Aravanai (with chak hao rice)
When your mother’s uncle is the head priest of Srirangam Ranganathar Temple, what benefits do you get? No doubt, you get close and frequent darshan of Lord Ranganatha bypassing all the crowds. But for us kids in our early teens, it was not the darshan that was exciting, but the goodies that we got from the madappalli or the temple kitchen. Quite often, my grandmother would just send word to her brother and these mouth watering delicacies would find their way to her house after the Lord had partaken of the same. Sometimes we would be asked to go and fetch the sambara dosai or the other offerings from the Madapalli and then, that would become an outing in itself. I distinctly remember being sent out around 9.30-10 pm to fetch the “aravanai” from the temple. This is a delicious sweet rice item similar to the sakkara pongal which the Lord would bless just before the closing of the temple at night. We would wait excitedly, playing on the sands in the huge grounds of the temple, patiently waiting to be summoned to the madappalli to get this delicious prasadam to take home to the elders who were waiting eagerly at home to eat this before going to bed. Of course, we would surreptitiously taste little bits of the aravanai and it would be a fairly reduced quantity that would reach home. I am sure our sticky fingers and the reduced quantity would give us away, but at that age we thought we had gotten away with it.
This sweet dish is normally made with white rice, jaggery and ghee but I have decided to experiment with some traditional artisanal rice varieties of our country and so here goes my aravanai made with the Chak Hao Poreiton, a traditional rice from Manipur.
The chak hao has many varieties and poreiton is one such variety. Also called forbidden rice as only royalty was permitted to eat this rice, this is a beautiful, deep purple long grain rice and requires pre soaking for about 8 hours before cooking. I didn’t want to lose any of the purple colour and so soaked it in the cooking water itself after washing it. This purple colour is due to the presence of anthocyanins which gives anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer benefits. It is said that if you use the different traditional varieties of rice in your daily cooking then you will not have any micro nutrient deficiencies as each variety of rice offers different micro nutrient benefits.
Rice (Chak Hao Poreiton) – 1 cup
Jaggery – 1 cup
Cashews – 15
Ghee – 3- 4 tbsp
Cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp
Wash the rice and soak overnight in 3 cups of cooking water. Next morning cook the rice in the pressure cooker for 10-15 whistles. Remove from cooker and strain the excess water if any. The chak hao is a sticky rice but once you drain the excess water it is fine for aravanai. Don’t waste this water as it is highly nutritious. (I used the excess water to mix my atta and along with some spices made it into a paratha dough). Spread the rice and add a tsp of ghee so that it doesn’t stick together. Fry the cashews in a little bit of ghee and set aside. In a small pot add the jaggery and 1/4 cup of water. When it melts strain through a tea stainer into a kadai to remove impurities, if any. Allow it to come to a rolling boil and when the jaggery is the consistency of a soft ball type when a drop is put into a bowl of water, add the rice and keep stirring. It will become watery after adding rice. Keeping stirring and when it becomes thick add 2 tbsp ghee and continue stirring. Add cardamom and fried cashews. When done, the rice will be separate but will be gooey and a little crunchy as it has cooked in thick syrup.
The aroma and other properties of this fragrant rice cooked in the jaggery makes this a very rich sweet even though not too much ghee has been used.