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Modak: A Mix of Old, New and Healthy Ideas

Nandita Iyer

Nandita Iyer
20 August 2020

This article is authored by Nandita Iyer. Nandita is the author of the book The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian and blogs at The Saffron Trail. She has studied medicine and nutrition.

Modak

Modak, kozhukattai, kadubu - Lord Ganesha’s favourite sweet goes by different names in different languages. This is a simple dish with a very few ingredients, but the complexity lies in the artful folding of the rice flour dough around the sweet (or savoury filling) such that it remains intact during the steaming process. It should neither be too thin nor too thick and should be soft and well-cooked after the steaming process. In Marathi cuisine, the steamed modak is known as ukdiche modak as there is also a deep-fried variant that has a golden and crisp outer layer, called tallele modak.

While modak can be made using regular rice flour out of a packet, traditionally, a slightly elaborate process is followed to grind this rice flour. Raw rice is soaked in water for an hour, drained and dried on a cotton towel in the shade. Once nearly dry, with slight moisture remaining, the rice is ground to a fine flour and passed through a sieve to remove any coarse grains. This flour is cooked with water to make a dough and then steam cooked again with the filling inside.

In Tamilian homes, a variety of modak (called kozhukattai) are prepared as part of the Ganesh Chaturthi recipes. Fillings like chana dal and jaggery, sesame seeds and jaggery, savoury urad dal-spices and coconut filling and even a kozhukattai without filling, with just tiny dumplings made using the rice flour, tossed in a spiced podi are few of the varieties.

Given that the two main parts of the modak are the outer cover and the filling, playing around with these two components can lead you to many variations on the modak recipe.

Flavours and colours

Radish

Use rice flour milled using the process described above made from a variety of fragrant traditional rice varieties. A red or brown rice variety will give the modak a more rustic hue.

A pinch of spice like cardamom can be added while grinding the rice flour to infuse the spice into the casing itself. Jaggery, coconut, cardamom can be added to the water boiled to cook the rice flour and these can be shaped into small dumplings, steamed and tossed in ghee with chopped cashews and raisins for a unique take on modak. These sweet dumplings can be added to mildly-sweetened reduced milk to make a modak kheer.

To give the outer casing a colourful twist, add a flower infusion like marigold, rose or butterfly blue pea to the water in which the rice flour is cooked. Similarly, a touch of beet or spinach puree or turmeric can be used too to get colourful modaks.

Savoury kozhukattai

A crumble made of urad dal spiced with green chillies, mustard seeds and asafoetida is traditionally used to make savoury kozhukattai. There is another kind called ammini kozhukattai, where the cooked rice flour is shaped into tiny spheres, steamed and tossed in tempering with spices or in molagapodi and oil.

Play mix and match with the stuffing

When it comes to the filling, you can go either the savoury or sweet route. In a sweet variety, choose from ingredients like jaggery, palm sugar, nuts, dried fruit, sesame seeds, dates, desiccated coconut, khoya, spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg or chai masala. Nuts and seeds can be toasted and coarsely crushed before using as part of filling. A variety of lentils and legumes such as chana dal, moong dal, green moong, black-eyed peas can be cooked and sweetened with jaggery to be used a filling. No matter what the choice of filling ensure that it is fairly dry so that it does not ooze out of the cover during the steaming process.

Cooked chana dal tossed in molagapodi, fresh coconut and toasted peanuts can be a different take on a savoury modak filing. Corn is in season during Ganesh Chaturthi and a filling of cooked and crushed corn sautéed with green chillies, ginger, cumin seeds, curry leaves and salt can be used as a filling too. You can also try open cup-like modaks with this bright yellow corn filling.

As for the Ganesh Chaturthi recipes, while you make the traditional modak or come up with your own recipe for a modak, it is bound to please Lord Ganesha as well as your family. Whether you go the traditional way or opt for an innovative idea, make sure you use pure spices and unpolished dals to make your modak. Tata Sampann offers spices with natural oils and dals that are unpolished to help you achieve the authentic tastes in your every culinary creation.



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