My first encounter with peanuts, after I became person enough to remember ie (I am pretty sure there could be an older one at a level of memory that right now I do not have power to tap for such is my love for the peanut candy!) was a delectable square of Kappalandi (Peanuts in Malayalam) Mittai or Chikki - the sort the shopkeeper takes out of a glass bell jar covered with a lid in exchange for a small coin.
Crunchy, glazed over with liquefied jaggery and garnished with a smattering of some bright pink tiny shavings of I still do not know what, it also had a faint flavor of vanilla essence as the first crunchy bite released a delicious commingling of sweetness and roasted nutty flavor in the mouth that I simply resisted washing out.
My Kappalandi Mittai obsession as a child inspired my prolifically gifted mother attempted to make kappalandi mittai herself, starting with small balls where molten jaggery of a certain consistency became the binder for the roasted skinned nuts. I especially liked the imperfect ones that were not crunchy but soft & sticky.
Right after school I migrated to Gujarat to study and discovered the large variety of Bharuchi peanuts that, washed down with a Gujju ‘kadak anei meethi chai’(strong & excessively sweet tea),often replaced a meal for me. Winters meant delving into those wonderlands on wheels , the seasonal mobile chikki stalls that sold all kinds of candied nuts piled up into little hills in a variety of scrumptious avatars.
I thought I had seen it all but recently, while on visit to meet my friend Sandhya who now heads Production at the hearth of LUMIERE Organic Home Store at Whitefield I realized I was wrong.
“Just in time !” She beamed as she rolled a strange looking mix deftly into a ball in her skilled hands and held it out to me “Taste my version of our Peanut laddoos or the Coco Peanut Balls as you named them hearing the ingredient list on phone. “
My now slightly weakened teeth encountered no resistance whatsoever as they sank delectably into the nice mealy textured sphere with its subtly underplayed jaggery sweetness . The ball was so soft, dotted with the mild texture of crushed nuts and supported by the slightly juicy squishiness of natural fresh finely grated coconut. The subtle flavours of powdered cardamom,the distant yet distinct tang of cumin and the slight zing of dried and powdered ginger also came across as olfactory hints gently astonishing the tongue.
“Oh Sandhya ! Do you have any idea what you are capable of, my dear woman? ” I thought to myself with a rush of tenderness flooding into my heart as she sat there oblivious to my storm of feeling, swiftly efficiently rhythmically rolling out balls of the mix with makeshift chef’s hat she had recently donned stepping out of the comfort zone of her family hearth for personal reasons , a picture of unassuming simplicity & hard working dedication.
The Divine triad-Dried Ginger ,Cumin and Cardamom that ensures good digestion is a mandatory add on to the rich, sweet .coconut milk and jaggery based payasams or sweet puddings that the temple town of Vaikom ,from where Sandhya hails, is well known for. It is amazing how creativity always manages to tap deep into the recesses of an artist’s personal formative memory and I realized the depth of creativity that Sandhya’s personal twist to a Lumiere recipe has set off.
By now the humble looking Coco-Peanut ball had upturned all my notions of what a peanut based sweet must look, feel and taste like altogether.
“And what is this dusting of white powdery stuff , Sandhya?”I asked
“Just a smattering of finely ground organic raw rice to bind the mix together”
I tasted carefully to clarify what it was to my conditioning that seemed missing-
” No hint of ghee whatsoever! How come?Not even that little which comes through from a greased plate or greased hands for conveniently rolling out balls?”
“That is the point” laughed Sandhya ”.
Not a drop of oil or ghee goes into its making! Actually it is a sort of energy bar, only thing it is rolled like a traditional laddoo into balls! “
I witness the speed with which Sandhya counts and puts the exact requisite number without a single broken or damaged piece into the bio plastic packaging and sealing them for stocking right away in the shop.
Even as I stand there I watch a couple of packets fly off the shelf minutes within which they are placed there. What for Sandhya is a scaled up home operation of a caring loving mother and homemaker ,for me feels like one of those tiny little homemade miracles that reminds you again and again how good Life really is.
Energy Bars but shaped like a ball…
Now how cool is that!