Vishu, following a tradition I cherish

Have you ever experienced that feeling, when a particular flavour, a distinct aroma , a special taste makes an indelible mark on you.  A warm fuzzy feeling envelopes you and you think I am going to remember this moment forever?  I have had lots of these moments. The festival of Vishu is one of those poignant memories and a tradition I try to follow to the best of my ability because I want my children to cherish it too.

For me the sights, sounds, aromas and fragrances of Vishu in Kerala are definitely archived in the recesses of my brain and are opened every year in April when it’s time for Vishu.  At the crack of dawn or even earlier, my mother would lead me with my eyes closed to see our Vishu Kani and my dad would give me my Vishu Kainettam (money) and Vishu Kodi (new clothes).  P.Leela’s rendering of the  Narayaneeyam would be playing in the background with the fragrance of sandalwood joss sticks pervading the air.  Beautiful yellow Vishu Konna (cassia Fistula – Golden shower tree) blossoms are a sight to behold and can bring tears to every homesick Malayali’s eyes.  Then came the special Vishu sadya (feast served on banana leaves).  We always made a simple Vishu sadya at home.  It always included Mambazha Pullisseri (a ripe mango curry made with sour yoghurt), fresh banana chips redolent with the beautiful aroma of coconut oil,  thoran (Sauteed finely chopped beans, cabbage or other vegetables tempered with crushed coconut, green chillies and curry leaves), chena kootu (elephant foot yam curry) and the king of all payasams ‘palada prathaman’.  If we were lucky enough, we got to go watch a new festival release blockbuster of Mammooty or Mohanlal.


As I write this, sitting in my house in West Byfleet, England on a cold spring morning ( the weather forecast promises bright sunshine and highs of 20’s today) and listening to the Narayaneeyam rendered by Chethalloor Edamana Vasudevan Namboodiri, I can say that I have tried to keep the tradition alive.  Shiv and I went shopping in Hounslow, near Heathrow yesterday and tried to get everything we needed for Vishu today.  I managed to get ripe mangoes, banana leaves, jasmine flowers, Kerala cucumber vellarikka) and vazha thandu (banana tree pith).  Sadly, ‘Best Foods’ the Sri Lankan grocery where we did our shopping, did not have Konna flowers so I had to make do with beautiful, scented, very British daffodils.

My mother is with us this year so she is cooking a simple Vishu sadya which will include mambhazha pullisseri, chena kootu, vazha thandu thoran, palada payasam and parripu vada.  Find below the recipes for mambazha pullisseri and chena and vazhakka kootu.

Mambazha Pullisseri (ripe mango in a spiced coconut and yoghurt sauce)

What do  I need to make it?

  • 2  ripe mangoes peeled, deseeded and sliced
  • 200 gms Kerala cucumber (vellarikka) or white pumpkin (ash gourd) peeled, deseeded and cubed
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste

To be ground to a paste and blended

  • 1 cup freshly grated coconut
  • 2 to 3 green finger chillies (depending on how hot you want it)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 500ml  natural live yoghurt

For the tempering

  • 1/4 tsp  mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp  fenugreek (methi) seeds
  • 1/2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 8 to 10 curry leaves

How much will I make?

Serves 4

How do I make it?

Grind the coconut, the cumin seeds and green chilies to a fine paste, blend with the yogurt and set aside.   Boil the cubed pumpkin or Kerala cucumber in about 400 ml of water.  Let the pumpkin/ash gourd cook till they are cooked through but still firm.   At this stage add the slices of ripe mango with salt, turmeric powder and the chilli powder.  Mango cooks quickly so at this stage add your yogurt and ground coconut mixture. Add a little more water to a get a semi thick consistency.  Lower the flame and simmer for a few minutes. Heat coconut oil in a small pan. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds.  Add the fenugreek seeds and the curry leaves when the mustard seeds begin to pop.  Pour the tempering into the simmering pot, check seasoning and remove from heat.  Serve hot with rice

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 Chena and Vazhakka Kootu (elephant foot yam and raw banana kootu)

What do I need to make it?

  • 250 gms elephant foot yam peeled and cut into cubes
  • 250 gms  raw bananas peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1/2 tsp  chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp  ground turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp powdered jaggery (brown sugar)
  • Salt to taste

To be made into a paste

  • 1 cup  freshly grated coconut
  • 1/2 tsp  cumin seeds

For the tempering

  • 1/2 tbsp coconut Oil
  • 3 tbs  freshly grated coconut
  • 1/2 tsp  mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp- split urad dhal
  • 8 to 10 curry leaves

How much will I make?

Serves 4

How do I make it?

Grind the coconut and cumin seeds to a paste and set aside.  Boil the yam and the raw banana cubes in about 500 ml water with the turmeric powder, salt , brown sugar and chilly powder.  When the vegetables have cooked add the coconut and cumin paste.  Mix well, lower the flame and simmer.  Now for the tempering.  Heat coconut oil in a separate pan.  When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. Add the urad dhal, curry leaves and grated coconut and saute till the coconut is a golden brown and emits a wonderful aroma.  Add the tempering to the simmering pot, adjust seasoning and remove from heat.  Serve as an accompaniment to the ripe mango curry along with rice.

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