since the jaggery is melted, it will make the consistency a bit more fluid as you continue mixing. Now begin adding coconut milk, a little at a time, and continue blending with your fingertips, being gentle all the while.
This is what it would like after 2 minutes of slow blending. I’ve added close to a cup of coconut milk in parts and blended before adding them in increments. It is very important that it looks like a slightly thick batter and there are yet there are tiny lumps of banana. Test for sweetness and add more jaggery if required.
At this stage, you are done with blending. Finally add grated coconut and give it a quick mix. There’s no limitation to how much coconut you add and I love my coconut so I sprinkle a little over the top right before drinking it.
My husband is the rare breed of Malayali that doesn't like coconut milk or anything colored 'brown' with jaggery. Ali didn't quite understand why I would crush his baby bananas to make this and was concerned I'd used them all. Now that you knows exactly what goes into it, be my guest and burst my bubble if this is something you've eaten or even know that exists. For now, I am pleased to be the first one blessing the Internet with this recipe.
- Rasakadali or Lady Finger Banana - 3
- Freshly squeezed Coconut milk - 1 ½ cup
- Melted jaggery - To taste
- Fresh grated Coconut - ½ cup
- Take a large bowl and put the peeled bananas.
- Using your fingers or a potato masher, break down the bananas until they’re a bit watery and mushy with large pieces of pulp.
- Add 2 teaspoon of melted jaggery and mix well.
- Start by adding 1/4 cup of coconut milk and mash the mixture.
- Continue blending with fingers till the mixture is similar to a puree adding coconut milk as required. It should still have small pieces of banana pulp.
- Test the mixture for sweetness.
- If it needs more sweetness, add the melted jaggery, a teaspoon at a time blending well and tasting before the next addition.
- Finally add the grated coconut and give a final mix.
- Ladle into glasses and add half a teaspoon of jaggery
- If you love coconut, sprinkle grated coconut on top.
- Serve immediately.
- This recipe cannot be made before hand as the bananas will begin blackening after a while.
- I like having this chilled so I refrigerate it immediately after preparation and consume it within an hour.
Have a good food day.