When I walk past a Parijatha tree, I go back in time to the days when my Mum and I went out for morning/evening strolls and admired the rising sun or the moon for hours and hours. Its some sort of a conditioning now, the scents of parijatha and full moon days make me smile.
Parijatha flowers bloom in the night and fall off the tree before sunrise. I would wake up to the scent of this flower, grab as many as I could every morning and take it to the temple. I didn’t realise the beautiful sunshine as I was engrossed in picking the flowers, but the sceneries were always spell-bounding. During the nights, we would have dinner under the moon light and the flowers in our garden would scent the air with their enticing aromas!
When I close my eyes in front of the parijatha tree today and I breathe in the scent, this is what I imagine- shades of orange and yellow, sillhoutes in black and specks of white mirroring in the dark. Reciprocating the same on a plate, I tried to create a dish with those colours but when when placed in front of you, you can smell the mild scents of Parijatha.
But before I explain what this dessert is about, let me tell you the fascinating stories of this flower.
Princess Parijataka was in love with Surya, the Sun god, who never reciprocated or showed any interest in her. Unable to bear the rejection, Parijataka committed suicide by setting herself ablaze. Her ashes were spread everywhere and they rose to become the Parijatha flower. But, the blooming flower, which was an impression of her, couldn’t handle the sun’s rays, which reminded her too much of her love, it is said that they weep at the touch of the sun’s rays. So the flowers started to bloom after the sun set and would fall off the tree before the sun rose. In fact, parijatha is the only flower that can be picked up from the ground and offered to god.
The second story…
According to mythology, Indra got a hold of the flower during the Samudra Manthana and managed to take the only tree in the Universe to his garden in Indraloka. The fragrant flower became Queen Indrani’s favourite and she would wear it in her hair everyday. She was even complimented for it, saying that the flower reflected her charming, youthful character. Indra and his wife took pride in owning the only tree in the Universe. Once, Narada in an attempt to plant a seed of discord, brought a few flowers from Indra’s garden and showed them to Krishna. Krishna gave the flowers to his wife Rukmini who was very taken by the pleasant fragrance and the colour of the flower. Narada, acting quickly, told Sathybhama, Krishna’s other wife, about the flower and triggered a sense of jealousy in her. Sathybhama demanded that she be given the tree and asked Krishna to get it for her from Indra’s garden.
Krishna marched to the garden and uprooted the tree, tied it up on Garuda’s back and were on their way to Dwaraka. But, they were accosted by Indra, who demanded that they give it back to him as it rightfully belonged to him. Krishna reminded him that it belonged to everyone and was no personal asset of his. A war followed and Krishna won. He brought the tree to Dwaraka and planted it in such a way that the tree remained in Sathyabhama’s side but the flowers bloomed in Rukmini’s side. Sly, sly Krishna!
In another version, it is said that Krishna and Sathybhama were invited to Indra’s abode, Indraloka, for lunch where she spotted it and asked Krishna to bring it to Dwaraka. After lunch, Krishna uprooted the tree, lugged it on Garuda and continued their journey. While exiting Indraloka, the trio were stopped by the guards and questioned. On hearing their story, the guards told them that the queen was fond of the tree and they would never let them take it away. An enraged Sathybhama, who was upset with the Queen’s lack of politeness and courtesy, said that it was grabbed by Indra and in no way belonged to them. When Indra was informed, he picked up his asthra(weapon), the lightning rod and raged a war against Krishna, which he obviously lost. Indra was apologetic for both his wife’s behavior and keeping the tree that clearly belonged to everyone, to himself. Krishna, who dearly loved both his wives equally, planted the tree in such a way that one would get the tree and the other would get the flowers. No, the wives didn’t fight later.
Now, coming back to the dessert! I wanted a few shades of orange and yellow, a black or dark red, some white and the whole plate to smell like a palm full of parijatha!
I first made the Parijatha extract using the age old method of condensation (for which I had to wake up at 5 AM to get the freshest flowers) and incorporated that into a gelée. The whipped cream was also scented with this essence. The base is a carrot pudding/custard, I’m not sure. And a pomegranate glace bring it all together. For crunch, there are bits of dark caramel and caramel almonds.
Here is how I made it:
To make the Parijatha essence:
As many parijathas you can collect
For the recipe, use something that resembles a dutch oven and use a concave lid without a knob. Keep a small inverted bowl in the bottom of your pot to elevate it and another bowl to catch the condensed flavor droplets. Spread the flowers around the bowl in the bottom and add a few tablespoons of water, just to avoid scorching of the pan. Turn on the heat, as low as it can go and invert the lid so that you have some area on the lid to add ice cubes. What this does is, it condenses the steam droplets and brings the droplets to the center of the lid which falls straight into the collecting bowl. The process may take about 5-10 minutes, but make sure you do not burn the flowers. Once you have about 1/4 cup of essence, take it off the heat and squeeze the flowers to get some of that natural orange colour from the stalk of the flower. Chill and reserve.
To make the gelée:
I made carrot and parijatha gelées for this recipe.
1/4 cup carrot juice/ parijatha essence
1/2 cup water
1/4 tp carrageenan
In two separate pots, add 1/4 cup of water in each and heat. Once warm, add a couple teaspoons of sugar and stir till the sugar dissolves. Add 1/8 tp carrageenan to each and stir till it dissolves. Add the parijatha essence in one and the carrot juice in the other. Gently stir till you get a uniform mixture and transfer to a mold and chill.
To make the carrot base:
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup + 1 tb cream
1 1/2 tbs sugar
Warm butter till light brown and add the grated carrot. Let the carrot cook till the colour lightens, dont let it brown though. Add 1/2 cup cream and cook till it reduces to form a dough. Add the sugar and continue to cook for a minute or so, till it dissolves. Once cooled, blend the mixture and add a tablespoon of cream if necessary.
100 gms toasted almonds
1/2 cup sugar
Make caramel as usual. Once it reaches the dark brown stage, add the almonds, stir and transfer to a greased pan. You might have some caramel remaining, drizzle this over the almonds, just to give it some extra glaze.
1 cup pomegranate juice, freshly squeezed
Heat the pomegranate juice till it reduces to about 1/3 cup, or till it can coat the back of a spoon and that is it! Simple! This is actually a versatile condiment and works well with many desserts.
Also, make some whipped cream with cream, sugar and a few drops of the essence.
Assemble with the custard at the bottom, gelées on the top, some whipped cream, nuts and chunks of caramel and a drizzle of that pomegranate glace. Actually, be creative! The plate if your canvas here!
Hope I did justice to the flower, memories and that beautiful sunset photograph. My mum and I sure did smile when we had this dessert!