This is going to be the most colorful post till date, commemorating the Hindu festival of color Holi in every form. Holi is the festival of life and merriment. Color plays an important part in Human psychology. It has that inherent power to cure many things, and as the season changes the languidness of Winter mellows beautifully into cheerfulness of the colorful Spring, and in India Spring has more warmer tones than in other parts of the world, there is splash of life in nature too with colorful flowers, and new leaves, nature comes alive with colorful hues of pink, red and yellow just like Holi.
While it is true that we had not played Holi since more than a decade, partly because of our relocation to many places and partly because I feel that the true essence of Holi is losing its meaning, but making the sweet and snack platter for ourselves and few invited guests is the ritual that we are following since long. Holi will always remain my most favourite festival.
In days of yore, when Holi was not an excuse to show your darker sides, the color of festival looks entirely different in sleepy towns where I had spent a quarter of my life in comparison to the cities. While Bacchan’s rang barse had permanently etched in our memory as Holi song, there are many folk songs and classical raag based songs that used to be part of Holi festival. The days wore festive look since morning as everyone in the town, small or big, rich or poor gathered around the festoon covered Radha-Krishna temple to have a glimpse of jhanki or tableau, for Lord’s blessings. The essence of Holi is as pure and pious as the divine love of Radha and Krishna. It also reflects our oneness with nature as just like the festival, we see a galore of colorful flowers blossoming all around us. Holi signified mangal milan with colors of knowledge by renouncing vanity, rivalry, enmity, jealousy, greed leading unity and oneness of humanity.
A week before Holi, the houses decked up in festive fervor, with Spring cleaning going on in full swing. My Mom started planning the menu platter a week before and took utmost care not to repeat the same dish, each year she will make something different for Holi, except the Gujiya that she will make like a ritual. Holi without gujiya seems like holi without colors. Rituals die hard and to this day I am following the same.
But with a 10 month old baby who suddenly started refusing any food, this year Holi platter looks empty with just Thandai Panna cotta. I had added few dried rose leaves in good measure to bring out the colors of Holi, and tried to capture the cheerfulness of the festival. In days before Holi my baby fell twice, from the swing and then from the bed, and we had to rush to her pedia to assure that there are no concussions in her head. So the post kept lying in my folder and did not get enough time to share this beautiful simple and delicious dessert with you on time.
And it is never too late to have thandai, as it also means coolant and in the coming Summer days, you will enjoy it even more. Like any coolant that rejuvenates the soul, thandai is essentially a milk and nut based beverage that balances the heat in the body as our body prepares up for more warmer days. The drink is served cold, sometimes with ice cubes if temperatures are soaring up. But during Holi, the weather remains pleasant, mildly warmer and the evenings are so enjoyable. Calm and breezy.
Some relationships are eternal. They complement each other, they can not exist without the other. Like Holi and Thandai. Traditionally thandai is prepared with bhang or cannabis, the plant that is known for its medicinal uses and also sacred to Hindus, in my town thandai was usually prepared without bhang so that all can enjoy it including kids. For bhang aficionados a secret platter of bhang ke pakore and bhang ke sharbat and ladoo used to be kept under tight security, well above the reach of children.
For thandai the nuts and spices are first soaked in water for hours and then grind in a mortar and pestle to a coarse paste. This was then added to the boiled milk and usually served at room temperature or chilled. So this year I let my imaginative mind fly high and had churned out this panna cotta in no time. The thandai spice powder was made before hand and all I need to add it to the coconut milk and then let the agar agar do its magic. In the morning, the panna cotta was deliciously set, creamy and flavorful. The recipe for thandai powder varies from hand to hand and after much trial and error I had arrived at this combination. While almond and poppy seeds are integral in my recipe, there are other optional too like cashew and pistachios. Rose and saffron brings out the colorful hues of Holi. And a drop of vetiver or khus brings out its true flavour but if you don’t get it easily, don’t fret over it, thandai taste delicious without that too.
- Almond : around 20-25 pieces
- Pistachio : around 12-15 pieces
- Melon seeds / charmagaz : 2 tbsp
- Fennel seeds : 2 tbsp
- Poppy seeds : 2 tbsp
- Black peppercorn : around 15
- Green cardamom : around 10
- Nutmeg powder : a large pinch
- Dried rose petals : 2tbsp
- Saffron : a large pinch
- Vetiver essence / khus ka ittar : few drops
- Coconut milk : 200 ml
- Agar agar powder (plant based unflavoured) : 1 tsp leveled
- Brown sugar / palm sugar : 3-4 tbsp as per taste
- Sun dry the nuts and spices together. Grind them in coffee grinder to a fine mix. Preserve in a sealed jar.
- In a heavy bottom pan, heat the coconut milk. Add the thandai spice powder, agar agar, sugar and let it heat through completely till the sugar dissolves and agar agar gets enough time to bloom.
- Don't boil the coconut milk, let it heated enough just before it reaches boiling point.
- Stir in the vetiver essence.
- Pour in serving dishes and let it cool to room temperature.
- Once it is cooled enough, keep it in the fridge for 4-5 hours or until it sets.
Happy Spring time,