Sadhya means feast in Malayalam, the language of the South Indian state of Kerala, where my father grew up. This celebratory meal—eaten for weddings, birthdays, and major holidays—reflects Kerala’s diversity, in ingredients and in religion, with Hindus, Christians, and Muslims often sharing this feast together. It includes the most traditional, most beloved vegetarian dishes of this tropical region, and all the elements are artfully arranged on a banana leaf, like vibrant paints on a palette. The meal always includes at least five vegetable curries, two lentil dishes, boiled rice, ghee, crisp lentil wafers called pappadam, a pickle, and a sweet pudding. The menu for a Sadhya varies depending on the season, but the format remains consistent. And it is always purely meat-free so that everyone can enjoy it.
The ubiquitous banana leaf acts as a glossy green backdrop for the curries. It also makes for the ultimate disposable plate. When you finish your meal, simply fold the leaf in half along the spine and close it up like a book. This signals you are done, at which point your host will collect it, take it out back, and feed it to the cows.
In designing this menu for six I began with family recipes—dishes I tasted on trips to my Aunty’s home in South India, handed down to her from my grandmother. But as a coastal society, Kerala has always adapted to outside influences in order to survive and thrive. So in the spirit of my ancestors, I have made adjustments for the American kitchen that make use of fresh, local, readily available ingredients.
Click here to view a slideshow with all of the recipes, including Seasoned Dhal; Spinach in Yogurt Sauce; Green Bean, Corn, and Coconut Stir-Fry; Ginger-Tamarind Chutney; and Cardamom Rice Pudding.
Maya Kaimal is an award-winning cookbook author and founder of Maya Kaimal Fine Indian Foods. Her India-raised father’s cooking captured her attention from an early age, and she often travels to the country. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and twin daughters. Her products can be found at MayaKaimal.com.