In traditional Indian cuisine.
Satta Povu", is a tasty, popular traditional sweet dish that the Gowd Saraswat Brahmins (GSBS) of Kerala make. It is a sticky preparation that takes its name from the six (Satta) ingredients – coarsely powdered, roasted moong dal, Bengal gram dal, sesame seeds, grated coconut and beaten rice (pova) blended with jaggery syrup. A story goes that a native once shared a bowl of this sweet with a foreigner friend of his. The friend not only relished it but to the amusement of the native exclaimed "I really marvel at the way each flake of beaten rice is stuck with pieces of pulses and sesame seeds!" The simple fact is the mixture is well blended to give it uniformity by distributing the ingredients evenly.
Someone has rightly remarked that food should appeal to more than one sense, (the tongue), to be palatable! Even when food colours, exotically shaped baking trays, biscuit cutters and blow torches to caramelise sugar sprinkled on dishes were alien to the Indian kitchen, the homemaker devised her own ways to lend aesthetics and variety to her dishes with leaves, hollows of bamboos and coconut shells, etc to cook food in and her own fingers, palms and moulds to shape it.
Two of the items, the tiny sugar balls called 'til guls 'and the sugar moulds, the 'Sakkare achus', exchanged during Makara Sankranti are as fascinating as the festival of amity and friendship itself! Many homemakers prepare these items at home. A few sesame seeds or Bengal gram are scattered on a plate and spoons of sugar syrup of the correct consistency are dropped on them. The plate is then rotated, as the solidifying syrup gathers around the grains giving the balls shapes and tiny projections. Sugar syrup of the desired consistency, clarified several times with curds and milk to give it whiteness is poured into wooden moulds to turn out the "achus" which are then cooled and taken out as 'sugar' birds, animals, flowers, gods and goddesses!
South Karnataka has its own methods of making mundane dishes interesting. "Khotto" (jack fruit leaves held together with bits of dried sticks), 'moodo' (long leaves weaved into rolls) to steam the down-to-earth idli batter in, give them different shapes and flavours. So too are "patholis" (jack fruitbased sweet dish or in the absence of the fruit, jaggery- coconut mixture to sweeten it), that are steamed in turmeric or banana leaves to lend them half-moon shapes and the goodness and flavour of the leaves they are cooked in.
Though "Chaklis" are mouldbased crispier, the Tamilians have a flair to shape them into perfect rounds using fingers. So too, their rice-based fried cousins of Karnataka, the "Kodbale", that are tear-shaped crispier made manually. "Jalebis" directly squeezed into sizzling oil in right-sized coils is another example of the simple beauty of Indian culinary culture.
"Modaks" are bundle-shaped, using fingers to seal the upper edges and the shallow grooves, thus formed themselves serve as a design on them! So too the beadings to seal the rims of samosas.
COLOURS AND MORE
Sumi was surprised to find coins embedded in the laddo she got as prasad from her neighbour. It was latter's way of adding an element of novelty to the simple sweet. (Isn't it a good idea for a party game too – the finder of the coin being the winner! eh!) Ritu had her own decorations for her children's fussy lunch boxes to add variety and nutrition, viz spoonfuls of sweetened or spiced beaten egg dropped into boiling water which turn into different shapes which she called 'egg flowers'. Fascinating double – coloured papad, rolled fusing lumps of the kneaded red chilli dough with the white one was a recent innovation I encountered at a marriage feast. We