Navarathri, the festival of nine nights, is a vibrant and colorful Indian harvest festival beginning on the first day after the new moon in the seventh month of the Hindu lunar calendar, usually in September or October. It is a time for prayers, austerities, gatherings, festivities, feasting, music and dance, all honoring the Mother Goddess and the victory of goodness over evil.
Beans take center stage
Harvests are always celebrated with pageantry and ritual in India, and at Navarathri, south India thanks the Mother Goddess for the bounty of a rich harvest of pulse vegetables. Chickpeas, black-eyed peas, urad beans, tuvar beans and mung beans are the major source of protein in the Indian vegetarian diet.
The nine days of celebration feature traditional festive foods. Various sweet and savory dishes are prepared every day as nivedyam, or offerings. Most important among these is sundal, a delicious cooked bean salad seasoned with mustard seeds and curry leaves. An assortment of sundals made with different beans and peas.
Sundal with chickpeas
Traditionally this recipe is prepared with Indian chickpeas, which have a brown skin and are smaller than other types more familiar in the United States. This dish may also be prepared with canned chickpeas. Open the can and wash the beans under running water and drain well. Sprinkle with salt and turmeric and proceed.
Kadala: Spicy Brown Chickpeas
This simple bean dish is a traditional offering at temples during the nine-day Navarathri festival. It is a healthy snack, and it also makes a good side dish for a brunch. Whole garbanzo beans may be substituted for brown Indian chickpeas.
2 cup Indian chickpeas or garbanzo beans
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 dried red cayenne, serrano, or Thai chilies, halved, or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ teaspoon asafetida powder (optional)
12 to 15 fresh curry leaves
2 fresh green chilies (serrano or Thai), thinly chopped (less for a milder taste)
Wash the chickpeas and soak them overnight. Rinse them in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Place them in a saucepan and add water to cover. Sprinkle them with turmeric and cook over medium heat until they are very soft (or cook in a pressure cooker for six minutes or so, following the manufacturer’s directions). Drain well, sprinkle with salt, and set aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start sputtering, add the halved red peppers, asafetida powder, curry leaves, and green chilies, and panfry. Add the drained chickpeas to the pan and mix well. Panfry while stirring continuously for a minute or two. Remove them from the stove. Serve warm or cold.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
This dish may be prepared with canned garbanzo beans. Wash the beans under running water and drain well. Sprinkle them with salt and turmeric and proceed with the recipe above.
Coconut-Mango Sundal: Another variation is to add grated coconut and raw mango slices to the beans. To prepare this recipe, fry the spices, and add two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice along with the drained chickpeas. Panfry for a minute or two while stirring continuously. Remove from them the stove. Add one medium-sized raw green mango (cut into small cubes) and half a cup of freshly grated coconut and stir gently to mix. Garnish with chopped cilantro leaves. Serve warm or cold.