Basmati rice mixed with tangy tomato rasam, hearty lentil sambar, masala spiced potatoes, and crushed crunchy bits of appalam all mashed into this one big pot topped off with copious amounts of melted nutty ghee.
The dish that was the inspiration behind this whole blog! Nila Satham is both a ritual and a dish. The rice dish is composed of various South Indian leftovers like tangy tomato rasam, hearty lentil sambar, cubed masala spiced potatoes, and crushed crunchy bits of appalam all mashed into one big pot topped off with copious amounts of melted nutty ghee. More importantly, it is also the ritual of staring up at the moon, sharing stories, and enjoying a piping hot meal together.
Origin Story - Nila Sadam
Moon Rice is a direct translation from the Tamil words Nila Satham. It is a dish, or rather a ritual started when my mom was a kid growing up in a large joint family in South India. My mom would recount how her oldest cousin, Vijaya akka (older sister), would round up eight hungry, rambunctious, and squirmy children for dinner outside the house, where it was undeniably cooler than sitting in the dining room. All the children would be lined up and seated with legs crossed on the broad stone steps of the porch. Vijaya akka would get the kids to stay in one place by having them stare up at the sky and... you guessed it... THE MOON.
Vijaya akka would carry a wide, hot-to-the touch, stainless steel pot filled with even hotter rice. The rice was a mixture of all the leftovers from lunch given a new life. There would be the day’s tangy tomato rasam, hearty lentil sambar, cubed masala spiced potatoes, and crushed crunchy bits of appalam all mashed into one big pot topped off with copious amounts of melted nutty ghee. She quickly scooped out small balls of rice both to cool it down and to place them into the palms of each kid’s tiny hands. The balls were portioned so perfectly that you could just cup your hand and ladle the rice into your salivating mouth. This is where Nila Satham was born.
Nila Satham Becomes Moon Rice
Fast forward in the story to when my small family of four moved to the United States. The most cherished tradition we brought with us was food and our love for it. We still continued to eat with our hands instead of spoons at home and still gathered around the piping hot pot of rice. But in our new country, my mom learned and perfected her own versions of our traditional recipes based on ingredients available to us in the United States, transforming Nila Sadam into her own creation, which I fondly call Moon Rice!
I named this blog Moon Rice because that moniker means so much to me. Moon rice means being imaginative and resourceful. Individual leftovers can be transformed into a holistic creation with crunch, warmth, and heft! It represents comfort. Eating with your hands and feeling a connection to food is a spiritual part of eating for me. Lastly it represents togetherness: taking a few moments out of a hectic day to sit together for a meal, stare at the sky, and share stories. So sit back, and reach out your hands to receive some piping hot Moon Rice, whether it be in the form of recipes, stories, or videos as we partake in this experience together.
A Guide To Moon Rice
It would be a shame if I created a strict recipe for Moon Rice as that defeats the spirit of this one-pot leftover combo dish. So unlike other things on the blog, this is a rough guide to my family’s version of Nila Satham. I fully understand that many folks may not always have sambar and rasam on hand in their fridge as my family does. So here are recipes for the individual components that compose Moon Rice. More importantly, I hope you take and adapt the ritual of gathering together, staring at the sky, reciting the day's stories, and sharing a piping hot bowl of food together.Print