In India, New Year comes many times during the year – depending upon the region one lives in. And just as the number of celebrations, the customs and food are varied and exciting too. The unique thing about naivedya made during festivals is that they have health benefits and are suited for that particular season.
Neem leaves and flowers form an integral part of the feast for the Tamil New Year. While in Karnataka, there is the custom of eating bevu-bella (neem and jaggery), in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh/Telengana, a sweet-sour-hot pachadi (chutney) is made out of mango and neem flowers. The custom reiterates that one should accept the bitter with the sweet experiences of life. Not to forget the health benefits of neem leaves and flowers, which are especially good for health during the summer months due to their cooling properties.
The mango-neem pachadi incorporates all the six different flavours – sweet, sour, salty, astringent, spicy and bitter which are called arusuvai/shadruchi (six flavours). How wise our ancestors were, to come up with such a great concept and dish to exemplify it!
Neem leaf helps in eliminating harmful bacteria in the colon, is a great germicide and bactericide, an anti-oxidant and is excellent for the skin, among other properties. The flowers likewise have great health benefits. The bark, fruits and the seeds are all very beneficial too. So much so that, to have a neem tree in the garden is equivalent to having a doctor in the house!
March-April is the time when neem trees are in full bloom. The small white blossoms are collected either by plucking them from the tree along with the leaves or by spreading a mat or cloth to collect the flowers that fall to the ground. These are then cleaned of dirt and leaves and dried for storing. It is fried in a bit of ghee and mixed with steamed rice with a pinch of salt to make for a delicious meal. Fried flowers are also added as garnish to rasam. Tomatoes are not added to this rasam. There are many more recipes that make use of these medicinal flowers.
Coming back to the New Year feast, in Tamilian homes we also make panagam (flavoured jaggery water) and neer mor (diluted, spiced buttermilk). According to Ayurvedic wisdom, jaggery water has cooling properties and so does buttermilk. I make both these frequently during the summer months.
Here I am sharing the recipe of the mango-neem sweet pachadi.
Mango-Neem flower pachadi:
- Mango – 1 large (I have used the totapuri variety)
- Neem flowers – 1 tbsp (fresh or dried)
- Jaggery – 1 cup, powdered (or according to taste)
- Green chilli – 1 (slit vertically)
- Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp
- Ghee – 1 tsp
- Salt to taste
- Peel the mango, grate or chop it into small bits.
- Add a tbsp of water and cook it with a pinch of salt and turmeric and cook on low flame till almost soft.
- Add powdered jaggery and cook till it combines together and becomes a homogenous mixture.
- Slit the green chilli vertically and add to the chutney.
- Switch off the flame.
- In a tadka pan, heat 1 tsp ghee and saute the neem flowers. If using fresh neem flowers, lightly saute till they wilt. I used dried flowers, saute till they turn darkish brown. Add to the pachadi. Mix well.
- Your healthy bitter-sweet mango-neem pachadi is ready to serve.