Vegetarian menu for Chitra Pournami: Roasted butternut squash curry with saffron rice


Beautiful moon captured at Santana Row on May 5th 2012 @ 10.00 PM


Religion, superstitions and faith goes hand in hand. Education and personal experiences teach every human to have a cognitive approach towards these philosophies. I still remember my dad’s late elder brother’s words and sometimes I feel his persona around me when I pray or think about him. He was one of the most intellectual person in the family, an engineering graduate from AC tech, Chennai and MBA from IIM, Calcutta. He was an excellent orator whose every word carried wisdom. He would talk about world hunger, UNISEF, politics with us and insisted to follow current affairs and stay updated about things happening around the world. As a family, we all fondly miss him every single day. And what he taught us was “A helping hand is way better than praying lips”. He wasn’t an atheist but a person who is proud about his tradition and heritage and likes to ponder over the reasons behind every belief. We grew up in a family that preached the existence of God but also reminded us every single day that HE watches one’s deeds and as an individual you are answerable to your conscience. We have been imbibed with thoughts that there is no need to bribe God to shower good things our way and staying disciplined in life is all that’s needed to be successful and happy. My cousins and I pray to God but we don’t overdo it.
For a curious soul like me who loves to know the mythological and scientific belief behind any Hindu traditions, I called up my folks to learn new facts and little google search helped me too. Today’s post is about believes in the prayers and fasting on Chithra Pournami day and recipes for a vegetarian meal that is served on this special day.
Accordingly to Hindu beliefs, Chitra Pournami is the special time of the year where we pray to Lord Chitra Gupta to erase our karmas. Yes, you heard it right! A day to get rid of the sins you committed. Lord Brahma was the one who created Chithra Gupta (the obedient assistant who takes note of your deeds in his holy book) through the Sun God and he is also the younger brother of Yeman (remember the hefty man in movies riding on a bull with a rope in hand). For my tamil friends, we must be familiar with this hilarious movie “Lucky manthath had the characters of Yeman and Chitra Gupta in it.

It is a belief that Chitra Gupta keeps the good and bad deeds of every birth and he tallies the positive against negative karma and decides whether its hell or heaven after one’s death. My thatha explained to me that it is on full moon days that you pray to Chitra Gupta to wash away your sins and gain the good virtue for the life after death. Interesting right?  What I took away from my discussion was that we must constantly do self analysis, hurt no one, apologize to people whom you have troubled and pray to God with faith. As simple as that!

Now lets understand the science behind a full moon day. It is known that earth has moved into a certain orbit with moon. The magnetic pull is stronger on this day as the pull of the moon is working upon the surface of earth. Hence elders at home will insist on staying at the shore on full moon day as the tides rise more. The gravitational pull of the moon is working on the water more on this night. When there is an upward natural pull like this, the blood circulation in the brain increases. Hence people love to mediate on full moon day as there is an upsurge of energy in the mind and soul. Scientifically, full moon day is the best day to meditate and pray.
Pournami means the night of full moon day. It is an auspicious day for Hindus and many fast or meditate during this day. The fast begins at sunrise and ends after seeing the beautiful moon at night.  My mother-in-law performs special pooja every month at the day of full moon and it’s a vegetarian meal day. I was raised in a family where non-vegetarians meals were cooked sporadically and having a vegetarian meal was a part of my growing up years but for my husband who is a hardcore carnivore, it is this day that convinces him to pray, stay disciplined and eat vegetarian foods. So every month on full moon day my home is filled with variety of vegetarian dishes and this month it is even more special as May 5th was Chitra Pournami.
We dined at Dish Dash restaurant in Sunnyvale with a friend on Friday evening. Since my Mediterranean food hangover stayed on and since I loved their saffron rice, I created a vegetarian meal with a Mediterranean theme on Saturday. The menu was saffron rice with roasted butternut squash curry and mint raita sprinkled with garam masala.  The fluffy basmati rice perfumed with aromatic Iranian saffron and topped with ghee roasted raisins and cashews was a beautiful painting on the plate. The plate was beautified further with roasted butter squash tempered with mild Indian spices. The squash was sweet and spicy. Raita was served as a moistening agent for the dryness that the rice and curry would create in your throat. To wash them down, I served steamy Iranian mint tea. It was a perfect vegetarian meal for the full moon day and for dessert it was chilled melons.
Source: Self
Serves 4
1 tablespoon ghee / butter / olive oil/ any oil
2 cardamons
4 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 large onions – thinly sliced
1 Thai green chilly – slit
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
2 cups long grain basmati rice
1 pinch saffron strands soaked in 1 tablespoon warm milk
3 cups water to cook
6 cups water to soak
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon ghee
20 raw cashews
20 golden raisins
1. Rinse and clean the rice in running tap water. Drain and soak them with 6 cups water for 2 hours. Drain and set aside.
2. Heat ghee/ butter/ oil in a large cooking pan (with a fitting lid). Once they ripple, add cardamon, cloves and bay leaf. Cook for 30 seconds. Add the onions and little salt. Let it sweat and cook covered for 8 minutes until they brown a bit.
3. Mix in the green chilly and ginger-garlic paste. Saute for a minute. Pour 3 cups water and soaked saffron strands along with the milk and bring it to a boil.
4. Bring the heat to the lowest and mix in the rice and cook covered for 15 minutes. Switch off the flame and let it rest until ready to serve.
5. In a separate saucepan, heat ghee. Once they are hot, fry the cashews and raisins to golden brown shade. Remove and mix it over the rice before serving.
6. When ready to serve, remove the lid and using a fork, fluff out the rice gently. Transfer to a fresh bowl and sprinkle the raisins and cashews on top.

Source: Self
Serves: 4

1 small butternut squash – about 1 or more pounds ( I brought the smallest one home)
1 + 1 tablespoon oil, roasting and cooking
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black gram (urad dhal)
3 dry red chillies
1 large red onions – thinly sliced
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoon water
1/4 cup cilantro
Salt to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400F.  Remove the skin and cube the butternut squash. Pat dry with a kitchen towel. Toss them with olive oil and little salt. Roast them for 50-60 minutes, until they brown a bit on the outside.
2. Heat oil in a cooking pan. Once hot enough, add the mustard seeds and let it pop. Then add the dry red chillies and black gram and let it roast.
3. Mix in the onions and little salt and cook covered for 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle all the spices and saute for 2 minutes. If its too dry, add little water to avoid burning.
4. Gently fold in the roasted butternut squash and coat them with the spice mixture. Let it heat through for 5 minutes. Add salt to taste and sprinkle cilantro. Switch off the flame and serve hot with the rice.
Source: Self
Serves : 4

1 cup non-fat or low fat yogurt
1 cup fat free sour cream
1/4 cup mint leaves – finely chopped
1 teaspoon garam masala
Salt to taste
Mix them all together and serve chilled.
Additional notes:
1. The roasted butternut squash is an ideal side for South beach diet phase 1 and can also be eaten during all the phase of SBD.

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  1. An interesting post, Vijitha. From the point of view of Vedanta, it is essential to remember papa and punya karma are effective only in prakrti and bind us in samsara. Brahman is unaffected by tri-guna. Jiva's natural propensities are transcendental. Liberation from material consciousness is readily available for humans, regardless of race, nationality, gender, status, education…

  2. Beautiful pictures as always but, the one with moon and what your uncle taught is very interesting.The saffron rice is one of my fav in the rice family.

  3. Interesting post Vijitha. Ive always believed that religion and superstition go hand in hand and with that comes a whole lot of problems that we face today. I'm not an atheist either but I've always challenged and questioned every religious belief! I can relate to your uncles thoughts, he does sound like a practical and intelligent man.

    Thats a wonderful meal you've prepared. In our home its me who's the hardcore carnivore:)

  4. Interesting post, thanks for sharing V..Both rice and curry looks fantastic.

  5. Dear Vijitha
    How are you ? Here after a long time..I was out of country with no access to blogs. Now trying to read all the great recipes. I can see I have missed many of your postings. The recipes are new for me and very new and unique …Will try
    Have a nice week

  6. Hi Vijitha
    Wonderful story-thank you for sharing. This is my kind of recipe too! Squash is one of my most fav foods and combined with the SAFFRON rice – well, that makes it a perfect meal. Dean and I need to cook this one up -can't wait! I'll let you know how it goes. Sharon

  7. I love the combination of squash and aromatic rice. The colours make the dish look soooo appetizing:) I'll have to try using saffron at some point, till now I mostly used turmeric. Thanks for the recipe!

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