Soft Ball and Hard Ball

At the recently concluded “Full Moon Lamp” festival, many Tamilians light numerous oil lamps adorning their main doorway, as women seek blessings for their brothers. And no self respecting Tamilian will pass up those sweet-meats specially made for this occasion. The first item is the Ghee Fried Dumplings – naiyappams – rice dumplings sweetened by jaggery. A friendly aunt who cooks these up by the “drumful” taught me some tricks to get it right. It was simple – just melt some jaggery in a pot – with a little bit of water to prevent the “sugar burn” and then keep stirring till it bubbled. Then when it thickened into “soft ball” consistency, take it off the stove and add into the ground rice paste. Soft-ball was the state when the syrup could be easily moulded when cooled – tested using a bowl of water, into which a few drops of the golden syrup are dropped and quickly rolled up by the finger to its spongy, malleable ball. The syrupy rice paste is then flavoured with sliced coconut and cardamom, to be fried in clarified butter into little balls (moulded frying woks are used to get the prefect shape). The second one is a simple rice puff brittle, Undai Pori – which is shaped like a ball and is quite similar to the energy bars one finds in supermarket shelves. They are sweet with a crunchy texture and lightly flavoured with cardamom, if one pleases. This is a quick-to-make, less calorific item – which starts with the same jaggery melt – but does not stop at the soft state, but lets its bubble till it gets into the “hard ball” consistency and the puffed rice is very deftly blended into the syrup and quickly rolled them into balls. These harden as they cool. These treats are served up with a savoury, multi-pulse, rice pancake served with dollops of home-made white butter. The cooler months warrant some warm food, and the syrupy jaggery adds warmth; while the fatty clarified butter adds the much needed fat to keep us warm for the Indian winters. Unlike the west, Indian tradition normally do not resort to alcohols to keep warm.

The SENSEX today was both soft and hard! The D Boyz started their day, as though tutored by my “aunt” and they initially kept a soft profile by keeping the SENSEX flat to previous close. All this despite some princes proclaiming more trouble in the Arabian Desert; while some tiger was being hounded in his woods; and then America got worried about commercial real estate. This news was harder than the previous two and the “softish” Boyz took a harder look at the SENSEX and brought it down to 17000 and below. The day ended 118 points below Friday’s closing at 16983.

Auntie not only prepared these yummy treats, but also photographed them and put them up alongside some neatly written recipes on her internet blog for the families who did not live close to her and her blog is so popular that even other Tamilians from India and abroad have got hooked to some old home-style cooking for festivals and otherwise as well.



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