Karadayan Nonbu Adai

Apart from Deepavali and Pongal, the Tamil lunar calendar is dotted with many small scale festivals. Each one of them, with a mythological story behind, is celebrated with specific rites. More importantly, they have their own menu. Some of these menus are time consuming, that they are seldom done a second time in the same year. As a kid, I associated these festivals only through food. The rituals didn’t seem to be of much importance to me. But, as a teenager, I slowly learnt some of these recipes from my mom. She would take me through every step of the preparation, like explaining the different stages of sugar syrup, making a perfect kozhukattai (rice flour dumplings with coconut filling), or shaping a vada. She would also recite the stories and meanings behind the rituals that we perform, giving insights into the Hindu mythology. Not to mention the gossip and giggles we shared. I was a kid with lots of questions, she used to say. Partly curious and partly sceptic. My silly questions and her thoughtful answers is the reason why I know what I know today. These festivities are some of the best bonding moments we had. Thanks Amma!

Karadayan nonbu, which was celebrated last Saturday this year, is one such festivity. The story goes like this. Girl falls in love with a guy who is destined to die within a year. She marries him anyway. On the day of his dying, she tricks the Lord of Death by her ingenuity, brings her husband back to life. And they lived happily ever after. It is believed that the girl prepared these adais as an offering to the Gods, before her husband’s death.
(Characters: Girl – Savirtri, Guy – Satyavan, Lord of Death – Yama. Full story here.)

This nonbu (pronounced no-n-bu, Tamil for fasting) is observed during the first hour of the Tamil month Panguni, which occurs mid-March. The prescribed menu – sweet and savoury adai (steamed rice patty), served with a dab of butter. The rice flour is prepared at home, which makes the adai moist enough. You can also make this with store-bought rice flour. Make sure to use less water in that case.

Making rice flour at home

Soak 1¾ cups of rice for an hour. Drain and spread on a clean, cotton kitchen towel, and let it dry under shade. When it is almost dry, grind into a fine powder in batches. I find that Indian mixers do a good job than food processors. A good coffee grinder may do the job too. Roast the flour in a dry skillet, until the flour is heated through. You don’t have to wait for it to change color, but you should be able to smell the aroma of rice. Let cool, sieve and use in the recipe. This flour can be prepared in advance and stored in air-tight container. This will yield 2 cups of rice flour.

Vella Adai – Sweet
(makes 14)


Rice flour, prepared as mentioned above – 1 cup
Jaggery – 1 cup
Water – 2 ½ cups
Black eye peas/Karamani – 2 tbsp, dry roasted and cooked till soft
Coconut – ¼ cup, cut into small pieces (optional)
Ground cardamom – ¼ tsp
Banana leaves or Sesame/gingelly oil – for lining/greasing the plates


Over medium heat, dissolve jaggery in water. When it comes to a boil, add black-eye peas and coconut. Add rice flour slowly, while whisking briskly with the other hand. If there are lumps, keep stirring until they are gone. Cook until the mixture forms into a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Let cool just until warm. With moist palm and fingertips, take ¼ cup of this mixture, shape into a patty, about ¼-inch thick. With your index finger, make a hole in the center. Arrange the patties on idly plates (or bamboo steamer) without overlapping. You can line the plates with banana leaves, if available. Otherwise, generously grease the plates with sesame oil. Steam cook for 10 minutes.

Kara Adai – Savoury
(makes 13)


Rice flour, prepared as mentioned above – 1 cup
Water – 2 cups
Black eye peas – 2 tbsp, dry roasted and cooked till soft
Coconut – ¼ cup, cut into small pieces (optional)
Banana leaves or Sesame/gingelly oil – for lining/greasing the plates


Oil – 1 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Ginger – 1 tsp, finely chopped
Fresh green chilli – 1, chopped, seeded if desired
Asafoetida – a pinch
Curry leaves – 5 or 6, torn


Over medium heat, heat oil, and add the ingredients given under seasoning, in the same order. Once they are toasty, add water and let it come to a boil. Add black-eye peas, coconut and salt. Stream in the rice flour while simultaneously whisking with the other hand. Cook until the mixture forms into a ball and pulls away from the sides. Shape and steam as mentioned above.

Enjoy sweet and savoury adai with a dab of butter.

This festivity, celebrated by a small community in one corner of the world, may sound strange to many of you, quite understandably. But, this may help a few of you, if you too practice these rituals. Most importantly, I don’t have to scratch my head next year over the measurements.


amna said...

lovely pics. I remember tasting this adai many many years ago with a generous dab of butter, like you have mentioned. I had no clue about the festival or the reason for it, but the food was always a welcome change.

I also remember seeing the movie with kamal hassan and sreedevi :)

Nice to see these traditional recipes in here. sometimes i fear that they will go obsolete in another generation, 'cuz I myself don't follow any festivals so I shudder to think of my kids in the future!

Arundathi said...

my mum makes some mean nonbu adais! yours looks fabulous too. i love the savory ones especially hot with the melted butter! mmm!

Raaga said...

Just last year, I asked people the story behind karva chauth and was pleasantly surprised that it was very similar to our Savitri Satyavan story :)My mom told me all these stories too. :)

Interestingly, when I was about 13, I asked her what my prospective husband would be doing on his part... and she said, "Nothing". Later I asked her if she didn't mind my not doing it... if the guy isn't doing something for my longevity... why should I? :-) I haven't done it since I got married though... but I think I shall start soon... the adai has always been so worth it :)

luckysanjana said...

hi that sure sounds sweet and oh so tasty................i d love to bite into one of those......

Trupti said...

looks very delicious, easy to make & healthy too

Kana said...

The vadai looks pretty good, just like the ones my mom used to make!

Anonymous said...

Posts with memories are always the posts i like to read most. Very unique recipe. Never heard of these before.. wish I could taste some. at first glance they look like cute little donuts.

Shivapriya said...

Very nice recipe, I'm not a fan of sweet one so I will choose Savory one:).

It reminds me of Chalimidi.

Cilantro said...

I too have the same experiences with Amma. We are all what we are today with the guidance of our Amma.Love the Adais.

Manasi said...

I like the fact that we have a story behind some ritual/celebration.. I grew up listening to these mythological stories sitting near my great grandmother and listening to her musical voice!
the nonbu adai looks gorgeous!

ms said...

hi suganya,
I love your explanation of nonbu and the accompanying photographs. Growing up, I really liked the vella adai, my mom made them in the idli thattu and served it with white butter.

Did not get around to it this year though.
best, ms

Manju said...

i also celebrated karadayan nonbu this year. Tried making the adais with ready made rice flour and it was not as tasty as the ones you make from scratch. Well, next time is always there! :)

Anonymous said...

Its amazing to see these soon to be obsolete traditional tamil recipes..As Nags said, not many people make these dishes..its either because of their crazy schedules or just that most of the current generation go to their Amma's house for it..I am waiting to see recipes for Tamil new year :)..cheers.. S

A_and_N said...

I love the tradition of eating them with butter! :)

I used to hate them as a kid, but loved them when I made them myself this time around! Lovely, lovely pics!

Lisa Turner said...

Thanks for the instructions on how to make rice flour at home! And of course, your savoury sounds wonderful.

veggievixen said...

so elegant! looks tasty too.

Nirmala Jegadheesan said...

Good job Sugs! I have been searching for this recipe as we don't do this nonbu I have not tasted those adais. I will make them soon. That bucket like container looks so cute!

vandana rajesh said...

beautiful pics. It all sounds so tasty and delicious.

Rathna said...

Yes very much true Sug, most of the festivals and nomu(telugu for nonbu) is assosiated with mythological stories behind it. I strictly follow Varalakshmi nomu every year, which comes in around Aug. Other than that I'm unaware of the rest. I love to do fasting and cook all the wonderful feast for the festivals.
Great to see such wonderful traditional recipe here. I'm new to this adai..looks tasty and will try for some festival/nomu next time.

Raaga said...

Also, I think it is the Tamil solar calendar... not lunar.

Sig said...

I have never heard of these adais or of the Karadayan nombu before! Thanks for teaching me something new today :)

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

We aren't celebrating for a year, so I didn't make the adais.
But I still remember (my daughter is the same now) the thrill of tying the "manjal charadu" especially when the auspicious time was at unearthly hours of the night, and eating adai and vennai before the "guys" got it.:)

Viji said...

Very delightful to see our traditional recipe through your lens Suganya. Viji

Miri said...

My daughter will be hearing about all the stories and rituals connected to the New Year next Tuesday from her grandmother - I'm glad she has the chance to - I never had the chance to spend time with either of my grandmothers!

Those vellai adais look amazing!

krithiha said...

hi Suganya,
love the shape of those adais.
i didnt know that the story of Savitri was connected to it.
in my family, we offer the neivedyam,
and then all the married ladies will say " urugatha vennaiyum, oru adai yum naan nuuthen, oru kaalum yen kanavan, ennai piriyamal irukka vendum"!!!
though the husbands dont seem to be doing anything for our longevity, i love the adais and so the tradition continues...

jaya's recipes said...

Simply superb

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