The harvest festival that we in Tamil Nadu refer to as Pongal is a time when we celebrate the land for nourishing us with it’s rich bounty and also acknowledging the role of the sun as it passes into ‘makaram’ ,marking the end of shorter days and heralding the beginning of spring.
As we rejoice by making sweet offerings with rice and freshly harvested sugarcane,the whole process includes celebrating produce of all sorts.From the fresh turmeric bulbs that we tie around the rim of the pongal pannai (pot), the yellow pumpkin and avarai (broad beans) that are an intrinsic part of the pongal lunch to the traditional cold pressed oils that are steeped in sustainable farming practices,it is important that we acknowledge everything with deep gratitude.
A dear friend sent me a generous portion of ellu urundai (sesame seed balls) made at her home using an age old family recipe. Sesame is a seed that despite being an important native ingredient does tend to be overlooked by us here in Coimbatore when looking at wellness.
Coincidentally a few days ago while munching on the delicious ellu urandai I happened to read Rujuta Diwekar’s post praising this very same ingredient on her Instagram page. You will be surprised to know as was I that apparently seed balls are now becoming increasingly popular in the UK. High end cafés are stocking this energy laden snack known for it’s potent health benefits.
As the celebrity nutritionist rightly states why do we turn to a foreign grain to keep our cholesterol in check when we can use that which grows in and around our own environment !?
For me the sesame is a seed that I have great affinity towards. I love it when it is toasted and releases that delicious aroma. We buy both the black as well as the white sesame and roast them in a dry pan and cool before storing in bottles. Between the two,the black sesame is my favourite to use in a dessert and the white sesame is something I like to sprinkle on just about any savoury dish .
Ask my children and they will tell you that whether it is a simple salad or an Asian noodle dish, it will all be adorned with a final flourish of toasted sesame seeds. What we also love along with the taste is the bits of textural crunch that they impart to the dish.
The tiny size is completely contradictory to the big impact these have on nutrition.These seeds are high in calcium and minerals (copper and magnesium) They contain polyunsaturated fatty acids and are good for the skin, hair and bones. The ellu as it is referred to in Tamil is also a good source of fibre and iron and extremely beneficial when consumed during the course of a pregnancy.
The ellu urundai which is one of the tastiest ways to introduce a sesame snack to the children, is made in different ways.One where the seeds are whole and the whole sesame ball is hard and crunchy or ,the kind we like ,where the sesame seeds are pounded along with the jaggery and rolled into spheres when still warm.
As a child I used to hover around the elderly ladies as they expertly wielded the ural and olakkai (rolu / rokalu in Telugu) for pounding the seeds and grains.(This traditional apparatus resembles a much larger version of the table top mortar and pestle) The olakkai would slide through their hands in a rhythmic motion that would send me into an out of focus trance ! Even as recently as 4 years ago we used only this ancient tool to make the ellu urandai. This manner of pounding crushes the seeds but also leaves some whole bits here and there which are delicious. I wish I could take pictures of that now !
Did you know that these sweet sesame ladoos are the perfect food for this time of year ? It energises the body and helps it to acclimatise to the change in seasons .The sesame and the unrefined jaggery make for a wholesome snack that is quick and easy to munch on wherever we are at any time of the day ,at home or work. Sometimes roasted peanuts or grated coconut are also added but we like ours bursting with just the simple but unbeatable flavours of ellu and nattu sakkarai.(organic natural sugar)
Enjoy these home made treats now and also learn how to make them (it’s really not difficult)before we have to start sourcing imported “seed balls” at our local supermarkets. Now there’s a scary thought !