Come January and it is time for Makara Sankranthi which is one of India’s most significant harvest festivals. Celebrated as Lohri in Punjab, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Bihu in Assam, this festival officially marks the end of the winter solstice and the movement of the Sun into the “Makara” Rashi. A time for food and festivities, it is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar.
No celebration of festivals is complete without the mention of food. In Karnataka, the festival is intrinsically associated with ‘yellu-bella’ (a mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery), sugarcane, avarekai (hyacinth beans) and sakkare achu (sugar candies). In Tamil Nadu, the preparation of Sakkare Pongal takes centre stage apart from specialities like Akkaravadisal and Thiruvadhirai Kootu while Amala aka gooseberry rasam is prepared in Andhra Pradesh. Apart from south India it is Puran Poli in Maharashtra, Undhiyu in Gujarat, Pathishapta in Bengal and Til (Sesame) laddoos in Punjab. Another signature dish of Sankranthi is Atharasa or Adhirasam or Ariselu that is prepared on the festival in South India. It is also known as Anarsa in Maharashtra as well as Bihar and Arisa Pitha in Odisha.
The preparation of this dessert during the harvest time also has a scientific rationale and nutritional reasoning. “During Shankranti, the freshly harvested rice grains have a high moisture content which causes digestion issues. Hence our ancestors devised the recipe of Ariselu which makes use of the freshly harvested rice in the right way. Moreover, addition of sesame seeds ensures the balance of the body temperature in winter. It is also a good source of energy and supports bone health which is much needed during festival preparations” says Chef Varun MB, Executive Chef, Novotel Hyderabad Airport.
Made from rice and jaggery, this dessert is akin to a deep fried pastry, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. “Rice is white and is symbolic of Vishnu and Chandra (moon), jaggery on the other hand represents Rudra, so Atharasa is a very unique dish that is made from these two ingredients. These contrasting elements make it auspicious and an offering of 33 numbers of this sweet is equivalent to donating Bhoomi (land)” says Badri Achar, chief priest, Kalyani Raghavendra Mutt, Bangalore.
- Raw rice – 1 cup
- Powdered jaggery -1 cup
- Water- 3/4 cup
- 1 tsp roasted white sesame seeds/poppy seeds/ pepper (optional)
- Cooking oil to fry
- Soak the rice for about 6 hours. You can also soak it overnight but ensure you change the water once in 4 hours to avoid fermentation.
- Drain the water and dry on a clean cloth under the shade.
- When the rice is still wet, transfer to a mixer and grind into a fine powder. Cover and keep so that the flour retains the moisture.
- Heat water in a thick bottomed pan and once it starts boiling add the jaggery powder. Stir until thick.
- If the jaggery syrup coagulates into a ball when a drop is put into water, switch off the flame else boil it for a couple of minutes more until you get the consistency.
- Now add the rice flour into the syrup slowly in batches and mix well. Add pepper or sesame seeds or poppy seeds and mix well.
- The batter will be loose and moist. Transfer it into an air tight container and allow it to rest for at least for 12-14 hours. The dough then becomes soft. If it is too hard you can add a small quantity of mashed banana to make it soft, it is too watery you can add a tbsp of wheat/refined flour to make it soft.
- Divide into the dough lemon size balls. Grease a plastic sheet and your fingers. Place the ball on the sheet, and pat it down to a poori size and deep fry.
- You can simmer for a while until you know that the inside is cooked, flip over till both sides are golden brown.
Another version of this article was published in The Goya Journal. Here’s wishing all my readers and bountiful Sankranthi!