We generally make savoury and sweet offerings on alternate days of Navarathri with a sweet offering in particular for the Friday that falls within these ten days. With most of us no longer living in extended families, or in urban areas where we have busier lives Navarathri celebrations no longer have the fun that used to be a part of my childhood memories of the festivities.
Once Navarathri was upon us, every Palakkad Iyer home that was celebrating would decorate a corner of the living room or the Puja room if it was large enough with the “ Bomma Kolu ”. In the evenings women and children would drop by the homes of neighbours or family members, and it was usually the done thing to sing a song/ prayer, spend some time admiring the “Kolu” and of course pass on the gossip for the day. The lady of every house would insist that the children who visited for Navarathri, had to sing a song if we wanted our share of food for the evening. It didn’t matter if you were shy and the kind that limited your singing to the bathroom, or even if your brand of singing resembled a crowd of crows at their loudest, you had to sing! To give everyone their due, no one ever laughed or poked fun at you (except the meanest of your own friends, perhaps) if your singing performance wasn’t exactly bringing in the applause.
I personally found this bit of ritual harrowing and would refuse to sing even it meant forgoing my share of the neivedhaym. Before the visitors left, they were offered the traditional festive “vethelai paaku” ( a traditional ritual offering to married women which typically includes betel leaves and nuts, kumkum, pieces of turmeric, a small banana, a coconut, a small mirror. Comb, glass bangles, sari blouse pieces, and packets of the day’s neivedhyam/ prasaadham).
Ask anyone from my community what food comes to mind when you mention Navarathri, and nine out of every ten people will tell you “Chundal/ Sundal”! Even though other foods are prepared during Navarathri festivities, Chundal is something that everyone prepares at least once if not twice during these ten days.
Chundal is a preparation, a sort of cooked salad made of lentils like Bengal gram lentils (chana dal) or dried beans like chickpeas, black-eyed beans/ cowpeas or whole moong beans. Usually a savoury preparation, the legumes or lentils are soaked overnight, cooked and then tempered with a few simple spices and fresh coconut. Not only are Chundals/ Sundals easy to make they’re also tasty, healthy and filling. The sweet version of Chundal/ Sundal is made with jaggery, coconut and flavoured with cardamom and a little ghee. This version of Chundal is made with raw groundnuts which is what we call peanuts in India. I have never seen this made at home (though it is a popular dish in the Indian state of Tami Nadu)probably because we don’t use groundnuts very much in our traditional cooking. I get raw groundnuts here in season and when they are cooked they have an inherent sweetness which lends itself very well to this dish.
This dish cannot be made with roasted or dried groundnuts so if you can’t find raw groundnuts, you can substitute it with an equal amount of cooked chickpeas or black-eyed beans or whole green moong beans.
While this is served as festive fare, it also makes for an excellent teatime snack and can also be served on the side with a main meal.
Verkadalai (Kadalekai) Chundal/ Sundal (Spicy Groundnuts/ Peanuts With Coconut)