The Tradition of Annakoot – Delicious Festive Dish of Braj
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On 1st January 2023, My Naani (Maternal Grandmother) will turn 96 years old. She had been an excellent cook for most of her life until she stopped cooking because of old age. However, the taste of the fantastic dishes of Braj (our Native place) she cooked has imprinted on our palates and hearts. Braj is the region surrounding Mathura, Vrindavan, Barsana, Goverdhan, etc., where lord Krishna was born and spent his childhood. Therefore, many Hindu festivals find their roots in the holy land of Braj, and one of them is Goverdhan puja, which falls on the day following Diwali.

On the auspicious day of Goverdhan Puja, an exceptional Prashad is prepared, which includes hundreds of different vegetables and fruits cooked together, and offered to the Goverdhan Hill. According to Hindu scriptures, The Goverdhan hill was lifted by Lord Krishna to protect the people of Braj from the incessant rains caused by Lord Indra. Every year, on this day, ‘Annakoot Prasaad’ is prepared and distributed amongst the devotees. In our family, my Naani passed on the tradition of preparing Annakoot to us, and I am sure this is going to continue in the generations to come.,

On the day of Diwali, we buy as many varieties of vegetables from the ‘subzi mandi’ as we can get. Sourcing 100 different vegetables is an integral yet most challenging part of the process. I remember my father making multiple trips to ‘Mandis’, sometimes a couple of different ones, to buy vegetables. Once this process is done, the preparation begins.

Annakoot, being a ‘saatvik prashad’, onion and garlic are not used. Barring it, most other vegetables like potato, tomato, brinjal, different types of beans, carrot, radish, peas, beetroot, colocasia, bottle gourd, parwal, cauliflower, okra, capsicum, pumpkin, Jimikand, sweet potato, leafy vegetables, and many other different vegetables are washed, wherever required they are peeled and then cut into small pieces (preferably dices). Various fruits like bananas (ripened and raw), oranges, Pomegranate, apples (green and red), berries, etc., are also used.

The whole family prepares the ingredients required for the Annakoot from early in the morning. Some of the vegetables are preboiled, and some are fried, and on the other hand, the masala box and the huge ‘Kadhai/Pateela’ are brought out for tempering and preparing the Annakoot.

A generous amount of pure desi ghee is poured into the Kadhai, in which goes ‘Hing’—followed by turmeric, cumin, ginger, chilli Powder, coriander powder, garam Masala, amchoor, and kasoori Methi. Then the vegetables are added. For the past ten years, my brother and I have taken up the responsibility of cooking the final dish; we usually start with tomatoes, so they are well cooked and mashed to prepare the base for the annakoot. This dish is not a gravy dish. However, well-cooked tomatoes add some juiciness to the preparation; the rest comes from the ghee. Then we add potatoes, carrots, radish, Jimikand, colocasia, beetroot and similar vegetables, followed by softer vegetables like okra and brinjals, and lastly, leafy vegetables and fruits.

The key to giving an excellent taste to Annakoot is tempering it with ‘tadka’ more than once, with red chilli powder, ghee and salt as per taste. Our idea of giving it multiple tadkas is firstly to provide enough ghee for cooking the vegetables and to adjust the flavour by adding additional spices, as and how required. Coriander leaves are used to garnish the Annakoot, and off-late we have started to add paneer (dice as well grated) on its excellent presentation.

Preparing ’Annakoot’ requires hard work and patience. The results are truly unique. Every year, relatives and neighbours wait eagerly to get their box full of ‘Annakoot’ from our kitchen. It is one of the highlights of the Diwali festival.

Preparing ‘Annakoot’ on Goverdhan puja is not just auspicious but healthy, as all seasonal vegetables are consumed, which boosts immunity. ‘Annakoot’ is also prepared in most temples, especially the Krishna temples. In Braj, most families prepare ’Annakoot’ for the puja and bhog. Every temple offers Bhandara, where ‘Annakoot’ is served.

For us, it’s a traditional preparation we learned from our Naani. Preparing an ’Annakoot’ every year is an ode to her culinary legacy. I urge all food lovers to try preparing an ‘Annakoot’ at home, probably involving family members in cooking. It is delightful to bond over cooking, especially when the dish is so healthy.

Sidharth Bhan Gupta, Founder of 361 Degrees Hospitality, is a Hospitality / Food and Beverage / Restaurant Consultant, Travelling across India on a Cultural and Culinary Exploration