Sep 10, 2016 CANADA (SUN) A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.
The Coconut Palm is often referred to as kalpa vriksha, a tree that supplies all one's needs like a wish-fulfilling tree, and cutting these trees down was forbidden in ages past. There are many references to coconuts in ancient writings. Studies of agriculture at Harappa suggest coconuts were cultivated there. The coconut palm is mentioned in the Agni Purana, and in the Sangam literature.
As we mentioned in our earlier series on Brinjal, in 1485 A.D., Terakanambi Bommarasa described a preparation of brinjal bhartha made with eggplant, coconut shreds, curry leaves, and cardamom, and flavored with citrus juice and camphor, which was served at royal feasts. In fact, many of the brinjal recipes featured in that 3-part series pair coconut and eggplant together, because the flavors are so complimentary.
Various historical references are found to coconut honey, a substance like jaggery that is made by collecting the sap of the Coconut Palm tree, boiling it done, and reducing it to a honey-like jelly. The stuff was also considered a good preservative, and it was traded throughout the Middle East and Asia for use in halva.
We mentioned yesterday that the coconut's 'spoon meat' is commonly taken along with hot chilis. Similarly, there is mention in ancient writings of a milk produced by soaking grated coconut meat in water, seasoning it with hippali (long pepper), then grinding and finely sieving the mixture as a cooling beverage.
While coconut has a great range of uses in sabjis, savouries and the like, it is perfectly suited as an ingredient for sweets. In Vedic cooking, coconut is grated together with spices and mixed with flour and jaggery or sugar to make various fried puffs like karachikai, mandige, malidi and sakkere burude. In the Vijayanagara region, preps like kadubu, idli, and karajikai were made from a similar mixture of ingredients.
In Caitanya-caritamrta we read about lumps of flaked coconut meat that were coated in jaggery for sweetmeats, and mixed with all sorts of other sweeteners and aromatic spices. Damayanti filled Raghava's bag with such sweetmeats for Lord Caitanya to enjoy while traveling, and these included confections made of powdered coconut (Antya 10.25).
In the wonderful text, Govinda-lilamrta, often quoted in this series, we find several passages describing preparations made for Krsna that feature coconut. The Rasa-tarangini Tika, Chapter 19, slokas 50-51, gives the recipes for preparing some of these coconut sweets:
"Karpura keli —First yogurt is added to boiling milk to make curd. Then rice powder, yogurt, black pepper, sugar, ground coconut, jatiphala (a fragrant spice), cardamom, cloves and bananas are mixed into a paste. Next mung dahl is ground into powder, rolled in the above mentioned ingredients, and fried in ghee, adding honey and camphor.
Amrita keli—Ripe bananas, kalai-dahl powder, ground coconut and pepper are added to think milk. Then cardamom, cloves, jatiphala, cinnamon and camphor are added. These ingredients are fried in ghee and later fried in sugar water."
And in Govinda-lilamrta verses 88-109 we read about shashkuli, a rice cake made from bananas, coconut and cream. There's also a type of dumpling (bataka) that Radharani made, and which is described by Rohini:
"Here are cakes made by boiling chickpea flour, mashing it, and then frying it in ghee with ground coconut and spices some are soft and others are hard."
Another reference to shashkuli is found in the Sudashastra, an ancient manuscript cited by Chakrapanidatta, a physician from Meghalaya around 1080 A.D. It describes shashkuli as a preparation made from large white rice, sesame and a kind of honey known as apupa, but this sounds like a different preparation altogether.
There are many other references in Caitanya-caritamrta to coconut confections. For example, in Madhya 3.48 is described a very sweet preparation made with coconut pulp (narikela-sasya) mixed with curd and rock candy. Madhya 15.215 mentions a coconut cake preparation, narikela-puli. And in Antya 10.125 is described mukuta narikela, hard sweets made of coconut that were prepared by the devotees in Bengal and offered to Mahaprabhu at Jagannatha Puri by Govinda dasa.
The mukuta narikela hard confections may be similar to a simple hard coconut toffee, which is made by boiling ½ cup of jaggery in ½ cup water until a scum forms. Skim that off and add 1 cup of dessicated coconut, and cook on low heat for five minutes, stirring constantly. Add a few drop of any aromatic, like vanilla or cardamom essence. When the mixture thickens and starts leaving the sides of the pan, spread it out on a greased plate to cool, then cut or break into pieces, and offer.
Here's another coconut confection that's a little more complex in flavor, but still very simple to make:
Gujarati Coconut Fudge
4 Tblsp. Ghee
1 cup Wheat Flour
1 cup grated Coconut
1 cup Jaggery
½ cup Coconut Milk or Cream
1 Tblsp. Poppy seeds
8 green Cardamoms, skinned and powdered
a few blanched Almonds, chopped
a few Pistachios, ground
In a little ghee, lightly fry the flour and coconut. Melt the jaggery in the coconut milk, then stir in the flour and grated coconut. Cook on low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Add the poppy seeds and cardamom, and when the mixture starts leaving the sides of the pan, turn it out on a greased plate. Spread the mixture flat, and garnish with nuts.
4 cups regular Flour (maida)
1/4 cup Ghee
1/2 cup Water
Salt to taste
3 Coconuts, grated
2-1/4 cups Jaggery
4 Tblsp. Semolina
1 tsp. Mustard Seeds
1 tsp. Cardamom powder
1 cup Ghee
Grind the grated coconut, without adding water, to a fine powder. Knead the maida with water, oil and salt into a soft dough. Cover with a wet cloth and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat ½ cup water and melt the jaggery. In a little ghee, fry the mustard seeds till they splutter, then add the semolina and fry for a few minutes, to darken. Add the powdered coconut and jaggery syrup and mix well. Add the cardamom powder and keep stirring, until the mixture is no longer sticky, then remove from the heat and let it cool, and it will harden a bit.
Next, make balls out of the dough, about the size of a lime. Flour the ball a little and roll out into a small round. Put a small ball of the coconut mixture in the center of the disc, and fold the edges inward to cover it. Using a little more flour, again roll the dough out into a disc, to a thickness like chapatti. Fry the roti on a griddle smeared with ghee, until both sides are golden brown and crispy.