This is a recipe that is very close to my heart as Ganesh Chaturthi was celebrated with great pomp and splendor at my parents’ home while growing up as a kid in Mumbai, as well as at my in-laws’ place, also in Mumbai later after I got married. As part of this traditional holiday, modaks (steamed rice dumplings stuffed with jaggery and coconut), are offered to Lord Ganesha, who is considered, “the remover of all obstacles”. Many Hindus seek the elephant headed God’s blessings before embarking on any auspicious project or significant task or journey as a result.
There is a tangible excitement in the air in various parts of India, and in particular in the state of Maharashtra, as families and friends gather to celebrate the holiday, and bring the beautiful, mesmerizing idol of Lord Ganesha home. Devotees may dance and sing in the streets to the passionate chanting of “Ganapati Bappa Moryaa”. The pooja or worship ceremony often concludes with 21 modaks offered to the deity.
For the modak cover or shell:
3 cups fine rice flour, sifted
3 cups boiling, hot water
pinch of salt
1 tsp oil:
For the coconut and jaggery filling:
1 cup + 2 tbsp jaggery, finely chopped or crushed
3 cups freshly shredded coconut or may use packaged, dry coconut, or frozen, shredded coconut
1 tbsp toasted poppy seeds
1 tsp freshly ground cardamom powder
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Method for the filling:
- Mix coconut and jaggery in a saucepan on low- medium heat until well combined and homogeneous.
- Add toasted poppy seeds, freshly grated nutmeg and freshly ground cardamom powder.
- Set aside to cool.
Method for the modak shell or cover:
- Boil slightly more than 3 cups of water in a thick bottomed saucepan.
- As the water comes to a rolling boil, add a pinch of salt and the oil to the pan.
- Now switch off the heat, and swiftly stir in the sifted rice flour in the boiling water.
- Keep stirring vigorously until the dough begins to form. Ideally, modak dough is soft and pliable, but neither too sticky, nor too dry.
- Cover tightly with a lid and set aside for a few minutes until cool enough to handle.
- Divide dough into approximately 30-33 rounded balls. (Figure 1). Cover balls with a moist cheesecloth to prevent them from drying and getting cracked.
- Working quickly once again, take one round ball and shape into a thin bowl-like form. (This is the “bowl” or shell of the modak, which will eventually hold the filling and should be approximately 3″ in diameter, figure 2 )
- Now pinch an edge of the bowl to form a pleat or one of the “petals” of the modak, so to speak.
- Pinch pleat another edge, as close to the previous one as possible until you have at least 6 petals per modak. The more pleats you can create in a modak, the prettier it will look, once all is said and done.
- Now add a scant tbsp or slightly less of the prepared filling to the modak “bowl”. (Figure 3).
- Gently pull all the pleats together over the filling to form a cone like shape on the top.
- Steam in a steamer bowl (figure 4), placed in a rice cooker for about 10-12 minutes until modaks begin to look “shiny”.
- Serve warm.
- Prepared modaks should be placed in an airtight container to keep them moist and soft.
RD tip: As discussed in previous posts, coconut is high in saturated fat, hence only a scant amount of the filling is used in this recipe. I have also reduced the amount of jaggery used in traditional recipes by more than half. That said, I like to encourage my patients to use the 90/10 rule. If 90% of the time, you are eating whole, unprocessed foods and making desirable food choices, the 10% of the time that you might deviate from your healthy meal plan will not count against you. However, (and I say this tongue in cheek, of course), the 10/90 rule might be problematic!!!
Chef’s tip: To keep the modak dough soft and pliable, dip your fingers in water every so often as you shape the dough, to form a thin shell and while creating the petals of the dumpling.
Disclaimer: This blog is strictly for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor or dietitian for recommendations tailored to your unique needs.