Now that summer is almost upon us and the days of Agni Nakshatram are not far off, we in Chennai look to ways to keep cool. Vetiver and sandalwood are all popular items that are used here. Almost all traditional homes will have a small piece of sandalwood which they will rub on a round stone and apply on the face and body to keep cool. It is very effective in preventing summer boils.
Another not-so-well-known coolant is poppy seeds. Called ‘gasa gasa’ in Tamil, the Komti Chettiars make a halwa out of it and eat a small quantity every day during summer to keep cool. My sister’s mother-in-law makes this halwa during summer and I am a lucky recipient. I thought I would share this recipe with my readers that I learnt from her a while ago. It is a very easy to prepare. Soak a cup of poppy seeds for about five to six hours. If you are in a hurry, soak it in hot water for about an hour or two. Drain and grind it well in a mixie to a smooth paste. For a cup of poppy seeds, use about 3/4 cup of sugar. Some people with a sweet tooth use a full cup of sugar. I like it less sweet, so I use only about 3/4 cup of sugar. You will also need about 1/2 cup of ghee.
In a heavy-bottomed pan, put in the sugar with a little water, once it melts, add the ground poppy seeds and keep stirring it. Add about 1/4 cup of ghee when the poppy seeds are half cooked. Keep stirring and add another 1/4 cup of ghee. Cook till the ghee separates and the mixture looks well done. You can grind pumpkin seeds (parangi seeds) and cucumber seeds along with the poppy seeds. Pumpkin seeds and cucumber seeds are also storehouses of nutrients and your halwa will be that much more nutritious. You can make a paysam out of poppy seeds by mixing the well-cooked poppy seeds and sugar to coconut milk. Add a little cardamom powder, and you have a delicious cooling paysam.
Poppy seeds are seeds obtained from the dry pods of the poppy plant. Yes, it is the same plant from which opium is derived. However, poppy seeds are not narcotic.
Its scientific name is Papaver somniferum. Some people take a little seed oil or poppy seed juice before going to bed to combat insomnia. I guess one could have a little halwa at bedtime too.
Poppy seeds are a known antioxidant. The fatty acids and essential oils which comprise 50 per cent of its net weight make it rich in oleic and linoleic acids. Oleic acid is found in olive oil and linoleic acid in flaxseed oil, both of which are good for our health. Oleic acid is a mono unsaturated fatty acid which helps lower the LDL or ‘bad cholesterol’, and increase the HDL or ‘good cholesterol’ in the blood. Poppy seeds are also a good source of dietary fibre. They are a good source of B Complex vitamins such as thiamine, pantothenic acid, pyridine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid. It contains good levels of iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and magnesium.
Since dried poppy seeds contain very small levels (really small levels) of opium alkaloids such as morphine, thebaine, codeine, papaverine etc. It has a soothing effect on the human body and reduces nervous irritability and promotes sleep. It is used in many traditional medicines, cough mixtures and expectorants. Since poppy seeds can become stale, always buy fresh seeds and store in the freezer.
For those of us who cannot indulge in halwas and sweets, ground poppy seeds are used in making kormas and traditional vegetable gravies. Add ground poppy seeds as you would add ground coconut in a dish, and you won’t go far wrong. Ground poppy seeds can simply be added to milk and had as a soothing drink at bedtime.
The writer was earlier Health Secretary, Tamil Nadu, and is currently Additional Chief Secretary, and Chairman and MD, Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation. She can be reached at Sheelarani.firstname.lastname@example.org.Earlier articles can be accessed at www.arogyamantra.blogspot.com