Why are temple foods considered sacred? Several food writers have tried to answer this question through the lens of culture, history and customs. In June, a book—Bhog Naivedya—was released by Rupa Publications. Author Sujata Shukla Rajan deep dives into the origins of temple foods or prasadam from temples across India.
The recipes of prasadam are strictly guarded by temple cooks. Rajan, however, got a taste of the commercial kitchen in Madurai at a temple named Shri Kallazhagar Kovil. The following excerpt details her experience and contains a recipe of their famous pepper dosai.
Milagu Dosai Naivedyam at Kallazhagar Kovil
Access is not permitted to the main madappalli where the naivedyam is prepared. My cousin Jayashree and I are permitted, instead, into the commercial kitchen. Here, a group of men and women are busy preparing various items that will be placed at the prasadam counters for sale. A grinding machine is at work at one side, making the batter for the dosai. A woman rolls out ladoos and places them on large trays. The recipe and process followed, we are told, are the same as for the actual naivedyam that is to be offered to the deities, except that the size of the famous pepper dosai is smaller here than the large ones offered to the utsavar every evening.
Azhagar Kovil Milagu Dosai:
To make one batch of milagu dosai, the ingredients used are:
16 kg raw rice
2.5 kg urad dal with skin
10 litres ghee
200 gm whole black peppercorns
200 gm jeera
100 gms solid blocks of asafoetida
100 gm powdered saunt/sukku
1 bunch curry leaves
The rice is soaked for about 15 minutes, drained and ground in the machine.
Urad dal is soaked for 30 minutes, drained and coarsely ground. Both rice and dal are mixed together and all the other ingredients, except ghee, are stirred into the batter. The batter is not fermented as is normally done for making dosai. Plenty of ghee is used to deep-fry the dosai, each a little larger than the palm of a hand, about 5 inches in diameter. Each dosai, I am told, should weigh 160 gm and the kitchen makes every effort to keep them to a uniform size and weight.
All ingredients are procured by the temple kitchens from the Khadi Board, while ghee is purchased from the Tamil Nadu state dairy co-operative, AAVIN. The ingredients purchased are all of the best quality.
For the deity, two large dosai are prepared (each the size and shape of a large pizza). The dosai in the main kitchen is prepared on a special griddle made from five metals—gold, silver, copper, iron and bronze. The griddle, I am informed, is large and with sufficient depth to deep-fry the naivedyam pepper dosai. A large quantity of ghee is heated, about twice the volume of the batter that is to be poured in. After one side has browned, the huge dosai is skilfully turned over so that the other side is also fried.
The pepper dosai is offered to the utsavar, a small golden idol on a silver horse, between 6 and 6.30 pm every evening. If you are thinking of an Udupi hotel-style crisp, thin, almost golden yellow dosai, well, don’t! This milagu dosai is different, rather brown and thick with a small hole in the centre, and tastes absolutely delicious, what with the flavours of the pepper, saunt/sukku and all that ghee.
The whole black urad adds its personality to the dosai. At night, samba sadam is offered to the deities. Other naivedyam offered at the temple at various times are sakkarai pongal, puliyogare and lemon rice, all of them well spiced and flavoured as per traditional temple recipes.
Excerpted with permission from Rupa Publications India.