Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Seasonal Affect

 Javasachi Chutney (Flaxseed Chutney)

The current cold wave in Melbourne has got us into the Dhanurmaas mode. 

Dhanurmaas is an exceptional month in the Hindu calendar in that it is a solar month and not a lunar one. For the largely North hemisphere centric Hindu community, this month marks the movement of the Sun northward from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Tropic of Cancer, starting mid-December and ending with Makar Sankranti.

For me, dhanurmaas evokes memories of Aai recalling dhundurmaas (in colloquial Marathi) activities of her childhood. An elderly aunt would wake the kids up in the wee hours, subject them to a quick splash wash all the while telling them about how in her childhood, they didn’t have the luxury of hot water at home and how they would hit the river early for their daily ablutions. 

“Why on earth would they go to the river so early on such cold mornings?” I would wonder aloud.

“ Most people would bathe at the river in those days, so they went early in winters while the river was still warm.” Aai would supply.

“But wouldn’t the water be cold at the time?” I would persist, a bit impatient with my own niggling doubt that had impeded such an interesting narrative.

“Water bodies get heated up and cooled down slower than land masses. So when the land is already cold in the morning, water is still warm,” Aai would explain, giving me another geography lesson which I would recall years later when Sr. Teresa rasped on and on in her dry and drab class on land and sea breezes.

Agog with excitement akin to going on a school picnic, the scrubbed and slicked kids would go temple hopping in the cold and crisp dawn. 

They marveled at how the aunt knew so many temples in the little town, winding her way from one to the next like the Pied Piper, pausing at each turn to hurry tardy followers so they wouldn’t miss the arati. 

How did she know by memory the schedule of the  “kakad-aratis” in each temple they visited? I would quash another niggling doubt, knowing Aai had almost reached the most interesting part.

The adults would grade the early morning sortie by the quality of the darshan and timely attendance at the aarti at various temples, but the kids lay store by the sweetest khiraapat prasaad they so looked forward to. 

The cold, crisp morning’s activities would whet their appetites, and the miniscule amounts of prasad would further tease and test it.

On returning home, a further treat of a sumptuous breakfast-as-big-as-lunch awaited them. 

The chillar party would be seated cross-legged in a semi-circle in another aunt’s warm kitchen, warmed further by her wood fired chul on which she baked a pile of sesame encrusted Bajrichi bhaakri with the flourish of a magician catering to an expectant audience.

Their plates would have already been set up left and right with peanut and flax seed chutneys, fresh lemon and ambe hald pickle, vangyache bharit (baingan bharta), a lekurwali bhaji (a mixed undhiyu like bhaji made with seasonal vegetables like carrots, flat beans, field beans and baby eggplants), when a hot bhakri landed in the centre of the plate and was joined by a rapidly melting blob of butter.

“Gul-tup ghya re,” the grand dame would urge indulgently, pressing a side of ghee-softened sweet jaggery on the kids who needed no second bidding. 

The meal was rounded off by some hot khichadi topped with freshly clarified ghee and sloshed with a sesame laced sweet and sour kokum or tamarind saar. 

Raising her own family, Aai was never one for temple going, but she did take us annually to the Muralidhar Baag temple in Hyderabad during their annual Dasara Festival to fulfill a family tradition of “Oti”, a symbolic fertility offering to the Mother Goddess.  I will write about this during the Navaratra, I promise. 

To continue with Aai’s story, she did recreate some of the magic of her own childhood for us during the Sankranti festival in January each year, not just with the delicious seasonal foods she made for us, but by sharing with us her stories and most importantly, the wonderment of it all.  

We have chosen to live in a country, nay continent, in another hemisphere. So while the Sun must have started on a journey back southward from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn, the season affects me in exactly the same ways.  

Warm memories come flooding back this winter, Melbourne’s coldest in the last decade, one that saw snow and frost like never before in the neighbouring towns and suburbs.

And while my ageing bones protest at the changes in barometric pressure, winter suddenly seems more romantic. I free myself enthusiastically out of the clutches of my warm snuggy wrap to celebrate my own dhanurmaas, and make this meal of bajri bhakri, eggplant and tomato subji and javasachi (flaxseed) chutney.

Javasachi (flaxseed) chutney


1 cup flaxseed
¼ cup peanuts
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup desiccated coconut
5-6 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp red chilli powder, or more
1 tsp olive oil
Salt to taste


Place the peanuts on a microwave proof dish and roast them for 1 minute on medium/low power. Then mix them around and roast for another minute or so. 

Alternately, you can heat a kadhai and dry roast the peanuts till they are brown. Remove and keep aside.  

Next, in the same kadhai dry roast the flax seeds and sesame seeds until they pop. As they begin to pop, add the desiccated coconut. As soon as the popping stops and the coconut is lightly toasted, remove from heat.

In a spice grinder, add all the roasted ingredients, garlic cloves, cumin seeds, salt and chilli powder and a teaspoon olive oil. 

Serve with bajra/jowar bhakri or hot rice, or with anything that asks for a chutney or even a dukkah like dry dip.

Store in an airtight container. It will last for a while at ambient temperatures, depending on the freshness of your ingredients. If you think some of them might go rancid, store in the fridge. 


  1. u have really a nice blog Shruti :) and nice recipe you have shared :) drooling over the first pic :) beautiful presentation

  2. Recipe is great! Loved the story and your incredible way of writing!


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