Living as an expat one realizes that festivals seem like festivals only because of the people and the surrounding atmosphere. In fact in the USofA, where I live, festivals are not even called as such, but are called holidays, and what we knew as holidays are strictly vacations.
Last week for example was raksha bandhan, which coincides with the nAraLI pournimA, which is celebrated along the coast of Maharashtra, but one wouldn't have known that by looking around. For the last several years, it has been just another day on the calendar for me, but this year things were different because of the presence of a brother and sister in the house. So naturally there was the rakhi ceremony, but the other visible sign was the traditional nAraLI bhAt or sweet coconut rice that is usually made on this day. Technically, this year nAraLI pournimA was a day before rakha bandhan as per the Hindu calendar, but that did not stop us from celebrating the tradition.
Based on the reactions of some people who were not familiar with this dish, I suspect that it could be an acquired taste. Well, more for me, because I thought it was just lovely and wondered why I hadn't ever made it before. If one likes rice, jaggery, and coconut, one is bound to like it.
I made it based on the recipe from the Marathi cookbook Ruchira, but have added more details and quantities here than in the original. There was also no saffron in the recipe, but I added some for luxury.
Sweet Coconut Rice
Serves 6-8 for dessert
2 Tablespoons milk
a pinch of saffron strands
1-1/2 cups rice
4 Tablespoons ghee
5-6 green cardamom pods
2 cups freshly shredded coconut
2 cups jaggery (not tightly packed)
2-3 T golden raisins
a few Tablespoons sliced almonds
Heat the milk just enough to warm it, crumble in strands of saffron into it, and leave aside.
Wash the rice and leave it to soak in water for 30 minutes to an hour, and drain the water when ready to cook. Heat the ghee in a large saucepan, add the cloves, and then the rice, and stir it around till the rice is coated with the ghee. Add 3 cups of water, bring it to a boil. The turn the heat to medium, place a lid partially on top, and let the rice cook for about 10-15 minutes. Since it has been presoaked, it will take less than usual to cook.
In the meanwhile, peel the cardamom and powder the seeds in a mortar and pestle.
Take the jaggery and coconut in a large wok or kadhai, and cook it together on medium heat until the jaggery has melted. This will take about 10 minutes. Add the cooked rice to it and mix it together along with the cardamom, saffron, golden raisins, and almonds.