Dubai: Today marks the beginning of the nine-day long Indian festival – Navaratri. It is a Sanskrit language word, which translates to nine nights, and every Indian state celebrates it in a unique way.
When 59-year-old Indian expat Sonia Kotwal first moved to the UAE, 27 years ago, she worried about celebrating one of her favourite festivals here. "I wondered what I would cook and where I would source the ingredients from," she recalled.
Devotees who fast during this period abstain from eating grains, onion, garlic and certain spices for all nine days. Basically, food that is difficult to digest.
Today, Kotwal celebrates this festival with her friends and family by preparing traditional dishes, as she would back in India.
The festival falls during the seasonal transition on the Indian subcontinent. This period calls for eating healthy and nutritious meals, and what better than a plant-based diet. According to Ayurveda (Indian alternative medicine system), the human body is susceptible to imbalances during seasonal transitions. Observing a fast or eating lightly is an excellent way to detoxify and build immunity for the months to come.
With a degree in nutrition and a focus on healthy eating, Kotwal eats one meal during the nine-day celebration, most of it being low-fat but nutritious.
"There are many alternatives to grains, like kuttu ke atta (buckwheat flour) roti or flatbreads, yoghurt, different types of berries and fruits," added Kotwal. She also said that the UAE is very accommodating when it comes to such celebrations. "Every ingredient is readily available and these days, literally at the click of a button [referring to shopping apps]," Kotwal said.
Gulf News reader Kiran Kataria cooks up a storm during this festival by preparing dishes such as aloo ki sabzi (spiced potatoes), sago tikka (deep-fried tapioca pearls), sago kheer (tapioca based pudding), kuttu ke ate ki puri (buckwheat flour deep-fried breads), singhade ke atte ka halwa (water chestnuts dessert), sweet potato chaat (tangy boiled sweet potato) to name a few.
Like many other celebrations, Navaratri is when families and friends come together to break their fast and bond over meals. Meals that are traditionally cooked in large quantities to ensure everyone around is fed well. Kataria said: "We wait the entire year for this festival. Although many fast, we have plenty of tasty and healthy alternatives which we cook for our near and dear ones."
Navaratri is a festival that celebrates the deity Durga and her nine forms. Here are a list of recipes you can try this Navaratri:
Sabudana Khichdi: This is a popular dish which originated in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. It is prepared by soaking tapioca pearls or sabudana in water and then tempering it with curry leaves, cumin, green chillies, boiled potatoes and roasted peanuts. The peanuts add a slight crunch to this rather soft and chewy dish. It is best paired with sweetened yoghurt and makes for a sumptuous meal. Here is the recipe.
Sabudana vada: Another tapioca dish that is deep-fried and often served as an appetiser. Prepared by binding boiled potatoes, tapioca pearl with cumin seeds, black salt and green chilli, sabudana vada has a crunchy outer layer with soft inner bites. Dip it in freshly made coriander chutney or imli chutney and take it up a notch. Here is a recipe that you can try at home.
Rajgira puri: A puri is a deep-fried Indian bread that is often prepared as a celebratory dish. However, during the nine day long fast, the usual whole-wheat flour is replaced with a plant-based flour called Rajgira or Amaranth. This savoury bread is best enjoyed with a gravy-based dish or simply alongside a dessert. Learn how to make them by with this recipe.
Aloo or tamatar ki sabzi: This is the most common yet popular gravy dish in an Indian meal. During Navratri one can prepare this dish with as little as five ingredients in less than 30 minutes. Best paired with puris, they also taste well with steamed basmati rice. You can now make this at home with this recipe.
Kache Kele ke Kebab: A shallow fried savoury dish, this kebab is made with raw bananas or plantain. Moving away from the more traditional savouries, this unique recipe is sure to be a hit with your loved ones. All you need is a bowl full of freshly ground coriander chutney to dip it in. Here is the recipe to try at home.
If you would like to explore some other cuisines or tastes, using the ingredients usually consumed during Navaratri, then try...
Spicy potato bhaji - you can subsitute the potato for sweet potato, equally delicious!
Lemon rice but swap the rice for konjac rice, quinoa or tapioca pearls
Note: This article was first published in October, 2021
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