Ganesha is famous world over as the “Elephant God” of India and pretty popular at that. I have had friends from Belgium, Germany and some other parts of the globe who love this Indian deity and have even set his statues up at their homes.
For those unaware, Ganesha has a lot of stories to his credit and some are extremely interesting ones. He has stories around his love for Modaks (a sweet delicacy), his broken tusk, his odd structure of having an elephant head and human body, the presence of a mouse around him at all times, having a snake tied around his stomach and so many others. He is also credited as being the friendliest of all Indian gods to boost.
Every year, sometime in the months of August or September, the festival celebrating Ganesha takes place. The dates aren’t usually fixed. They are usually based on the alignment of the stars. Celebrations include bringing an idol of Ganesha, decorating the setting where he is placed, having friends and family over to pay their respects to him, cooking his favourite delicacy of Modaks and offering them as “Prasad” (something that is considered blessed by the god and offered as a good omen), singing songs in praise of the God, playing musical instruments – one such authentic instrument you generally here in the state of Maharashtra is called the “Nashik Dhol” and engaging in helping the less privileged.
The festival lasts for 10 days but idols are generally bought home by people for 1, 3 5, 7 days depending on their convenience post which, the idols are taken for immersion in water with songs and merriment and prayers asking the god to return as early as possible again. The moments can be very overwhelming for some and tears aren’t uncommon. The joy of hosting the deity and the celebrations create an aura that is indescribable.
We have been hosting Ganesha at our home for 8 years now and it feels just like yesterday that we bought home the first ever Ganesha idol. I remember how complicated it was since I went hunting precisely a week prior for the idol (usually you need to place bookings a couple of months in advance) and I was fixated on getting an eco-friendly version as opposed to the ceramic option. But somehow, everything fell into place smoothly and it reinstated my belief that if you really want something, the universe will always find you a way.
Anyhow, this was our 8th year of celebrations and every year, on the 2nd day of the event, I have a self-made ritual of making the traditional “Ukdiche Modaks” that all folk fore say were Ganesha’s favourites. “Ukdiche” is a Marathi word meaning “Steamed”. These modaks are cooked by steaming and are a bit technical to make but once you get the technique right, they are pretty easy.
These are made using rice flour and hence, are Gluten free. They consist of fresh coconut, Palm sugar or Jaggery – Natural sweetners and are flavoured with natural spices of cardamom, saffron and nutmeg. This is one of the healthiest sweet dishes I have ever encountered. Some traditional recipes have had logic and meaning in their creation by our ancestors and this is definitely one of them.
Here’s updating my recipe of “Ukdiche Modak”. The recipe is pretty much as how any normal Maharashtrian home would make it. I haven’t really added any of my personal inputs to it but I think it really deserves attention in the food circuit especially in today’s times when sweets are majorly available as processed foods.
GANESHA’S UKDICHE MODAKS
For the Outer covering:
- Finely ground Basmati Rice flour – 1 cup (*Make sure the flour is extremely fine. Coarse flour results in the dough tearing off
- Ghee or Oil – 1 tablespoon
- Salt – a pinch
- Water – 1.5 cups [Approx 250-300ML]
For the Filling
- Freshly grated coconut – 1 cup
- Palm sugar / Jaggery – ½ cup
- Freshly ground cardamom – 4-5 pinches
- Freshly grated Nutmeg – 2-3 pinchs
- A few strands saffron – dissolved in ½ teaspoon of warm milk
For the Filling
- In a wok kept for heating, add in the grated coconut and Palm sugar.
- Stir well till the Palm sugar liquefies and forms a homogenous mixture with the coconut. Should be a few minutes. Do not use a high flame for this.
- Add in the saffron, cardamom and nutmeg powders.
- Stir well. Ensure that the heat isn’t too high as that might burn the coconut.
- Stir for a couple of minutes and take off the stove.
- Keep aside to cool.
For the Outer covering
- Boil the water in a wide mouthed vessel that has a little height (a flat vessel may be difficult to mix well in) with the oil/ghee and salt added to it.
- As soon as the water comes to a rigorous boil stage, tip in the rice flour and using a whisk, stir the mixture very quickly.
- You need to have smooth dough being formed. Make sure the flame isn’t too high at this stage else the flour dough may stick and burn.
- The dough should essentially form into a ball inside the vessel.
- Once this happens, take the dough ball out onto a well-oiled marble/smooth surface.
- Oil your palms and quickly knead the dough ball well to ensure a homogenous mix free of any lumps. This might be difficult as the dough will be a bit hot but work around it. If the dough cools too much, you might not get the smooth feel.
- Pull out small 1 inch balls from the prepared dough and roll out into rounds.
- Ensure that the rounds aren’t too thin or too thick. They should be about 2-3mm in thickness and equally flat all around.
- Spoon a little bit of the filling mixture into the centre of the round.
- Next is a bit tricky – You need to form the typical Modak shape.
- Using your finger-tips, pinch the circumference of the round at one end and pull it vertical towards the centre (above the filling). Pinch the dough again, just a couple of millimetres away from the first pinch and join it to the first structure. Repeat this, till all the pinched sides come together in the centre. Finally, join all of them together in the centre and smooth it out. It is a bit like making dim-sums.
- The images should give you some idea of how to get it done. This does take some practice. So, if the design doesn’t really work in the first go, don’t worry. Just work on getting the circumference of the rounds together in the centre and join them.
- Place the modaks in a steamer assembly. Grease the steamer plate with some oil or you can place some Plantain leaves on the tray and then place the modaks on them to avoid the modaks sticking on the tray. A colleague suggested using turmeric leaves instead of plantain for an added aroma and subtle flavour.
- Steam the modaks for about 10- 15 minutes until the covering appears translucent. It is a sign of them being cooked.
- Take them off and drizzle the tops of the modaks with pure ghee for a glistening shine and added taste.
Ideally, the modaks are placed before Ganesha first as an offering and then shared amongst friends and family and eaten