The month of Shraavan brings about a lot of feasting and fasting in India, as also some cheerful weather from the alternate wet and dry spells of the monsoon. One the full-moon day of Shraavan, while the entire country celebrates Raksha Bandhan or rakhi pournima to cherish the bond between brothers and sisters; the same day is also celebrated as Narali Pournima in coastal Maharashtra. The day marks the beginning of a new fishing season and fishermen traditionally offer a naral (coconut) to the sea, to appease the sea-god before venturing into its mighty waves again. Before the advent of commercial trawlers and fishing vessels, the fishermen folk would only rely on their wooden boats, and never venture into the sea in the early monsoons when the sea would be rough; the season would only resume post Narali Pournima when the weather would be relatively better for fishing.
However, the rough sea was probably not the only reason why these fishermen refrained from fishing. That is also a time when fish typically breed, and catching them at this time means depleting their progeny, destroying their species, effectively destroying the marine ecosystem. Until recent years, marine fishing in India was only limited to a narrow coastal belt, but in the last decade the number of mechanized trawlers having gone up by about 5000 and the catch having gone up by about 60%; we are indeed staring at some ecological adversities, not only for the fish but also these coastal communities depending on it, for their livelihoods.
With this thought, I am posting this traditional recipe for a sweet coconut rice that is prepared in most Maharashtrian homes on Narali Pournima.
2 cups of short grain rice (I prefer the ambe mohor variety);
1 coconut, freshly scraped;
2 cups sugar;
½ cup ghee;
12-15 green cardamom pods;
1/4th cup raisins;
1/4th cup cashew nuts, halved;
A generous pinch of saffron.
1. Wash the short grain rice thoroughly and soak it in water for 15-20 minutes. Cook the rice in a pressure cooker or a covered pot; until it is well-done. The grains should be separate and not sticky.
2. Spread out the cooked rice in a place and fluff it with a fork.
3. Add the scraped coconut, saffron and sugar to the rice and mix well, without breaking the grains.
4. In another pot, melt the ghee over a low flame and then temper it with cloves and cardamom. Then add the cashew nuts and fry until they are golden brown. Add the raisins and stir for a few seconds.
5. Add the rice-coconut-sugar mixture to the pot and mix well. Cover and cook for a minute or two on low flame and serve hot immediately.