While Good Friday is associated with the Crucifixion of Christ and his suffering, Easter signifies his Resurrection and is thereby cause for celebration. Yet, I have fonder memories of the former.
The service starts early in the morning and goes past 3 in the afternoon during which the the passion, or suffering, and Jesus Christ's death on the cross is commemorated. It is impossible for people like me, who are not very pious, to concentrate on the service throughout. But I do recall an extremely good service to which I gave my undivided attention at a church in Chengannur during my college years. What made it memorable was that the priest was able to make me picture the magnitude of Christ's sufferings, and I left the church with a heavy heart.
I remember another Good Friday that coincided with my birthday and my cousins visited me early in the morning to gift me shiny nail polish, lipstick and face packs that the then teenage me truly appreciated. And talking about beauty, Good Friday may be the one time when Seemati and Jayalakshmi Silks do huge sales in chikan work sarees and salwar suits. As per the womenfolk, the subdued colour and design of chikan work make it apt for the occasion and the right half of the church (where women are seated) is a mass of light oranges, creams, whites, lavenders and pinks.
Yet another time when I left the church feeling guilty because the message that year was that each time we sin, we crucify Christ.
There was yet another Good Friday when I went to church with a very pregnant cousin who got down to her knees and bowed down everytime the rest of the congregation did. While she seemed to be undisturbed by this physical activity, my BP increased to dangerous levels just watching her. The very next Good Friday, I myself was as pregnant as she was then, and I got lots of advice from sympathetic strangers in the congregation about how I should rest myself to reduce the swelling all over me. I didn't feel the need to correct them that it wasn't swelling, but excess fat, most of which I carry around even now ;).
And ofcourse, towards the end of every service we push and pull and elbow everyone out of our way, all piety forgotten, as we try to find our way to a bottle of chorukka or sour wine that is tasted in remembrance of the sour wine that was given to Jesus on the cross.
And then comes the Kanji. Oh, the Kanji! We mostly always decided which church to go to depending on the kanji served there. Was it to be my maternal uncle's church where it was rumored that they served even avial with the kanji? Or my aunt's church where the (meal) service was so organized that people seated themselves neatly in rows and piping hot kanji was served along with payar, pickles and pappadam in earthen pots within no time. And while we planned, someone or the other would put the fear of god into our hearts by wondering if that year we wouldn't get kanji at all, but only a plain old bun! Hmm, pessimists!
For those of you are wondering what kanji is, it is rice gruel, usually served with payar (a stir fried green gram dish), red hot mango pickle and crispy pappadams (wafers) and is the malayali's ultimate comfort food. After a long and tiring day or hours of travel, you can feel the energy surge within you after a bowl of hot kanji. So much is our love for kanji that many people would love to have it for breakfast and supper, on a regular basis.
1 cup kuthari rice/rose matta rice/"boiled rice" grains
4-5 cups water
As required, salt
Wash rice thoroughly. Add rice grains and water to pressure cooker. Cover with lid and let boil. When steam starts escaping from the cooker, put on the weight and cook on medium heat till you hear about 4 whistles. Take off heat and remove the lid once all the steam has escaped naturally. The rice should be soft and cooked through. If not yet done, return to heat and boil for some more time till done, adding more water if required.
Season as required and serve hot.
Note: Your cooking time will depend on the kind of rice grains you use. You don't need a pressure cooker to make kanji, ofcourse. But this is a quick way to make it.
1/2 cup cherupayar/green gram lentils
1 1/2 cup water
3/4 cup fresh grated coconut
2 green chilies, sliced
2 pods garlic
a pinch turmeric powder
3 shallots, sliced
to taste, salt
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 dried red chili, broken into small pieces
3 shallots, sliced finely
1 sprig curry leaves
Wash lentils thoroughly. Add lentils and water to pressure cooker and cook over medium heat (with the weight on) for 2-3 whistles and remove lid once steam has escaped naturally. Alternately, you can soak the lentils overnight and cook in a heavy bottomed vessel till soft and cooked through. There should be only 4-5 tablespoons of water left over once the lentils are cooked. If there is too much water left, boil it off on high heat without covering the pot.
Crush coarsely the green chilies, grated coconut, garlic, turmeric powder and shallots using a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. Mix in this crushed mixture with the cooked lentils and salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
For the tempering, heat oil in a separate pan, add mustard seeds and let them splutter. Toss in dried red chili, sliced shallots and curry leaves. Fry for a couple of minutes. Add it to the green grams and mix well. Adjust seasoning.
If I have to talk like Gary and George, the kanji and payar combo is light, refreshing and a great medley of tastes and textures.