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Easy Onam décor ideas and sadhya recipes for those celebrating at home

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And for those who want the traditional sadhya without all the effort, fun south-Indian restaurants in New Delhi and Mumbai are now offering the traditional meal on their menu

With banana leaf inspired reusable table mats, brass tableware and fresh flowers you can create a modern sadhya setting at home.

A banana leaf topped with a mound of rice and almost 28 colourful vegetable preparations around it, feasting on a traditional sadhya is a multi-sensory experience. The lunch feast to be eaten with your hands seated on the floor is made by Malayali families to celebrate the festival Onam. Avial, rasam and pachadi alongside injipuli, achaar and pappadam, the meal is a way to bring family and friends together for the festival.
But for the young Malayali the idea of Onam celebrations has changed. The number of dishes in daunting enough without even taking the authenticity of recipes into consideration. To take away the effort from the feasting, old-school restaurants like Hotel Deluxe in Mumbai have been serving the sadhya for years now but new south-Indian restaurants are modernising the concept by tweaking recipes, adding meat to the menu and offering beer to wash down the sadhya.

Says Vidya Venugopal, a lawyer who grew up in Kerala but now lives between Mumbai and Delhi, “The option to have a non-veg sadhya at a restaurant, is not what I grew up seeing,” but it is 

something that she understands can broaden the cuisine’s appeal. This is echoed by Dharmesh Karmokar, owner of Thangabali, which has three outlets in Mumbai. He will host a repeat of last year’s Onam pop-up, planned with his friends Vinod and Sarah Jacob Nair (the latter who is a Syrian Christian), and adds that, “maybe we’ll get one or two non-veg dishes on the menu this year, but on an a la carte basis.”

With banana leaf inspired reusable table mats, brass tableware and fresh flowers you can create a modern sadhya setting at home.

New Delhi’s Mahabelly has become popular for bringing Malayali food to the capital. Founded by three Malayali friends who couldn’t find their flavours in the city, they launched the restaurant for everyone whole loves and misses the food and named the place after King Mahabali whose homecoming is the reason Onam is celebrated. The décor includes a fun collection of letter prints by Malayali artist Taarika John, and the playlist has new and old Malayali numbers. “For the festival menu we actually do a fairly traditional version, while the setting remains cool and hip,” says co-founder Thomas Fenn. At Mumbai’s Adipoli the recipes have been in chef Rohit Cheyaden’s family for years but are tweaked for a modern restaurant setting. The injipuli, for example, comes with added prawns and he attributes the idea to his Syrian Catholic heritage.

Over at Mumbai favourite The Bombay Canteen, the restaurant may not celebrate Onam but does annually put together a banana leaf dawaat on Independence Day, close to the festival. Explains chef Thomas Zacharias, “The first year we decided we’d do a banana leaf thali, but instead of doing food only from Kerala, we drew a line from the Bombay Canteen philosophy and take dishes from different parts of the country.” As the dawaat and Onam are almost back to back, the restaurant doesn’t celebrate with a traditional sadhya, but instead Zacharias draws on his memories growing up in Kerala to create dishes for the menu. The pumpkin and petha soup is one such recipe.

Use DIY elements such as a napkin ring made using banana leaves with tooth picks.

Thangabali will have some non-veg dishes on its sadhya menu this year.

A proper sadhya on a banana leaf seated on the floor may not the most practical option for those in the cities, and whipping up 28 recipes, even less so. But if you would like to host friends and family at home this year, we have simple ideas for the décor below, a banana leaf table mat included! And recipes from some of the best chefs in the country.


Chef Dharmesh Karmokar, Thangabali

-        1 beetroot, grated
-        10 gms ginger
-        2 green chillies
-        50gm coconut, grated
-        5gms mustard seeds
-        140gms plain yogurt
-        1 sprig curry leaves
-        Salt (to taste)
-        10ml coconut oil

1.    Cook the grated beetroot with a little water.
2.    Grind the grated coconut, green chillies, grated ginger half mustard seeds into a smooth paste with 1/4 cup curd.
3.    Combine the curd and coconut paste with the beetroot.Then add the rest of the curd and salt and combine well.
4.    Heat oil for tempering in a small frying pan and add the curry leaves and mustard seeds, when the mustard seeds start popping, add it to the
5.    Mix well and serve over steamed rice.


Chef Thomas Zacharias, The Bombay Canteen

2 cups grated coconut
-        2 cups hot water
-        1 cup petha, peeled and thinly sliced
-        1 tsp chopped onion 
-        2 tsp coconut oil 
-        5-7 curry leaves 
-        1 green chilli, slit 
-        Salt and sugar (to taste) 
-        1 tbsp butter
-        1 cup pumpkin, peeled and thinly sliced
-        1/2 tsp ginger brunoise 
-        2 cups veg stock             
-        ½ cup vegetable oil 
-        ½ cup  curry leaves

Petha and Pumpkin Soup

1.    To make the coconut milk, add two cups of hot water to the grated coconut, allow to sit for 5-10 minutes and then squeeze out the liquid
       through a muslin cloth.
2.    To make the petha puree, in a small pan, heat the coconut oil, add the curry leaves, green chillies and onions. Once the onions are
       translucent, add the sliced petha and coconut milk. Season and cook for about 18-20 minutes till the petha is thoroughly cooked. Taste and
       adjust seasoning with salt and sugar. Remove ¾ of this mixture into a bowl leaving the remaining in the pot. Allow to cool down and puree in a
       blender. Strain it through a fine mesh sieve and keep aside.
3.    To make the pumpkin puree, heat butter in a pot and add the ginger brunoise, thinly sliced pumpkin and veg stock. Cook for 15 minutes till the
       pumpkin is thoroughly cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and sugar. Allow to cool down and puree in a blender. Strain it through a
       fine mesh sieve and keep aside.
4.    To make the curry leaf oil, heat the vegetable oil in a small pan on medium heat and add the curry leaves. Once the color of the curry leaves
       turn a slight shade darker, about 15-30 seconds, remove from the heat, season with salt. Allow to cool down and puree in a blender. Strain it
       through a fine mesh sieve and keep aside.
5.    To plate, heat both the petha and pumpkin purees separately in two pots. Adjust consistency with water. The pumpkin component of the soup
       should be thicker than that of the petha.
6.    Pour the two soups into the bowl simultaneously to form a divided appearance. Drizzle with the curry leaf oil.

Chef Jinson Varghese, Mahabelly

For Ada
2 banana leaves, large
-        1 tbsp ghee, melted
-        1 cup rice flour, sifted
-        Water

For the Pradhaman
        1 tbsp ghee
-        1 cup Ada (see above)
-        2 cups thin coconut milk
-        1/4 cup jaggery
-        1/2 tsp cardamom powder
-        1/4 tsp ground ginger
-        1/2 cup thick coconut milk

For the Ada
Prepare a steamer with water in its base. Cut the banana leaves into 5-inch squares, wilt them over an open flame so that they're easy to roll and grease with the ghee. In a small bowl, mix the rice flour with enough water to make a thick, pancake batter like paste. Spread batter enough for a thin layer on the leaf. Roll up each leaf and place in the steamer. Cook for 8-10 mins then open the leaves carefully and cut the steamed dough in 1/2 inch squares.

For the Pradhaman
In a deep skillet, add the thin coconut milk, jaggery, cardamom, ghee, ginger and simmer for 6-8 mins over low heat. Add prepared Ada to the simmering mixture. Add the thick coconut milk and simmer till the payasam is thick and creamy.

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