Indians celebrate their New Year very differently from the rest of the world. For one, the festivities begin very early in the morning, with prayers to Ganesha. Lakshmi Priya, who comes from a lineage of restaurateurs is all set to celebrate Tamil New Year next week at her farm - Alankar Organic Farm - in Pollachi in Coimbatore.
Lakshmi’s restaurant Sree Vidya meals in Ramnagar in Coimbatore, which serves authentic Kongu Nadu vegetarian lunch meals only, is temporarily closed due to the pandemic. She will however be cooking and serving a traditional meal on that day as she believes the Tamil New Year’s day is an auspicious day to start a new journey.
Using cold pressed oils and only seasonal fruits vegetables and millets and rice grown in their farm and locally sourced has been their mantra. Her menu for this occasions eliminates all processed food - so no white sugar - and includes the organic produce from her farm. It also combines all the five tastes with a twist - pineapple (pulippu), palm sugar (enippu), neem flowers (kasappu), salt (uvarppu), chilli (karam) and tamarind (thuvarppu).
Lakshmi says conscious cooking for her is a “wonderful experience which brings together all the senses in harmony with the cells in our body - where we see, smell, taste, feel and hear!” the sounds of cooking. Above all “cooking with a positive and a happy mind is the essence of conscious cooking.”
She lives life in the peaceful lane with green fields and a one acre pond dedicated to rain water harvesting and her papaya trees to the Great Indian Hornbills who come to pick the fruit.
Lakshmi Priya at her organic farm
It is indeed a blessing, she says, to get up early in the morning, and work in the kitchen “with a calm mind with the joyful intention visualizing a rainbow in your kitchen. Knowing you are blessed with this unique talent of preparing a simple, nourishing and a soulful meal. It is a new journey every single day which not nourishes not only your body and soul but also that of the people you serve heartfully.”
Lakshmi cooks for a varied group of people starting from farmers, to the farm labourers, to the people who work with the utensils and knives and and also to those who bring in even a single ingredient we use in our cooking.” I am consciously grateful as i cook to the varied people starting from the farmers ,to the farm labourers, to the people who make the utensils knives and to many more who bring in a single ingredient which we cook with .
Lakshmi’s inheritance includes the time spent with grandmothers who have passed many precious ancestral recipes as well as the know how of cooking which have been part of their daily life. “All the women cooked with ingredients sourced locally and most importantly seasonally.
They did not have a dilemma about the menu or confusion about what was to be done and their simplicity was the foundation of that wisdom.”
Peanut podi urundai to be mixed with hot rice and cold pressed ellu ennai (sesame oil)
Cooking was an everyday ritual for these women and “they could easily rustle up a meal for any occasion or festival. Even the simple morning sukku kaapi to the nightly turmeric milk with crushed pepper before bed, cooking was an enjoyable every day ritual,” says Lakshmi.
Lakshmi’s grandmother Rajalakshmi aatha (term for paternal grand mother) was a staunch vegetarian while her other grand mother Alamelu ammayi (term for maternal grandmother) taught her to cook meat based dishes. She says both were unique in their own way. For several years, Lakshmi provided consultancy for family run non-vegetarian restaurants in Chennai, until she turned to vegetarianism for health reasons.
Her father was diagnosed with an auto immune condition causing rheumatoid arthritis for which allopathy doctors said he had to take steroids for life. “Only when your cells cannot fight an infection does it become a chronic illness. I realised that food is the only medicine fr the body.”
Lakshmi started her research into auto immune causing foods and foods which cause inflammation in the body. The worst offender was meat. When another family member was diagonsed with another painful auto immune condition, they almost reversed the condition with only a plant based diet. That was when she turned to vegetarian and vegan cooking.
She prepares “nutrition dense cooking. Any thing interfering with nature is destructive including cooking. Keeping most of our food raw is an amazing practice, but Indian vegetarian cooking is a wonder,” that combines eating the food raw and also cooked, she adds.
For more than three decades, Lakshmi has had only seasonal fruits for breakfast and aligns her routines to the circadian rhythm as most small town folks do. Living in a gramam (small town) makes one appreciate the finer tastes too. “Everything tastes better because every thing is mostly grown locally. Also cooking with fire wood, using stone mortar for grinding..added to the “unexplainable feeling of contentment when one grows ones own food.”
Organic mango ice-cream
Among her favourite gojjus and chutneys include those cooked with edible flowers which bloom seasonally “Neem flowers, drumstick flowers, tamarind flowers, agathi flowers. I enjoy making curries with tender coconut, chutneys with raw grated coconut adding spices like coriander seeds, jeera, garlic and raw seasonable vegetables like red pumpkin, radish, gourd varieties.’
Lakshmi’s menu is as varied as it is colouful and nutritious. She serves millet or hand pound rice based idlis, dosai, appam or paniyaram with raw chutneys. Curd is set in mud pots and churned into buttermilk and served with herbs like coriander, curry leaves and ginger.
Palm fruit (nongu) mixed with tender coconut, cardamom and palm sugar and a mango and chilled coconut mixed smoothie are ever day summer drinks.
Lakshmi cooks with iron kadais and iron dosa tava and uses mud pots and stainless steel because she has been “blindly following my grandmothers path and of course it does not have any artificial synthetic coating.”
Lakshmi wishes to impart the knowledge she has learnt and hopes to start a practical international culinary school in her farm in Pollachi to promote the Indian culinary art of well-being and health.