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It’s Ganesh’s Birthday — Time for Dumplings!

Coconut Dumplings by Raghavan Iyer

Coconut dumplings. Credit: Raghavan Iyer

Shiva has a temper as gargantuan as his persona, but that is to be expected from the god who destroys all evil.  If you invoke his ire, be ready to be turned into stone.  But if you appeal to his compassion through major sacrifices, sit back and reap the fruits lavished upon you. Shiva spent long periods of time on Mount Kailasha, a heavenly retreat where he performed penance in a solitary world away from his wife Parvati and their newly conceived child, Ganesh.

Parvati never got used to being alone without her husband, but feared stoking his wrath.  She spent her days showering attention on their beautiful, chubby baby boy. Her maternal love nurtured his body and soul and soon he grew into a vibrantly healthy young boy. One morning, as was his routine, Ganesh stood guard outside his mother’s door with a sword in one hand as she bathed in milk, honey and fresh petals of rose and jasmine. Her strict instructions not to allow anyone entrance into her private chambers rang in his ears.

The morning rays of Surya, the god of sun, filtered through the doorway. Within moments the room darkened and Ganesh looked up to see an unkempt old fakir in a white dhoti standing barefoot with a stick in one hand. He was about to march through the door, into Parvati’s private quarters when Ganesh brandished his sword. The aged man was Shiva, his father, but Ganesh had never seen him since his birth. Nor did Shiva recognize his son, and soon his annoyance filled the chambers like blinding smoke. He bellowed to Ganesh to step aside, but the boy refused to budge. Shiva yanked the sword from his little hands and with the sharpness of its blade that swished through the air with metallic splendor, severed Ganesh’s head in one clean motion.

Regrettable rage

The commotion brought Parvati running to the door and she shrieked in disbelief at what her husband had done. “You have killed your son with your own anger,” she sobbed. “Now how can I continue to live?” Shiva’s wrath dissipated as swiftly as icy water on a burning ember. He fell to his knees and wept for his son. He promised Parvati that he would bring Ganesh back by planting on his empty shoulders the first living creature’s head that would walk by their home.  Just then the earth shook and Shiva poked his head out the door to see what caused the tremor. A baby elephant had strayed away from his herd and was thundering by. As promised, Shiva ran to the elephant and, with the same sword that had made his son lifeless, rendered the elephant headless with one stroke.

A god is born

He gathered the head and planted it on his firstborn’s shoulders. Soon Ganesh’s body stirred into life and he awoke to find his mother and father showering blessings on him, whispering his name, Gajanan Ganesh, the elephant-headed celestial being about to be worshipped by millions as the bestower of happiness and the eliminator of sorrow.

Ganesh. Credit: Natesh Ramasamy / Flickr

Ganesh. Credit: Natesh Ramasamy / Flickr

On Ganesh Chaturthi, the day of his birth (which in 2013 will be celebrated on Sept. 9), my Amma always made his favorite: delicately wrapped shells of rice flour housing two different kinds of filling, one with red chile-spiked lentils, the other a sweet combination of fresh coconut, jaggery and freshly ground cardamom. She shaped the savory dumplings into boats, while the sweet ones were round to differentiate them when they are sealed. Steamed with pearly beads of water clinging to their satin skins, they lay on banana leaves in front of Ganesh’s statue as he sat on his throne, a dumpling in his left hand, right hand facing me in raised blessing, and his mascot, the furry rodent who lay by his feet, nibbling on a modak (dumpling). Once the kozhakuttais were blessed, they easily slid down our throats and into our hungry bellies, the spicy ones first followed by their sweetly innocent kin.

Pooranam Kozhakuttai (Steamed Dumplings With Coconut)

Makes 20 dumplings


For the filling:

1 cup freshly shredded coconut (available in the freezer section of any Asian market)

½ cup coarsely chopped jaggery or tightly packed dark brown sugar

½ teaspoon cardamom seeds (removed from green pods), ground

For the wrappers:

1½ cups rice flour

¼ teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt

1½ cups warm water

6 tablespoons canola oil

Additional oil for shaping the wrappers


For the filling:

1. Combine the coconut and jaggery in a small saucepan, heating it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the jaggery dissolves, 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Stir in the cardamom. Transfer the filling to a plate to cool.

For the wrappers:

1. Dump the rice flour and salt into a medium-size bowl; whisk in the warm water, a few tablespoons at a time, to make a crêpe-thin batter.

2. Stir 3 tablespoons oil into the batter. Pour the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and batter into a cold wok or non-stick skillet.  Heat the batter over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent any lumps from forming, until the batter thickens up, starts to pull away from the sides of pan, and comes together into a ball to form soft dough, 5 to 7 minutes.  It should feel silky smooth but not sticky to the touch.  Transfer the dough to a plate and spread it a bit to cool, 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Divide the dough into twenty equal parts; shape each part into a smooth ball.  Grease the palms well with oil.  Place a ball in the palm of one hand.  With the fingers of the other hand, press and shape it into a 3-inch-round wrapper.  Place a scant teaspoon of the filling in its center.  Gather up the corners of the wrapper and bring them towards the center to cover the filling.  Pinch the gathered edges together to seal shut, shaping it into a Hershey’s Kiss-like tip.  Repeat with the remaining rounds and filling.

4. Prepare a steamer pan and fill it with water for steaming. Heat the water to boil over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the steamer insert.  Arrange the sealed dumplings (without overcrowding) and steam 10 minutes.  Repeat with the remaining dumplings.

Top photo: Steamed dumplings with coconut. Credit: Raghavan Iyer


Zester Daily contributor Raghavan Iyer is a cookbook author, culinary educator, spokesperson and consultant to numerous national and international clients, including General Mills, Bon Appetit Management Company, Target and Canola. He co-founded the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes, Ltd. and has written three cookbooks, most recently the award-winning "660 Curries." His articles have appeared in Eating Well, Fine Cooking, Saveur and Gastronomica, and he has been a guest on TV and radio shows throughout the U.S. and Canada. Iyer sells spices at

  • Shobha 9·5·13

    Yes, remember this story of Ganesha.. grandma used to read it to us when we were kids.
    I love these jaggery Kozhukattai.

  • Jacqueline 9·9·13

    So much drama! I thought my family was crazy. Very glad to know the origins of Ganesh (Happy Birthday chubby boy!) and another dumpling! Sweet and spicy – just like Raghavan!

  • kanchan 4·12·17

    Loved the way you put up things…
    So dramatic. So beautiful… Like a poetry…