Five traditional foods you must try at home

From the fiery rhododendron of the lush hills to the flavourful pearl millet (bajra) of the drought-hit plains, we bring you a selection of five traditional recipes from First Food. This book, published by the Centre for Science and Environment, contains invaluable ingredients from India’s biodiverse food palate

Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

1. Mahua
The mahua tree (Madhuca indica) grows in the forest villages of western Odisha. Its fruits are munched raw, seed kernels are crushed to produce edible oil and flowers are sweet and mouth-watering. A report of the Mysore-based Indian Institute of Nutrition Sciences says the mahua flower is rich in phosphorus, iron and calcium.

Mahua poda peetha


  • Mahua flowers - 250 gm

  • Wheat flour - 250 gm

  • Salt - to taste

Soak flowers in water for four hours. Strain out water. Prepare batter with wheat flour. Add salt. Spread half the batter on a hot-oiled griddle. Put the mahua flowers on it and cover it with the remaining batter. Cook both the sides. Serve cool. 




  • Mahua flowers - 500 gm

  • Sesame seeds - 50 gm

  • Groundnut - 100 gm

  • Horse gram - 50 gm

  • Salt - to taste

Soak flowers in water for four hours and boil for 15 minutes. Strain out the water. Fry sesame seeds, groundnuts and horse gram. Grind all ingredients together along with salt. Roll the mixture into laddoos.


2. Rhododendron

imageThe rhododendron enjoys the status of the national flower in Nepal and is the state flower of Sikkim, Uttarakhand, and the US states of Washington and West Virginia. The flowers of most species of rhododendron have medicinal properties. They contain ursolic acid and quercitrin, which have anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, anti-microbial and anti-viral properties. A concoction of the flowers helps fight diarrhoea and dysentery. The leaves and flowers of rhododendron barbatum contain andromedotoxin—a substance that helps reduce blood pressure. Leaves and flowers of Rhododendron ponticum possess narcotic properties; they can help combat gout and rheumatism. 



  • Rhododendron petals - 1 kg

  • Sugar - 1/2 kg

  • Citric acid - 5 gm

Boil petals, and then strain out the concentrated juice. Add sugar, 350 millilitres of water and citric acid. The final volume should be around one litre. Store in a clean and dry bottle. To serve, mix the juice in water in the ratio of 1:3.


3. Pearl millet or bajra
Bajra can grow in sandy soil, high temperatures and can make do with little water. It might be more often visible as bird feed, but this fibre-rich millet, when made into a kheer, is a feast for both those initiated and not initiated into using bajra as food. 

Bajra kheer


  • Whole bajra - 2 cups (soaked overnight)

  • Milk - 6 cups

  • Water - 4 cups

  • Sugar - to taste

Soak bajra overnight. Coarse grind it and remove the husk. Boil or pressure cook, till half cooked. Add milk; cook till the paste thickens and the bajra is soft. Add sugar to taste. Garnish with cardamom, almond. Serve hot or cold.


4. Palash
Palash, or the Flame of the Forest, is abundantly available in central parts of the country. Tribal areas of Maharashtra and adjoining Chhattisgarh once valued palash (Butea monosperma) as the best coolant, with nutritional and healing qualities. Fresh leaves are placed on the head and secured with a scarf before going out in the sun. This provides protection from sunstroke. The flower is also very useful in case of urinary and menstrual problems.


Palash sherbet


  • Dry palash flowers - a large handful

  • Sugar/jaggery/rock sugar- to taste

  • Fennel seeds, cumin powder, pepper powder, mint leaves, lemon juice - optional

Soak all the ingredients with five glasses of water for four to six hours or till the flowers lose colour. Stir well, strain and serve chilled. To improve taste, soak fennel seeds along with the ingredients. Add lemon juice, black salt, cumin powder, pepper powder or fresh mint leaves before serving. 


5. Singhare
Nutrient-rich water chestnuts (Trapa natans) need only a culinary imagination. Succulent, slightly crunchy and delicately sweet, water chestnuts are munched raw, seasoned or sautéed, and even ground to make flour. Harvested between October and December, water chestnuts are valued in traditional systems of medicine for their cooling and astringent properties. They are reputed to reduce heartburn, fatigue and inflammation and are also useful against blood disorders, urinary tract infections, bad breath, tooth aches and dehydration.


Singhare ke katle

Take 100 gm of singhara flour in a pan. Roast it well and keep aside. Take 400 ml of water in a pan and add 200 gm of sugar to it; mix well. Add the flour to it and stir well to remove clots. Cook on a slow flame. Keep stirring till the mixture thickens. Pour in a greased plate and set. Garnish with grated coconut and cardamom powder. Cut into small squares.

Contributors include Vibha Varshney, Aparna Pallavi, Nirmalendu Jyotishi, Anil P Joshi, Namami Sharma and Jagdeep Gupta.

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