Amidst bubbling pots of biryani, clouds of sugar, and heady spices flowing through her home, Kirthanaa Naidu is making her colourful and careful preparations for Diwali this week. Flowers, candles, and mountains of sweets adorn her home, awaiting the crowd of her loved ones who are coming over.
Why is Diwali special to you? What does it mean to you and your family?
An important part of Diwali is that it marks a fresh start, and so every effort is made to start things in a positive way. In this light, the lead up to Diwali happens three weeks in advance, where we help our mum deep clean the house, everything from the sofa covers to the curtains are washed! We also go shopping to buy new sets of clothes, including a new Punjabi suit or lehenga for Diwali itself. Growing up, it was always the most exciting time of the year, as I knew I would be getting new clothes and money to buy whatever my latest obsession was for that year.
As part of the preparations my older sisters, mum, and cousins would make beautiful kolam, which are intricate designs made out of coloured rice on the floor. Later in the day we would catch my naughty shih tzu with coloured dye all down her chin as she had decided it made a tasty snack!
On the day itself, we would wake up and wash our hair with oil, put on our new clothes, and go for prayer. We would all then go for breakfast that my mum had prepared earlier in the morning, which was usually chicken curry with idli served on a banana leaf. This would be followed by Indian sweets, such as ladoo, kesari, and sweet pongal.
We would stay up late into the evenings, when cousins and other family members arrive for more celebrations, which would conclude with a flurry of fireworks in the garden.
Do you have a favourite Diwali memory?
My favourite Diwali memories are made up of spending time with my mum and sisters cooking. Every year in the lead up to Diwali, my mum spends ages making biscuits and murrukku — which we didn’t mind as we loved eating it. Everyone makes different types of sweet biscuits for the occasion — Pineapple tarts was a favourite, which is common in Malaysia. They would be stored in a kitsch red biscuit box, which when opened would reveal several sections each with their own lid with different types of biscuits inside — it was a real treat!
What’s your favourite food to eat during Diwali? Do you have a recipe you can share?
As I’m only able to travel to Malaysia rarely for Diwali, I try to recreate the Diwali festivities and cuisines as much as I can in the UK. So, I spend Diwali with my close friends, when I’ll cook a special meal that often takes days to prepare. The dish that creates the best aromas, nostalgia and atmosphere is my mum’s biryani recipe. My mum is obsessed with biryani…When I’m travelling back home, she often makes me take a big tupperware of her biryani with me…so that my friends can try it in the U.K. She loves biryani, and she thinks her recipe is the best, and I’m inclined to agree!
Kirthanaa’s Recipe for a Wonderful Diwali
YOU NEEDBold colours and the boldness to use them
A new outfit that makes you feel your best (but no cultural appropriation, please!)
Diyas and candles and even more dreamy lighting
Your family (given or chosen)
Your mum’s biryani recipe (especially if your mum is Kirthanaa’s mum, see below)
Stack of gulab jamun and kaju katli
TO DO1. Deep, deep clean the house. No corner left undusted. Even the curtains and couch get a good scrub.
2. Do whatever helps you personally mark a fresh start. Take a bath. Put on scented oils. This is a positive reset.
3. Put on your new outfit and do a spin in the mirror. You look great!
4. Make your mum’s biryani recipe or other favourite Indian recipes. Jump on it! It’s a feast.
5. Set the scene (and the table) with bright colours. Think red, orange, purple and yellow. Tablecloths, flowers, and candles in your favourite hues are a must.
6. Light it up with diyas and candles of all shapes and sizes.
7. Gather your family and friends together at your stuffed-to-the-brim table to celebrate a happy, healthy and prosperous year ahead. Shubh Diwali!
Kirthanaa’s Mum’s Chicken Biryani
YOU NEED3 tbsp. of ghee/oil
1 cinnamon stick
3 star anise
1 1/2 tbsp. ginger garlic paste
4 onions, cut into thin crescents
2 green chillies, cut lengthways
3 tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1/2 tbsp. chilli powder
1/2 tbsp. garam masala
3 chicken thighs
2 tbsp. yoghurt
1 cup basmati rice
1 1/2 cups of evaporated milk and water (1:1 ratio)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Coriander, to serve
Mint, to serve
Cashews nuts, to serve
Caramelised onion, to serve
TO DO1. Wash the rice a few times until the water runs clear.
2. Heat up ghee/oil in your Perfect Pot and fry the cinnamon and star anise. Next add the ginger garlic paste, stirring until fragrant.
3. Add the onion and cook until caramelised, this should take around 8 mins.
4. Add green chilli and chopped tomatoes until it softens. Then add the turmeric, chilli powder, and garam masala. Once the spices are fragrant add the chicken, yoghurt and salt.
5. When the chicken is nearly cooked, add the rice and mix together. Add the water and evaporated milk, bring it down to a simmer, and cover until the rice is fully cooked.
6. Once the rice is cooked it might seem wet, don’t worry about this. Just take the lid off and allow it to cool and the rice will soak up the moisture.
7. To serve, top your biryani with cashew nuts, caramelised onions, coriander, and mint.