OF ‘OOKARO’ AND MY FAVORITE ‘DUDH-POHA’!

HEALTHY: (above) My advice is to shun the market place’s industrial breakfast cereals and go for Goa’s red rice fov porridge…the Guju cardamom-spiked ‘dudh-poha’ is better than any boxed cereal of our commercial times! (left) Rainy day favourite Gujarati hot beverage… ‘ookaro’, an aromatic herbal drink of brewed mint-ginger and/or mixed spice

By Tara Narayan

SO MANY messages over WhatsApp and Facebook social media are reminding me that it’s time to celebrate Guru Purnima on full moon day of the sacred Chaturmas months of the monsoon…memories of all my Ahmedabad masi (aunts) flood my mind, some gone with the wind and I miss them. When they were round the word would go around that it’s no time for eating or hogging out of turn, no matter how seductive the drumbeat of the rain provoking one’s palate!
You know, 16 of my formative years on the little island of Penang in Malaysia, I imbibed more Christianity courtesy my Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in Georgetown, then Hinduism! I learned the framework of Hinduism after my father packed me off to Mumbai that was Bombay in 1970. In India I had a brood of masi, mami, foi to clue me up about Hinduism’s many sacred fasting days. The idea was in some way to give body beautiful a holiday, more so for all other creatures of the good earth to breed and proliferate (we know that).
It all depended on how one wished to fast, dry fast only on water; or wet fast only on liquids ; generally it was one meal a day and that too would be a fun affair either mid-morning or early evening ….and of course “ookaro” was an any time joy to indulge in. To this day I’m in love with gingery-minty or “cardomamy” ookara…. light milky herbal brew replacement in lieu of our normal black tea leaves tea. Thin, hot and delicious to sip, sweetened with bit jaggery although sugar was normally used by the aunts…sometimes the green herbal masala would give way to just a homemade dry spice tea masala ookaro. I flavour my ookaro with honey or bit piece jaggery when it’s come to a boil.
A little milk is necessary to make ookaro. Although these days we know no other animal of the animal kingdom drinking another animal’s milk meant for its babies and all that! Dairy milk is no longer pure dairy milk either but turned into industrial fare like pasteurized milk (that’s okay) but now we have homogenized, toned, double-toned and triple-toned milks, I’d say milk nuclearised to mind-blowing high temperatures and packed in plastics, distributed and further stored in frigidaire for longer shelf life.
Life has become about longer shelf life all around except that cancer is making short work of our shelf life, with good reason. We’re popping way too many industrial sugary, salty, spicy foods and drinks in our mouth…. I mean if you read any celebrated naturopath right, he or she will tell you being raw foodie 70% of the time is best, next best is be vegan, be more vegetarian; if you’re grown up eating meat and fish it’s hard to do, but make sure it is not contaminated meat or fish with toxic chemical residues. Increasingly, the stress is on farm-fed chicken and duck eggs, or pork or beef or lamb.
More and more folk have become discerning about what we and our children put in our mouth. We want to eat more fresh, more organic, more prepared with minimal cooking if need be…lace in fresh herbs, seeds, nuts and….er…eat in handfuls only one or two times a day! Easy to say, hard to do in our food-flush affluent times of course where wherever we see a zillion food temptations or so to speak.
WELL, I’m no saint so I have my frail days too when I fall for mixtures of fryums. Last month onwards I thought it was actually great if I just make a mixture of crisp popped rice, Haldiram’s potato sev or some local women group’s cornflake chivda, Café Central’s ragi wafers…toss, toss and store the crispy mix to be eaten in handfuls at teatime! Teatime is not meal-time and I found myself polishing up the light “choora” mix like a meal because it was so tasty. Next thing I knew I was burping acid reflux and belching…goodbye teatime choora break, it’s over and everybody wants to know why I’m not “making” it anymore!
I can be good too and these days I find I’ve eliminated all readymade cereals from my life — the market is flooded with cereal boxes and packets, boasting of the virtues of plain cornflakes, now one may buy even wheat, millet flakes of ragi and jowar…there’s superior muesli of various fame and even more superior granola, all well dried crunchies (sometimes with a nitrogenous aroma around them if industrially packed) with such tantalizing ingredients as cranberries, blueberries, almonds of course and never mind if they’re sliced almonds (no more than six whole almonds in a pack costing 200 to400 something).
The long and short of it I’ve said goodbye to all that and settled for Goa’s wonderful red rice fov (or parched rice) for a breakfast special. Get good fov or parched rice of organically cultivated red rice from one of the local pre-monsoon food markets, store it air tight. When hungry remove a hand full or two into a bowl, rinse once and soak for a wee while, drain and put the softened mass in a bowl. Add in milk of choice — caju or almond or soy or even pasteurized dairy — a tablespoon of nuts (be it peanuts), sunflower or other seeds, golden or black, maybe a chopped fig, apricot, prune…pinch of cardamom powder or cinnamon powder….teaspoon of wild honey. Let it soak some more if you wish or just stir and relish an all-time deliciously economically breakfast, tea-time or dinner or anytime snack.
All this reminds me in the old days in Guju country homes the most welcome quick fix on a fasting day or a light evening meal was “dudh-poha” — but mother dear used the more familiar fat white poha (not nylon poha), rinse and soak them in cow’s milk (we used to get fresh milk from a milkman then and the milk was given a single boil for use in tea and making dahi). Anyway, our dudh-poha was plain although laced with crushed cardamom whole or powder, stirred, and served in bowl. Occasionally, golden raisins or caju would feature in the dudh-poha if available at home. We loved this most delectable flavour of dudh-poha. It made for a quick fix wholesome, holistic, even frugal meal….damn it, doesn’t anyone believe in dudh-poha anymore?
Especially when Goa’s organically cultivated red poha is to live for! If the rice is good quality it will have a nutty natural sweetness. Since it’s organic all kinds of domestic kitchen critters will try to get into it so buy in small quantities and store in fridge for longer natural shelf life. Poha is familiar to most of us and may be used for all kinds of other savoury and sweet snacks. But this is to say I’m falling in love anew with my good old-fashioned austere dudh-poha and it’s my favourite anytime food!
IDEAL time to make it is these rainy evenings. The story of Guru Pournima full moon night is that it’s dedicated to all great teachers of the good earth and most of them were yogic guru as in Lord Shiva was the first yogi in Hindu lore…therefore, also Adi Yogi (ask Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev more about it). Reportedly, this is the night when Adi Yogi became an Adi Guru and started teaching yogic knowledge to his seven disciples known as Sapta Rishi….they mastered the philosophy/art/science (whatever you want to call it) of keeping mind and body, heart and soul together (instead of in fractured pieces at war with one another perennially).
Don’t know about you but the idea of taking a walk with a guru in the rainy day moonlight to dispel the darkness of ignorance and evil appeals! But go find a guru first, and stop thinking of yourself as the ultimate guru! I’d say Guru Pournima time is akin to the Teacher’s Day we observe in modern times – time to remember your teachers in life. Also no harm learning a few Sanskrit tributes, like the Sanskrit prayers… “Guru Brahma, Gurur Vishnu/Gurur Devo Maheshwarah/Gurur Shakshat Para Brahma/Tasmai Shri Guruveh Namah…” (roughly translates to, On this auspicious day of Guru Pournima may the masters bless us with courage, grace, truthfulness and love so that we may be led by their teaching).

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