Known in various Indian languages as Ribbon Pakodam, Ola Pakoda, Aaku Pakodi or Nada Thenguzhal, these gram flour and rice flour crispies are easily prepared savouries that form part of snacks called ‘bakshanam’. Bakshanam literally means food, but has come to be used as a term that specifically refers to snacks, both sweet and savoury, made for festivities; be it a function or a festival. Ribbon pakoda is part of the bakshanam made during navaratri or diwali that are ‘big-deal’ festivals for the Hindu community in general. I believe it could be a derivative of the Sanskrit word ‘bhaksh’ that describes the act of consuming, or vice-versa. A few paragraphs that follows is a very brief introduction to Navaratri in mythology and culture. To rush to the recipe scroll down three paras.
Navaratri refers to nine days of festivities that celebrate the female trio of deities – Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati – in their various avatars. Though navaratri falls more than once in a year, it is the nine-day period that falls during the Indian season of ‘sharad’ (the period after Monsoons upto Spring) that is most significantly celebrated. The celebrations, broadly similar, are celebrated differently across different states. Amongst Tamilians the first three days are dedicated to Goddess Durga (the alter-ego of Goddess Parvati and the consort of Lord Shiva), the next three days to Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth, and consort of Lord Vishnu), and the last three days to Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of knowledge, and consort of Lord Brahma).
Symbolically, these nine days serve as a celebration of women power in Hinduism. In many Tamilian homes ‘golu’ or ‘kolu’ – an arrangement of dolls and deities in a series of steps (in multiples of 3) is placed in a certain hierarchical manner, neivedhyams or offerings are prepared on daily basis accompanied by prayers and chants (especially ‘Devi Mahatmyam’, ‘Bhavani Ashtakam’, and ‘Lalitha Sahasranamam’ – all dedicated to the aforementioned trio of Goddesses. The festivities are also marked by get-togethers at home inviting ladies for a communal chant and sharing of the prasad and snacks. These days even this has turned commercial with return gifts being given alongwith the ‘haldi and kumkum’.
I am not an ardent observer of customs. I regularly chant though. Sanskrit – the prime language in which the shlokas are composed – is an exceedingly musical and beautiful language. It serves as an exercise to the whole body as breath control is often used to create words. A well-composed poem or chant serves to energise all the ‘indriyas’ (senses).
As part of my festivities this year, I am sharing a few snacks during the next few posts, that are prepared in South India for Navaratri and Diwali specifically. These are prepared otherwise as well, but specifically form part of the treats made during these festivals.
Traditional ingredients and substitutions:
For a long time I was using rice flour made at home as the proper texture needs the rice to be washed, drained and ground while damp, and then air-dried. These days milling methods have changed and shop-bought rice flours serve perfectly well. I use ‘idiyappam flour’ as far as possible, and if that isn’t available I use organic rice flour. Most brands are good these days – Double horse, Nirapara, Conscious and 24 Organic Mantra to name a few.
Gramflour can be made at home by roasting chana dal till hard, and then milling it in a powerful blender. These days I use chana atta or besan, preferably by the above two organic brands.
To increase the toothsome feel, a teaspoon of butter is usually added. I substitute this with a teaspoon of thick vegan cashew yogurt, any nut butter or coconut cream. Adding more than this will lead to disintegration of the pakodam during frying.
Most recipes call for adding the powdered spices – red chilli powder, hing, and salt – to the dry flour. In my experience it is better to mix the spices and salt (as well as oil) in two tablespoons of water before adding it to the flour. This ensures even distribution. Otherwise the powdered spices sometimes form clusters and give a speckled appearance, as well as reduce pleasure. Especially hing!
Addition of a sprinkling of sesame seeds is optional. I do not add it but many of my friends do.
This recipe requires a ‘murukku-naazhi’ or mould.
If you do not have a mould, make 1 inch spheres of the dough, flatten them between cling film or two parchment papers to 3-4 mm thick flat circles using a small bowl or a rolling pin, and fry those instead. You may need to oil or dust the parchment for easy release. These however will look different.
Recipe: Ribbon Pakodam – Gram Flour and Rice Flour Crispies
Also known as: Ola Pakoda | Akku Pakodi | Nada Thenguzhal
Rice flour – 1/2 cup | 80g
Besan – 3/4 cup | 80g
Water – Upto 1/2 cup, while adding as needed
Salt – 1/2 tsp.
Red chilli powder – 1/2 tsp. (preferably less red in appearance)
Asafoetida / Hing – 1/8 tsp.
Sesame seeds, hulled – 1 tsp. (optional)
Vegan butter or vegan yogurt – 1 tsp., melted (optional)
Oil to fry – 200 ml
In a cup take about 2 tbsp of the water. Add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder, and melted vegan butter (if using). Stir and set aside.
Whisk the flours in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the above seasoned water all over the flour and stir.
Add 1/4 cup of the water and mix. Add more water and knead till a smooth, sticky dough is formed. Once kneaded for about 4-5 minutes the dough should not stick much to your fingers. Try forming a small sphere. If it shapes easily without breaking or without cracks, the dough is done.
Heat oil in a frying pan or kadhai to moderate. I use a small one that is not too wide, and therefore needs less oil to fry. The oil should be enough to cover the pakodas, otherwise they do not cook well.
To test the temperature for readiness, slip a small sphere of the dough. It should form bubbles and rise up smoothly but not burn. The flame should be moderate, half-way between sim and high.
Fix the ribbon pakoda plate in a murukku-naahi or mould and press out the pakoda from the outer periphery of the oil to the centre going in a circle.
The oil will sizzle and bubbles will form all around the pakoda. Fry on one side for about 4-5 minutes till the bubbles subside. Turn carefully using a slotted spoon or spoke and fry the other side. One pakoda takes nearly 7-8 minutes. If it reddens or puffs, reduce the flame a little.
Never fry on high heat as the pakodas will not cook properly.
Drain onto a sieve. Store in an air-tight box once the pakodams come to room temperature and are not even slightly warm to the touch.
These stay good easily for a week.
Another way to make it extra crisp is to half-fry and drain the pakodas till they come to room temperature, and then re-fry till crisp.