Of Roots, Fruits & Dairy

The fascinating side of the Navratri thali that makes it the perfect nine-day ritual to holistic healing. 


Of all the ritualistic meal, the one that has managed to hold Chef Vineet Manocha’s fascination for the longest is the Navratri thali. While each of our traditional festival meals follow a common thread of being satvik, which is local, seasonal and without the tamsik elements of onion and garlic, says the Culinary Director, Lite Bite Foods, “what makes the Navratri thali captivating is how it uses fruits, grains and dairy to create a balanced meal for all the nine days that not only takes care of all the nutritive requirements during the time, but also the cravings that come due to the long hours of fasting/intermittent fasting in certain places. In fact, Samvat Ke Chwaal, which perhaps is the only ingredient that has a grain-like appearance is used for kheer and pilaf is made from barnyard millet, which happens to be one of the many locally grown millet that completes the Navratra thali.”

Curiously, continues Chef Manocha, “the fruit, root, millet, and dairy combination is followed even in regions and communities where Navratri is celebrated with meat and fish as well.”

The idea of founding a weeklong menu on just three categories of food which in our Vedic texts define as phal, kand and ksheer, says Chef Srinivasan A, Senior Sous Chef, Chor Bizarre, “becomes even more enthralling when one realises the selection of the ingredients that are part of the traditional thali. Each fruit or root that is part of the Navratra thali, that eventually allowed potatoes as well as a sign of the spud’s acceptance into our ledger, is not based on seasonal produce only but has been a thoughtful selection of nutritive dense elements that can come together to create a platter that is both easy to digest, nourishing with the extra bonus of detoxing as well.” 


The Clever Composition 

An excellent instance of what makes the thali unique is Singhade ka atta, which, says Chef Akshraj Jodha, Executive Chef, ITC Grand Bharat, “even in its reformatted version that comes by dehydrating the monsoon fruit is rich in iron, calcium, zinc and phosphorous, and along with millet forms that carb and energy backbone of the food during the time. The fact that the atta works very much like a flour inspite of being gluten-free to create this whole range of interesting treat from roti, puri, pakora to halwa is a bonus.”

Similarly, is the case of the root vegetables and pumpkin that are an integral part of the meal, Chef Jodha continues, “these vegetables not only are responsible for providing energy through the day, but also work as a tastemaker for the rest of the dishes in the thali. In fact, roots thanks to the fibre content ensure the correct portioning and easy digesting by stimulating the senses and mouthfeel. This is crucial since it is the only proper meal of the day, and one is bound to go overboard or eat too quickly. One of the many reasons that root vegetable is also present in the thali that has a presence of meat as it aids in breaking down the complex protein structure of the mutton.”

In fact, says Chef Manocha, “the brilliance of the Navratra thali is that its composition helps it work on three different levels beginning with the fruits, which are light and are the first to digest giving that instant spurt of energy followed by the millets and then the roots with milk and its by product including ghee keeping the mind calm, which is crucial for the body to go into this self detox mode called autophagy.”


The Cooking Decode

To ensure this line of action, says Chef Jodha, “is the way each element in the thali is cooked, which goes from slow cooking to mash to kheer, frying, mashed and the seasoning. Unlike other niramish food, navratra thali food are known to hero one particular warm spice whose function is to aid digestion in some format or the other.”

Hence, says Chef Manocha, “you would find the use of ajwain, saunf, jeera, hing and sendha namak in the cooking along with ghee, which is known for its sensory properties in aiding digestion. The other reason for working with that one predominant flavour and fragrance is also to create a Rasa form that in every facet is to calm down the agitated, stressed mind and body that is partly due to fasting and partly due to the weather which is changing course from monsoon to winters,”

The Wellness Science Behind

Is that the reason for Navratri thali being curated with fruits and roots and not grains?

That is correct, says nutritional therapist Sveta Bhassin, “when it comes to our health, one of the things that influences it the most is the weather, or more precisely weather change. Every time there is a change in the climate, our digestive system goes sluggish, and we begin to experience things like body ache, mood swings, a slack in appetite along with an array of other physical-emotional upheaval that effects fertility as well, especially in women. It is to counter those effect while cajoling the slow digestive system called agni to revv up that such a diet is created that is high on potassium, magnesium, vitamins, resin or gum and folate. The potassium which is high on fruits and the resin in roots help reduce water retention which is a result of high sodium in the body, but also ensure a boost in growth hormones that allow the absorption of fat and production of good cholesterol.”


In doing this, she adds, “the way food is cooked matters. Sensory stimulation in fact works to produce digestive juices and enzymes that prime up the stomach for an easy process of digestion. One of the many reason that gluten, which needs the liver and gall bladder to overwork isn’t part of the diet whereas fruit, roots and milk products are. The low stress on digestion ensures that the body energized and supplied well also works on healing and repairing itself, which is part of the autophagy, and in intermittent fasting happens in the duration of sleep or when one is not eating.”

And to allow it to implement that function, dairy comes into play, especially, says Bhassin, “when consumed in form of kheer that is rich in glutamine that calms the brain or lassi or curd that comes with probiotic surplus and relaxes the tense muscle. A function that is often interpreted by us as feeling light and contend.”

Add to all this, says Chef Srinivas, “the fact that Navratri even today is a community festival works at keeping us engaged and happy, which in turn allows the meal to effect a holistic experience.”