Puzhukku is a dish made of boiled/steamed root vegetables mixed with seasoned coconut paste. These are served either by itself or with Kanji (rice). Thiruvathira Puzhukku is made with a mix of seasonal root vegetables and beans. The tubers are nutritious and filling while the beans are a source of protein making it ideal for ladies who forgo rice based meals as part of the Thiruvathira rituals.
Thiruvathira is a festival that is associated with the story of Lord Shiva, of Hindu mythology. It is celebrated on the Thiruvathira day in the Month of Dhanu, according to the traditional Kerala calendar. This day falls in the month of Dec/Jan. It is one of the coldest days of the season. What better way to celebrate the winter than by going for a dip in the river early in the morning, fasting and staying up all night ? Women follow these traditions and rituals believing that it aids the well being of the menfolk. If you are interested to find out more about the festival click here.
To be honest this is was kind of an exciting celebration while I was growing up , the rare opportunity to stay up all night in itself was a treat. But as I grew older the fascination waned. The adult in me was becoming aware of the patriarchal undertones of celebrations like these. Don’t get me wrong , I still like to have a night out with my girlfriends, but that has more to do with my own health and happiness than the menfolk in the family. On second thoughts they might welcome a time off from me – so there – it is good for everyone 😉 .
The ladies who observe the fast on this day abstain from rice based food and usually consume wheat porridge and thiruvathira puzhukku along with Koova Vilayichathu (Arrowroot Halva). There are a few regional variations for these dishes, but some form of puzhukku and Koova are found all over Kerala. One traditional version calls for the fire roasting the root vegetables and mixing it with a sweetener and another calls for a savory spice mix. The version that I am familiar with, is the savory one.
Though my attitude toward the celebration has changed, I still love root vegetables and the arrow root sweet. Root vegetables are a healthy source of nutrients while being light on calories. They taste delicious as well. What is there not to like ?
Eight different kinds of vegetables (ettangadi – loosely translated into eight things from the market) are used in this dish. Many of the tubers are hard to come by outside of Kerala. Along with the tubers , plantains and beans (cow peas, horse gram , green gram or a mix ) are added. All the vegetables are fire roasted in whole – with the skin on. The beans are roasted and cooked separately. The peeled roasted vegetables and the cooked beans are mixed together with the coconut paste and heated through before serving. In contemporary cooking instead of fire roasting, the beans and the
vegetables are pressure cooked in separate batches and mixed with the spiced coconut paste.
For me it is not easy to come by all the root vegetables – especially the ones I know as nana kizhangu and koorkka. Nana Kizhangu is an interesting root with whiskers (for lack of a better word) and tastes similar to colocasia (chembu in Malayalam), but has a firmer texture and sweet aftertaste. Koorkka is difficult to come by even in other parts of south India, but I do find taro roots and elephant yams in the Asian stores.
Some of the vegetables in the picture are sliced and frozen versions. When fresh ones are available I prefer using those.