Thursday, 12 September 2013

Modak Musings

Rava-Besan-Naral Laadu (रवा बेसन नारळ लाडू)
Photos by Amruta Nargundkar

“Aai, why does this calendar show Ganpati eating a laadu? Isn’t he supposed to eat modaks?” a young me unrolling a glossy brightly coloured wall calendar a shop assistant had very benevolently thrust into our shopping bag.

Receiving freebies is pleasurable even to kids, although one would think they wouldn’t know the difference of gratis and otherwise.  For someone who loved to receive even seemingly useless pamphlets and handbills so I could read them, the glossy colourful calendars depicting gods and goddesses, fluorescent sunsets - or even film stars-  was a treat. 

But I couldn’t understand why Mother was so wary of these loudly coloured wall calendars.  

Perhaps her aesthetic sensibilities and training wouldn’t allow her to patronise 'popular calendar art' ?

“Aga, the meaning of the Sanskrit word moda means 'pleasure or joy' and modak means 'that which brings pleasure or joy'…   a laadu - a primordial ball shape - also gives people joy and pleasure, so it is essentially a modak.  In the old days before grocery shops and supermarkets, people had easy access only to produce from the land they tilled. So they came up with their own versions of a laddu shaped sweet to offer to God. In regions where chana dal was grown, the laadus were besan or boondi laadus. In the coastal areas, where coconut and rice were the most commonly available ingredients, the coastal Maharashtrians must have devised laddus out of rice flour and coconut…”

I was busy looking at the tempting pile of laddus in front of the smiling Ganesh. That little mouse in the corner was nibbling at one, although the Lord hadn’t partaken of the offering – how could you do that! Even we kids had to wait until the Naiveyda was offered!

And how could the lord bear to wait patiently with the laddu in his outstretched hand for hours at end? I for one couldn’t rest until all the laadus in the large “pedheghati” steel dabba had been polished off, all the time wishing there were more and more and more...

When I look back, I realise Mother was a great one for explaining the meaning, etymology, significance, derivation, corruption, contractions and significance of everything, from words, rituals, superstitious practices, festivals, etc. etc.

I used to get impatient at times with her as a young girl, but now I realise what a treasure house of knowledge and wisdom she was, and still is.

I wish I could learn more and more from her.

Rava-Besan-Naral Laadu

2 cups rava (semolina)
1 cup laadu besan (grainy chickpea flour)
¾ cup ghee
1 ½ cups grated fresh coconut
3 cups sugar
1 ½ cups water
A pinch of salt
¾  tsp powdered green cardamom
A pinch of saffron
½ cup chopped almonds or cashew nuts
¼ cup raisins (optional – I don’t use them as my daughter hates them!)


Heat a large and wide thick-bottomed pan and add the ghee and besan. Roast the grainy ladu besan over medium heat till its light brown and starts to emanate a roasted aroma. I find this besan requires less ghee than the fine variety. Then add the semolina and a pinch of salt and roast for some more time until the mixture begins to look uniformly roasted. Add the chopped nuts towards the end and make sure to stir constantly so the mixture does not burn.

When the whole house is agog with the aroma of roasting besan and rava, add the coconut to the mixture and keep roasting for 4-5 minutes. You will notice the mixture will become suddenly very light and airy. Switch the heat off.

In another thick-bottomed saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring the solution to a boil. When the sugar dissolves and the syrup begins to thicken, drop some in a plate and test touch it with your forefinger. Then pinch the finger and thumb together and pull them apart. If the syrup strings out once forming a thread, the syrup has reached one string consistency.

Add the syrup to the roasted rava, besan and coconut mixture. Mix thoroughly and allow the mixture to soak in the syrup. Add the cardamom powder and saffron. Stir it from time to time. The mixture will become thick and crumbly in a while. Roll the mixture into laddus.

Store them in an airtight container, preferably in a self-replenishing pedheghati steel dabba.  


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