Health & Lifestyle

Healthy Festive Recipes: These South Indian Desserts Combine Taste And Health

We live in an age of instant gratification. A time when food or dessert cravings need less than an hour to be delivered to your doorstep. It wasn’t always like this. I remember the build-up for festivals such as Diwali as a child. It wasn’t just the Diwali fireworks and shopping that began a few days before the big festival day. It was also the preparation for sweets and savouries that sometimes started a couple of days in advance. It was also a time when most sweets and savouries were prepared at home and shared among neighbours, friends, and relatives.

The aromas of ghee and subtle spices that were tossed into some of the sweets would permeate most homes and tested the resolve of tiny kids especially ‘dessertarians’ (to borrow a Calvin and Hobbes phrase) like myself. While we had our say in the sweets that were made for Diwali or festivals like Janmashtami, we had to wait patiently till these sweets were first offered to the presiding deities in our pooja rooms. This was particularly tough for me, given that I got to eat piping hot Mysore Pak fresh off the stove during the rest of the year.

It’s a different scenario now, where many homes have made the switch to buying sweets or festive packs that sweet shops now roll out for different festivals. Of course, the tradition of making sweets and savouries still continues in many homes across Chennai and Tamil Nadu. One of the many positive food trends to emerge over the last decade is the return of millets into mainstream diets and also the use of white sugar substitutes such as karupatti (palm jaggery). It’s not just health food stores or organic stores that are fuelling this trend.

It’s great to see mainstream sweet stores also offer healthier options. Ananda’s in Coimbatore does a delicious Karupatti Mysore Pak and a Karuppati Jangiri, great alternatives to sweets that are very popular on festive wish lists. While festivals and special occasions are a license to give those calorie counters a break, it’s great if you can find a balance between wellness and your sweet cravings with the art of substitution. We’ve taken three popular sweets and savouries in Tamil Nadu and reinterpreted them with a healthy twist.

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Festive Recipes: Ribbon Pakoda recipe made with millets. 

Recipe – Barnyard Millet Ribbon Pakoda

(Recipe Courtesy GudFudBox, Chennai)

Chennai-based GudFudBox offers a host of healthier alternatives to traditional sweets and savouries. The Ribbon Pakoda takes its name from its ribbon-like shape and is usually crafted with rice flour, besan, and fried gram. This recipe incorporates barnyard millet (kuhiravalli in Tamil or Samvat ke Chaval in Hindi).

Ingredients (For about 1.1 kg of Ribbon Pakoda):

  • Barnyard Millet Flour – 550 grams
  • Rice Flour – 120 grams
  • Gram Flour – 120 grams
  • Roasted Gram flour – 60 grams
  • Urad Dal Flour – 70 grams
  • Asafoetida – 5 grams
  • Sesame Seeds- 2 grams
  • Cumin Seeds – 2 grams
  • Ajwain – 1 gram
  • Coriander leaves – 25 grams
  • Mint Leaves- 25 grams
  • Salt – 20 grams
  • Refined Oil- To Fry


  1. Grind the fresh coriander leaves and fresh mint leaves to a fine paste
  2. Sift all the flours and mix other ingredients together, add sufficient water and knead into a medium tight dough
  3. Heat oil, fill the dough in a mould and press the dough to release the dough in ribbons directly in the oil.
  4. Cook until it turns crisp
  5. Remove and cool.

Recipe – Kodo Adhirasam

(Recipe Courtesy GudFudBox, Chennai)

The classic adhirasam is a popular Diwali delicacy. This recipe substitutes rice flour in the conventional recipe with the goodness of Kodo millet (Varagu in Tamil or Kodo in Hindi)

Ingredients (For about 2 kg or 40 pieces):

  • Kodo Millet – 1Kg
  • Jaggery- 0.7 Kg
  • Cardamom – 10 Grams
  • Ghee – 100 Grams
  • Oil – To Fry (Cold pressed gingelly/sesame oil is ideal)


  1. Soak Kodo Millet for about an hour.
  2. Strain, dry and grind into fine flour.
  3. In a kadai add jaggery and just enough water; melt it and cook till it forms into a ball when drizzled into shallow dish with water.
  4. Add the ground kodo millet and stir continuously.
  5. Cook for about 10 minutes, add melted ghee and cardamom powder and stir until it incorporates.
  6. According to required size flatten the mixture and fry in medium hot oil on both sides, flipping the sides occasionally.
  7. Remove when the colour changes to dark golden brown.
  8. Place each Adhirasam on a flat surface press to flatten and remove all the oil.

Recipe – Karupatti Suzhiyam

Recipe Courtesy – Saravanan R. – Executive Sous Chef, Novotel Ibis Chennai OMR

This traditional Diwali sweet is usually a big hit with the kids for its spongy textures. In this twist, Chef Saravanan has substituted jaggery with the healthier palm jaggery (Karupatti in Tamil)


  • Bengal gram dhal (Boiled and mashed) – 250 gram
  • Coconut(Grated) – 250 gram
  • Karupatti (Palm jaggery) – 250 gram
  • Ghee – 15ml
  • Cashew – 20 gram
  • Cardamom powder – 10
  • Chekku Groundnut oil ( Cold pressed Peanut oil) – 1 litre
  • Idli Batter (readymade/homemade) – 500 grams
  • Idli Rice – 1kg
  • Urad dhal – 300gram
  • Fenugreek – 5 gram
  • Non Iodised Rock Salt – 15gms


  1. Soak the Idli rice for 2hours, Soak Urad dhal and Fenugreek for 2 hours, grind Idli rice in wet grinder to a coarse thick batter.
  2. Grind Urad dhal and fenugreek to a smooth thick batter.
  3. Mix rice and urad dhal batter together adding sufficient salt. Can be used immediately (fermentation of 6 hours in room temperature process not required for this particular dish).
  4. Melt Karupatti in a pan adding water, cool till syrup consistency.
  5. Heat Ghee in a pan, shallow fry Cashew, add coconut, Bengal gram dhal (mashed) and Karupatti syrup, let it cool.
  6. Make a ball of the mixture, dip into a Idli batter and deep fry in Groundnut oil.

About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie – a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.

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