Alun Dento (Traditional Curry of Colocasia & Leafy Greens Stalks) - Novein Jowaan Special

Now that all the festivities have kicked off I see a whole lot of recipes on different blogs pertaining to the celebrations. One can have a gala time in India irrespective of which religion/faith he/she belongs to - almost everybody is celebrating their respective feasts and most commonly the harvest feast is celebrated across most of South India. The first of the season's crop (new crop) is offered to God and a whole lot of celebrations are carried out. In Mangalore, the Catholic community celebrates the harvest feast on the 8th of September which is also the birthday of Mother Mary and is called as the Nativity of The Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM). The term Nativity means 'birth' and hence is also used for the birth of Christ, also popularly known as Christmas. I won't get into the details of Christmas right now as I have a whole bunch of posts for my favourite season which will come in December. For now, let me tell you about the harvest feast as we celebrate it.

In preparation of the celebration (the Nativity of the BVM), nine days of prayers are held prior to the actual day. This is known as the Novena (pronounced as noh-veena) held every evening following the Mass. Small children take baskets full of flowers as an offertory to Mother Mary. When I was little, I would be so excited to come home from school, quickly finish my tea and run off to the garden to pluck the newly bloomed flowers - Jidde (Wild Balsams), Wild Violets, Roses, Glass Flowers (not sure of the botanical name) and Hibiscus to name a few. The entire church would be fragrant with so many flowers. Right after the mass, all of us would gather on the church grounds, form a circle as the choir would sing 'Sakked Sangatha Melyaan' (meaning 'let us all gather with flowers to honour Our Lady) and offer the flowers to Mary in tandem with the song 'Moriyek Hogolsiyaan' (meaning 'let us offer praises to Our Lady). Right after this ceremony, sweets would be distributed and we would eagerly wait for them. Mysore Pak (Mangalorean version), Maalpuri (similar to Mumbai's Malpua), Peda, Khadi, Mithai Laddoo (Boondhi Laddu), Saat, Penuri (a hybrid of the Saat and Jhangri) (see some pictures here) are among the sweets I loved most and those that got distributed. These sweets were usually donated by some kind donors (usually one of the wealthy people from our church) and if we were lucky we got individually wrapped Banana or Wheat Halwa.

Above Pic: Each of the items below are found right above in the curry

On the day of the feast - September 8th, we would rise early to go for Mass and the offering of flowers was held prior to the Mass. My dad used to get some special flowers from the market to fill our baskets with. Jasmine (Kaley, Mallige), Marigold (Shivnthi, Gonde), Crossandra (Abolein/Abbalige/Kanakambara), Daisies and Asters - all of which were sold for a bomb. Right after the Mass we had to assemble in the adjoining church hall or school where the season's fresh Kobu (Sugarcanes) were distributed to the kids. This Kobu Vaantche (distribution of Sugarcanes) programme would always be the most chaotic but also the best as each one of us would vying for the fattest and juiciest Sugarcane of all.

This was also the day when a complete vegetarian meal would be cooked at home. This is called the 'Novein Jowaan' (meaning new meal). Usually the items prepared would be in odd numbers - 5, 7, 9 or 11 items if the one who cooked got really enthusiastic. Cooking was also done in great fervour and before savouring the meal the entire family would gather for prayers - to thank the Almighty for a good harvest and seek His abundant blessings on the family members for the coming year - the prayers would be concluded by singing a hymn and taking a sip of the 'Novein' (which means 'new' in Konkani and also means 'tender or first paddy (rice) of the harvest season'). Novein would be prepared by pounding a few grains of paddy that were blessed and distributed in Church, and mixing them along with milk. I will update this post with the pictures of the Novein shortly.

My mother's menu used to consist of seven standard items such as the Alun Dento (Alun is pronounced nasally and Dento is pronounced 'Dhento'), Sanei Sukhe (Black Chana/Garbanzo beans), Ghosalein (Ridge Gourd) Thel Piau (Oil and Onion style), Karathein (Bitter Gourd) sweet and tangy (with jaggery and tomatoes), Benda Miriyapito (Ladies Finger Pepper), Sanna (Mangalorean Idli) and Jivo Roce (freshly extracted coconut milk sweetened with jaggery and cardamom). After this splendid meal, while the adults retired for an afternoon siesta, the kids used to sit on the porch munching the juicy Sugarcane. These are one of the fondest memories I have of my childhood in Mangalore. I could have thrown in a few more memories here, but I think I have already given you a feel of how this feast is celebrated by Catholics in Mangalore. So why don't we head straight to the recipe now?

Today's recipe is one of the items that is probably made by everyone who celebrate this feast. The Alun Dento is a very traditional vegetarian curry that is famously made on this day if not otherwise. Alun is one of the two varieties of Colocasia differentiated by the dark coloured stalks and leaves. The leaves are used in the preparation of Pathrade/Pathrode (Steamed Rice Cakes) as well. The Dento which essentially means 'stalk/stem' is the stalk of a particular variety of the leafy greens that grows 4-5 ft tall - Dento Baji as we call it. The Alun and the Dento together come to make this lovely gravy.

Alun Dento
Serves 3

You Need:
For the masala
For the seasoning
1. Wash the stalks thoroughly. Remove the roots if any of the leafy green stalks (Dento). Remove the fibre (outer skin) of the Colocasia stalks and cut into pieces of about 1cm. Boil the Colocasia stalks with a little water, salt to taste and the hog plums for about 7-8 minutes - this is because the Colocasia is itchy and hence the pre-boiling with hog plums or tamarind. Cook the leafy green stalks in sufficient water and salt till tender. Place both these types of stalks in a vessel.
2. Grind all the ingredients mentioned in 'For the masala' to a paste. Add this masala to the pre cooked stalks. Add the masala water and bring the gravy to a boil. If you prefer a tangy gravy, add the tamarind paste and mix well. Cook for a few minutes
3. In another pan heat the coconut oil and toss in the sliced onion and fry till golden in colour. Add this seasoning to the boiling gravy. Turn off the flame and cover the pan
4. Serve hot with Sanna or Rice

1. The size of the stalks of Alun and Dento are approximate. If you have prepared it earlier you will know the quantity that is required.
2. Ideally a fresh/tender coconut is used for this preparation. By tender, i do not mean the green one sold as tender coconut for its water. The one to be used here is ideally the one where the outer husk is greenish but not too tender and inside the white flesh is juicy and the water hasn't dried up (which means that the coconut is aged).

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