Kerala has for a large part of time been a secular state where its two major festivals – Onam and Vishu – are celebrated with enthusiasm by everyone. While the celebrations may differ, one common uniting factor is the Sadhya or banquet usually served for lunch. This is something that everyone looks forward to on these festive days.
The tradition of Sadhya is being kept alive in Singapore by two dynamic women – Prasanna Kumari Dayanandan (67) and Radha Devi Vijayan (75) – who specialise in cooking this authentic vegetarian spread. They have been catering this for 30 years now and have been volunteering for the Sree Narayana Mission Home’s annual Onam Sadhya for the last 15 years.
“I came to Singapore from Kerala as a 19-year-old bride and initially my neighbours would be curious about the wonderful aroma emanating out of my kitchen. We lived in Chinatown then and most of my neighbours were non-Indians. So I started cooking in small quantities for them and my first customers were non-Indians. Soon when orders became larger, I asked Chechi (older sister) to help,” said Dayanandan referring to Vijayan.
Their popularity spread within the Malayali community and from small orders, they started getting wedding contracts. Their first wedding catering was for politician Murali Pillai’s sister. Since then they have catered to several weddings and events, mainly specializing in Sadhya dishes catering to up to 1000 people. Even late President S R Nathan regularly ordered from them. “We do get requests for other fish and meat dishes, but we prefer to stick to Sadhya food,” said the duo.
They operate out of an industrial kitchen owned by one of their partners, but the two women supervise the entire cooking. “If there is a wedding order, we start preparations well in advance, sourcing all the necessary ingredients and often work through the night to fulfill it. The key to a good Sadhya is freshness and taste,” said Dayanandan, adding that their masalas are a secret.
Vijayan said that with the influx of new Indians, most of the ingredients are easily available in Singapore now. “Earlier we had to source plantain chips, Adai (steamed rice flakes) and other such ingredients from India. Now we can find them here itself,” she said.
A Sadhya is usually served in on a fresh banana leaf in a specific order. A team of waiters will move in a procession with usually the sweet or payasam being served as the first dish. While unpolished parboiled rice is the main carbohydrate, Parippu (dal), Sambar, Rasam, Pulisseri, Kaalan, Avial, Thoran, Pachadi, Pickle, Papad, Banana chips, curd and buttermilk are served. Since coconuts are found in abundance in Kerala, coconut oil, freshly grated coconut, and coconut milk are used in these dishes.
Though there is a common perception that the food of Kerala and neighbouring Tamil Nadu are similar, Vijayan says, “Kerala has some unique dishes like Theeyal, Olan and Avial. Also, the spices used here are different.”
Dayanandan has a few recipes published in two books – Joo Chiat Home Cooking and Joo Chiat Sweet Memories. The two grandmothers, who have 13 grandchildren between them, continue to remain passionate about food and cooking. They enjoy collecting recipe books and also following videos on YouTube!
Malayalis will be celebrating Vishu, or New Year, on April 14th with an elaborate Sadhya. This year, you too can get into the spirit by making these unique dishes.
- 50 gm grated white coconut
- 1 dry chilli
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 onion
- ½ cup water
- 300 gm plantain, sliced into 5-cm pieces
- 75 gm winter melon, sliced into 3-cm pieces
- 75 gm brinjal, sliced into 3-cm pieces
- 75 gm carrot, sliced into 3-cm pieces
- 75 gm snake gourd, sliced into 3-cm pieces,
- 50 gm French beans, sliced into 3 cm pieces
- 75 gm drumstick, sliced into 3-cm pieces
- 50 gm potato, sliced into 3-cm pieces
- 50 gm yam, sliced into 3-cm pieces
- 2 green chillies, halved lengthwise
- 2 cups of water
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp natural yoghurt
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 smallish onion, peeled and sliced
- 1 dried chilli, cut into small pieces
- ¼ tsp mustard seeds
- 1 stalk curry leaves
- Blend coconut, chilli, cumin, turmeric, garlic, onion and water in a blender till smooth.
- Boil vegetables with water in a saucepan. Add salt to taste.
- When vegetables are about three-quarter cooked, add masala from Step 1.
- Simmer till vegetables are almost cooked. Add yoghurt. Cook for one minute and remove from heat. Dish onto a serving plate.
- In a separate pan, heat oil. Fry the mustard seeds till aromatic. Add onion, curry leaves and green chilli. Stir-fry till onion is golden brown. Garnish.
- 15-20 small onions, peeled and sliced
- 1 small lemon size tamarind
- ½ cup grated coconut
- 5-6 dry red chillies
- 11/2 tsp coriander seeds
- ¼ tsp cumin seeds
- 5-10 whole black pepper
- ¼ tsp turmeric pdr
- A pinch of asafetida
- A pinch of fenugreek pdr
- ½ tsp mustard seeds
- A few curry leaves
- A little jaggery
- Salt to taste
- Oil as needed
- Slice the onions lengthwise. Soak tamarind in ½ cup warm water and extract the pulp.
- Heat 1 tsp oil and roast the red chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black pepper, grated coconut and turmeric powder till it gets aromatic. Keep aside and once cool grind into a smooth paste.
- Heat 2 tbsp oil; add mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions and sauté till the onion is light brown.
- Add the asafetida, salt and fenugreek pdr. Saute. Now add the tamarind pulp and let it boil for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the ground paste and jiggery and let it simmer for a few more minutes.
- 3/4 cup black-eyed beans
- 1 cup winter melon/pumpkin, cubed
- 3–4 green chillies
- 1.5 cups coconut milk
- 1/2 tsp cumin pdr
- Salt to taste
- 2 tsp coconut oil
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 4 shallots sliced thin (optional)
- A few curry leaves
- Soak the beans for atleast 5 hours and pressure cook for 3 whistles in 3 cups water. Set aside.
- Add the cubed winter melon/pumpkin, slit green chillies, cumin powder and a little bit salt into a pan with 1 cup water and let it cook on a low fire until soft, but not mushy.
- Add the beans and 1/2 cup coconut milk to the cooked pumpkin pieces. Cook for a few minute on low fire.
- Add the rest of the coconut milk, adjust salt and consistency. The olan should neither be too runny or thick. Remove from fire.
- Heat oil and add all the ingredients for tempering. Once the shallots turn a golden brown, add it to the curry. Mix well and serve hot.
- ½ cup ada (readymade cooked rice flakes)
- 2 cups full fat milk
- 1¼ cup water
- ½ tin condensed milk
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp chopped cashew
- 1 crushed cardamom
- ½ tbsp ghee
- Combine milk, water and condensed milk in a pressure cooker. Add washed ada and stir well. Bring it to a boil. Once it boils, close the cooker and put on weight. After first whistle on full flame, reduce flame to low-medium and cook for 5-6 whistles. Switch off the gas.
- Keep it closed till pressure drops. Check the consistency of the payasam and also whether ada is cooked.
- Heat ghee in a pan and fry the chopped cashews till golden brown, add this to the payasam. Also add crushed cardamom. Serve hot, warm or chilled.