Thrissur Special Kozhi Kumbalanga curry

With the pandemic showing no signs of letting up, any dream of packing bags and going for that long overdue holiday remain remote. My Google Map Timeline seems to quizzically ask why I am stuck in just one place, Thrissur, all these months. But not one to concede defeat I conjure up an interesting plan to explore the town we are in. So come morning we, husband and I, don our walking tracks and boots and jump right into our car. The car gets parked in a new area every day and we are ready to embark on our adventure trek through the winding narrow lanes which sometimes go steep down or up into areas filled with lush green trees and pretty little houses. Our tryst with nature invigorates and on some days we are lucky to spot a bright blue breasted kingfisher flying past or a green haze of parrots cackling on the coconut tree high up. But then we have our not so pleasant experiences too….like a sudden aggressive growl from behind a house gate that literally make us hop, skip and jump in unison or the grandly named Ford John street after a few yards ahead petering into a narrow marshy and squidgy path. But these one hour walks have helped us gain info about Thrissurians….we can name our house ‘Glen view’ even when the row houses opposite do not promise any view of that sort and Fashion street in a sleepy area of town has nothing fashionable whatsoever.

With Thrissur as the central theme, its specialty cuisine also cannot be far behind. Daily conversations with friends around revolve around food; what with most of the restaurants and eateries closed any new recipe passed on is immediately given a try. So when I told my friend how my neighbor has grown a bheeman/giant Kumbalanga/ashgourd and has been kind to give us a big chunk of it, she quickly snapped her finger and said…try the Kozhi kumbalanga curry. Everything happened in a flash right after…going over her recipe in my head, I went straight to the kitchen. There was a bit of screwing up of nose by the husband on seeing the big chunks of Kumbalanga sitting with the chicken which I ignored. Half an hour later out came the drool-worthy curry to the dining table with puffy chapatis all of which vanished in the matter of a few minutes.

This is one curry you can make when you have just about a little bit of chicken left over in your freezer. Mildly flavoured with spices and made creamy with the addition of coconut milk, the curry’s taste is amply enhanced by the addition of large chunks of Kumbalanga. The gourd pieces cook silky soft, taking on the delicious juices of the chicken and added spices, but hold their shape and don’t disintegrate into the curry. The curry goes well with rice, pulavs, rotis and porottas. And the best part is making it is just child’s play!

Ingredients

Chicken pieces : 1/2 kg, cut into medium pieces.

Kumbalanga/ashgourd : 1/2 kg, peel the skin and cut into big chunks.

Coconut milk extracted from 1 cup of grated coconut : 1 cup of thin milk and 1/2 cup of thick milk. Run the grated coconut with a little warm water and strain to extract 1/2 cup thick milk and again with some more warm water to get 1 cup thin milk. Or you can substitute with ready made coconut powder. Mix 2tblesp of powder to 1 cup of warm water to get thin milk. Mix 2 tblesp of powder with 1/2 cup of warm water to get thick milk.

Onion : 1 medium, sliced.

Garlic : 6 flakes, crushed.

Ginger : 1 and1/2 inch pc, crushed.

Green chilli : 2, crushed.

Tomato : 1, cut small.

Turmeric pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Coriander pdr : 2 tblesp.

Kashmiri chilli pdr : 1 tblsp + 1/2 tsp for tempering in the end.

Garam masala pdr : 1 tsp.

Shallots : 5-6,sliced thin or sliced pieces should be 3 tblesp.

Red chilli whole : 1-2 cut into strips.

Salt to taste and coconut oil to cook.

Method

keep all ingredients ready and keep a heavy saucepan on medium heat. I have used an earthen pan to cook the curry.

Pour 3 tblesp of coconut oil and add the crushed garlic, ginger and green chilli.

Saute on mild heat till the mixture is fragrant and start to just brown.

Now add the sliced onions and saute till the onions turn brown at the edges.

Add the turmeric, coriander redchilli and garam masala powders and saute on very low heat for 2-3 minutes, careful not to allow the mixture to burn.

Now keep the heat to low and add the chopped tomato. Give a nice stir and close the lid and allow the tomato to incorporate into the mixture.

Once you see the mixture pulpy, add the chicken pieces and stir well and saute for 5-6 mts .

Add the gourd pieces and saute for another 2-3 mts.

Add the thin coconut milk and salt and give a stir and close lid and allow to cook till the chicken and gourd pieces are all well cooked.

Now add the thick coconut milk. Taste and adjust salt and once the curry just start to boil, take off the gas.

In a separate heavy bottomed kadhai , add 2 tsp coconut oil and saute shallots and red chilli strips till the shallots turn brown.

Turn the heat to its lowest and add the 1/2 tsp kashmiri chilli pdr. Saute for just half a minute till it is fragrant. Do not allow the chilli to burn.

Add this to the curry. Tasty Kozhi Kumbalanga curry is ready.

Sabudana/Tapioca Pearls Vada

A quick scan of my morning paper threw up an interesting piece of news….during the pandemic when economies around the world including ours is plummeting, one business is booming in India….the business of making kites. Quite understandable, I guess… it does tell something about our indomitable spirit and our yearning to break free of the iron shackles which have bound us home in the times of the Corona. People are going by the droves to their terraces with their colourful little kites and as the little kites lift and soar in the skies, it gives the joy and relief of complete freedom. The unexpected lottery struck by the kite makers are making them dole out more and more innovative kites and they are just happy to work round the clock to meet the mounting orders…and mind you, those orders are not only from within the country , but from our neighbor Pakistan!

The kite story takes me all the way to Gujarat, where we were posted for some years near Ahmedabad. January 14th …Makar Sankranti is officially celebrated as the Kite Festival. Come daybreak and the cloudless skies would be dotted by kites, big and small. Soon the entire skyline would be dotted by kites of all possible colours. Everyone would be out of their homes…either in the open squares or their terraces with eyes only for their respective kites…needless to say it would be a very busy day for the police and safety force as some in their excitement would fall off balconies and terraces too.

When everyone is outdoors, finger food rules. Huge platters of Sabudana vadas and Khaman Dhoklas do the rounds and as the platters circulate, hands grab them in twos and threes to be immediately stuffed in the mouth, lest the attention to your soaring kite suffers. Those who have nothing to do but enjoy the scene, like me, get to enjoy the taste of these delicious vadas. Sabudana vadas are so easy to make….it’s just the mixture of perfectly soaked tapioca pearls mixed with peanut, ginger, chilli and some boiled potatoes, but in their fried golden avatar they are delectably crunchy on the outside with a sweet and soft chewy inside which is indeed satisfying. Being a Keralite, this was a new item for me…for apart from the lentil ones like parippuvada and the uzhunnu vada, nobody back home seemed to know that there can be a vada made of tapioca pearls….so given the first opportunity to impress, out came a steaming platter of golden sabudana vadas from my Kerala  kitchen and then it was my turn to demurely bat my eyelids and sport a winning smile to all the aah and oohs given!

Ingredients

Sabudana/ Tapioca pearls : 1/2 cup. Wash the sabudana 3-4 times in running water. Now soak it in a cupful water for 4-5 hrs. After they are perfectly soaked (test it by slightly crushing one. It should be easily sqidged.) strain it and keep the strainer on a bowl to drain out excess water for about an hr.

Peanuts : 1/2 cup, dry roast with skin in a mildly heated pan for a few minutes and run in mixi/blender for a second to mildly crush them.

Potatoes : 2 medium, boiled and crushed.

Ginger : 1 inch piece.

Green Chilli : 1

Green coriander : a few sprigs, chopped.

Salt to taste and Oil to fry.

Lime : 1/2, take juice.

Method

Boil potatoes and crush them with your palms.

Coarsely grind together ginger and green chilli.

Roast peanuts with skins on over mild flame in a dry heavy based pan. Run for a second in a blender to coarsely crush. Let some remain half broken or even whole.

In a big plate place the strained Sabudana, potatoes, ground ginger-chilli paste, crushed ground nuts,chopped coriander, salt and the juice of 1/2 lemon.

Mix everything well to get a tight mixture.

Take lime sized balls and shape into flat discs which are thin at the edges and slightly thicker in the middle. If your vadas are very thick in the middle they won’t cook well.

Fry vadas in batches in moderately hot till they are golden and crisp. Remove to a bowl lined with paper tissue.

Enjoy your vadas with mint chutney or tomato ketchup.

Onam Special Sharkara Upperi

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An Onam sans the crescendo of ‘Arappue’ calls, ten whole days of competitive  floral carpets at home entrances, the fun and the frolic of being one with the swelling crowd in Onam markets, the deafening drums and swaying painted ‘Pulis’ on the roads….all seems unreal to any Malayali. But sadly as the pandemic progresses, ruthlessly casting its deadly tentacles on more and more hapless people, our festivities shrink as shared gatherings and lunches become no longer a possibility. But who said that the virus can punch a hole in the Malayali spirit? No flowers from outside the state this time?….Oh yes, we can manage with our own local ones. The long forgotten thumbappo and Kashithumba  rule in this year’s Pookkalam. Ban on the painted tigers taking over Thrissur streets on 4th day of Onam?….No worries …they’re going online in a big way and the whole world can see them jiggle their massive painted tiger faces live. And instead of depending on outside caterers for the delicious Onam sadya, many are trying a hand at preparing it at home.

For me Onam centres around the heavenly smells of fresh banana chips and Sarkara upperi being made in the outdoor kitchen of our ancestral house. Huge aluminium dabbas of ‘kaya varuthathu’ and Sharkara upperi would be stacked up in the kitchen cabinets. And there would be a continuous flow of kids and adults towards them…some tipping chips straight into folds of skirts, others confiscating entire dabbas and running to the attic where game of cards would be on.

Making of the Sharkara upperi is a bit tricky, is what I found out when I attempted to make at home. The chips are to be cut thicker, which would mean they should fry longer in oil to get them absolutely crisp. Managing the heat of the oil is the trump card to get them fried crisp and golden and not ending up like burnt wood bits. The consistency of the jaggery syrup is the next danger point. Get the viscosity right and the rest that happens is quick and magical. A few turns with a flat ladle after you empty the entire upperi into the syrup and you see the molten liquid coating transforming into a sugary powdery even coating on each upperi piece.

I am proud of myself each time I come up with a winner of a Sharkara upperi. These are our traditional recipes and these will last only through the interest and  passionate will to experiment these delicacies in our own kitchens. One may find umpteen packets of Sharkara upperi in bakeries and stores…but nothing stands close to the homemade ones, I’m sure.

Ingredients

Green Nendran banana : 10. Gently remove the skin and cut into 1 cm thick upperi shapes.

Jaggery : 350gms,. In a sauce pan add half a cup of water and cook on low heat to melt into a syrup.

Jeera : 50 gms.

Dry ginger : 50 gms.

Sugar : 2 tblesp.

Ghee : 2 tblesp.

Coconut oil to fry

Method

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  • Mildly dry roast jeera and dry ginger and powder in a mixi jar.
  • Heat the oil in a wide and heavy based kadhai to smoking hot. 
  • Add the cut banana chips ( a cup full) and fry for 2 minutes in high heat.
  • Now lower the heat and continue frying till the chips are golden and produces clanging sounds as the ladle touches them. You may take one out and check if it is perfectly done and breaks with a crack and is really crunchy as you bite.
  • Take them out of the oil and store on a tissue lined plate.
  • Again bring the oil to smoking hot and repeat the frying process till all your chips are fried.

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  • Take a heavy bottomed wide mouthed vessel. Keep on gas and add the strained jaggery syrup into it.
  • Now cook the jaggery syrup till you see a clear partition as you run the ladle through the centre of the syrup.

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  • Add all of the fried chips in and quickly mix well into the syrup.
  • Add the powdered jeera ginger mix, the sugar and the ghee. 
  • Continue mixing and you will see the syrup solidifying around the chips and coating them as dry powder.
  • Tasty Sharkara Upperi is ready. Enjoy!

 

Ada Dosa

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Come April and Kerala experiences peak summer. It is also the time of temple festivals and everyone gets out of home ignoring the heat and dust to witness the majestic array of tuskers in their ‘nettippattom’ donned glory, to listen to the thundering melam and to just roam about in the Poorparambu , sometimes tossing a colourful floating balloon that comes your way or stop by the roadside flute seller and listen to the Bollywood number he plays. But this year is so different…the Corona virus has robbed us of our yearly grand celebration. In all of my life I have not experienced a year without the famous Thrissur Pooram. With a sinking heart I read in papers about the decision not to celebrate the festival this time. After a full day of moping over the debacle I finally decide to put the dark feelings behind and move on. Also it was time to put to an end the nagging question of what to do for breakfast the next day….in a matter of minutes rice, lentils and spices came out of my kitchen cabinet. Another few minutes of washing and soaking and I was all set for making a tasty and much loved breakfast the next day…The Ada Dosa.

The Ada Dosa , I strongly believe, has its origins from Tamil Nadu. It sure does have all the elements that Tamilians love ….the spicy kick of pepper and red chilli, the funky pungency of Hing/ Asafoetida and the complex aroma of curry leaves.( this is an assumption I have arrived at after spending a good many years in Tamil Nadu) . Everyone here have their own versions of Ada Dosa. I stick to the recipe I have got from my mom, that is, rice soaked with a good measure of tuvar and udad and some pepper, red chillies and some methi/ fenugreek thrown in. But of late I have upped the nutrition factor with the addition of some moringa leaf powder (moringa is the latest power food in the culinary scene worldwide). Unlike other dosa batters the Ada Dosa batter needs no long hours of rising. It is ready for use as soon as it comes from the grinder and the best thing about these dosas is that you don’t need elaborate side dishes to eat them with. Children are more than happy to enjoy them with sugar.

Interestingly the mouthwatering aroma of the Ada Dosa roasting on the tawa with a generous dash of gingely oil takes me back to the times spent in Nenmara, Palakkad with cousins during our school vacations. The Tamil influence was all too evident in the menu there…morning meals were invariably Ada Dosas and Podi or petal soft Idlies with potato stew. We kids were ravenous eaters and ate our way to the very bottom of the huge pile of Dosas before us. Little did we know that the cooks in the kitchen too were one up on us….they knew that the protein rich dosas would safely lie in our tummies for hours and that by the time hunger pangs would drive us indoors, it would already be past lunch time.

Ingredients for the Dosa

Idly Rice : 2 cups full. 

Tuvar Dal : a handful.

Udad dal : a handful.

Red chilli whole ; 3.

Pepper : 1 tsp.

Methi/fenugreek seeds : 1 tsp.

Asafoetida/Hing : 1/4 tsp.

Shallots : 1/2 cup.

Curry leaves ; a few.

Moringa leaf powder : 1 tblesp. ( optional) . Moringa leaves are plucked from stem, washed and left to dry on a towel and later spread out to dry in shade. Once they are dry they are powdered and kept. If you get fresh moringa leaves you may add a handful of them to the batter instead of the powder.

salt to taste.

Gingely oil to make dosa.

Method

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  • Wash and clean the rice and lentils in water 2-3 times.Soak the rice, lentils, whole red chilli, methi, pepper in enough water to cover them overnight.
  • In a blender/mixie grind the rice-lentil mix to a coarse batter.
  • In the small jar of the blender coarsely grind the shallots and curry leaves. Mix into the batter. At this point add the moringa powder,hing/asafoetida and salt and give everything a good mix.
  • Keep the dosa tawa on moderately  high heat and spread a ladle of batter. Add drops of  gingely oil to the edges and lightly sprinkle over the centre. After about 2 minutes flip to the other side. After a minute turn again and allow the dosa to become crisp and golden.Take out onto a serving plate.

Ingredients for onion chutney

Onions : 3 medium, cubed.

Red chilli pdr : 1 tblesp. Use Kashmiri chilli pdr for colour and mild heat.

Salt to taste.

Coconut oil : 2 tblesp.

Method

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  • In a blender grind the onions to a paste.
  • In a small kadhai on mild heat pour the coconut oil and add the chilli pdr and mix for just a minute till the colour becomes bright red. Care should be taken not to burn the chilli pdr. The heat should be mild and the chilli pdr should be allowed to fry just for a minute. Immediately add the onion paste and mix in. Add the salt and saute for a minute or two more. Onion chutney is ready.

Ingredients for onion and Coconut chutney

Coconut, grated : 1 cup.

Onion : 1 medium.

Redchilli pdr : 1 tsp.

Salt to taste.

Method

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  • In a blender/ mixie jar grind the coconut, onion and salt to a coarse chutney without adding any water. Coconut chutney is ready to be served. 

Puri Masala

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It is Easter Sunday. Usually every year it would be our nostrils that  wake us up on Easter as the heady whiff of sweet coconut milk appam and spicy beef ularthiyathu getting ready in the neighbour’s kitchen drifts in through the open windows. But this year the deadly virus has robbed us of these indulgences. The lockdown is in place and this means no access to fresh meat and fish from the market. The next best thing is to make do with what you have in the kitchen cupboard. Potatoes and onions are in ample stock and so is the ever necessary wheat flour. In a flash the idea dawns…Sundays are meant to be special and Puri Masala it’s going to be!

I remember Amma attempting to make Puri Masala for us as kids at home. The masala was spot on and could vie with the Masala made in any fancy restaurant, but the puris…though puffed up, round and golden as soon as they came out of the hot oil, would deflate in the matter of seconds like a pinpricked balloon. By the time they came to the table they would be soft and wobbly like dog’s ears. Those days we used to wonder how the puris held their shape when they were served to us in restaurants. The secret behind it, I came to know much later. I learned to make Khasta Puris from my North Indian friends…they would always rub in some oil into the flour before kneading the dough and therein lies the trick of a successful Puri.

Puri Masala is a combination that never fails to excite as a meal option. And making it is fun too. With your potatoes steaming away in the cooker, you can concentrate on making the dough and put it aside to rest. Prep the onions, chillies and ginger by the time the potatoes cool down a bit for peeling the skins. The Masala making is a cakewalk with just 3 steps of spluttering mustard, sautéing sliced onions and mixing in potatoes. As the masala bubbles away you can start on your puris. And the best thing with Puris is you won’t be needing to holler and strain your vocal chords calling kids to come to the breakfast table… they’ll be ready with plates, waiting for the Puris to slide straight down from the kadhai.

Ingredients for Masala

Potatoes : 4 big ones. Pressure cook them till done and peel off skins and keep.

Onions :2 sliced.

Green chillies : 3-4, chopped.

Ginger : 2″ pc, chopped fine.

Curry leaves : a few.

Turmeric pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Mustard seeds : 1 tsp.full. 

Udad dal : 1 tsp.

Whole red chillies : 2, cut.

Salt to taste.

Oil : 3 tblesp.

Method to make Masala

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  • In a heavy bottomed pan add oil and when it gets heated add the mustard and udad seeds for tempering.
  • When the mustard starts spluttering add the cut red chillies.
  • Now add the sliced onions, green chillies, ginger and curry leaves. Saute well.
  • When the onions become transparent add the turmeric pdr and salt and saute for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the boiled and peeled potatoes by crushing them with your hand before addition. Add a full cup of water and stir well to make everything well combined.
  • Cover and let cook for 5 minutes. After that open the lid and stir the mixture and breaking any big potato pieces a bit. Check salt. Allow the curry to bubble for another minute and take off gas. Tasty Masala is ready.

Ingredients for Puri

Atta/wheat flour  3 cups.

Salt : 1/2 tsp.

Oil : 2 tblesp. Use any vegetable oil. I have used sunflower oil.

Water for making dough.

Oil for frying Puris.

Method for making Puri

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  • In a broad pan take the flour. Make a well in the centre and add the salt and oil.
  • Rub in the oil well into the flour. Add water little by little and make a dough similar to Chapaathi dough, but slightly tighter.
  • Leave the dough to rest after covering it for about 20 minutes.
  • In a small kadhai pour oil and wait for it get hot.
  • Meanwhile make lime sized balls of the dough. Flatten one ball a bit and dip the edge in the oil and start rolling into a puri.
  • Carefully ease the puri into the oil and wait for it to puff up. Turn gently over and once the puri is golden drain it with a slotted spoon 

 

 

Dahi ke Sholey/ Breadrolls with hung curd filling

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It is day 13 of the nationwide lock down. With the entire world in the grip of the deadly pandemic there is a restlessness and deep down dread growing inside. With your loved ones in distant continents, shut away from the world in their own lonely pads, you go about your daily chores with a prayer on your lips. Lockdown brings with it an unprecedented spike in household chores. Your trusted maid is no longer there to be your right-hand man, dirty vessels beckon you from the overflowing sink, open the washing machine and you watch with horror the heap of clothes that tumble out of it waiting to be hung to dry, the neverending dusting, sweeping and swabbing floors almost break your back and the punishing hot and humid weather makes you almost melt into a puddle of sweat.

The only happy place during this troubled time is my kitchen. It is important to stick to a healthy and simple diet. With access to just local vegetables my menu revolves around Keralan morukari, avial and poriyal. And to make mealtimes more interesting there would be an occasional Chana bhatura or a Yakhni Pulav. The grueling schedule of cleaning and washing leaves no scope for venturing into the arena of tea time snacks and days have passed with the stacked up packets of readymade biscuits, rusks and chips. But today I have come to the end of the road and my frantic searches for some crunch element for tea has drawn a blank. As I scratch my head in frustration, my roving eye catches hubby watching Sholey on TV. What an idea, Sir ji….Sholey it is…Dahi ke Sholey! Out comes the bread tucked away in freezer, some hung curd which I had made in the hope of making Shrikand and some paneer….in a matter of minutes my stuffing is ready, the bread flattened and rolled with filling to make the delectable Sholey/embers

It was during a wedding banquet in Delhi that I had the first taste of Dahi ke Sholey. In all the years I had been in Delhi I had never heard of this snack….it was always the samosas, tikkas and kachoris that did the rounds as appetizers during any major feast. So it was with a lot of interest that I popped a half cone into my mouth and true to its exotic name the snack didn’t disappoint. The crunch of the fried bread exterior which gave way to the smooth and cool spiced curd filling was immensely satisfying. Back home the first thing to do was to search for a recipe.

So here it is….my homemade Dahi Ke Sholey….simple in execution, but a true champion in taste!

Ingredients

Hung curd : 1/2 cup.

Paneer, grated : 1/2 cup.

Carrot : 1/2 chopped fine.

Capsicum: 1/2 chopped fine.

Green chilli : 1 chopped fine.

Pepper pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Green coriander : 3-4 sprigs, cut fine.

Salt to taste.

Fresh bread slices : 8-10 slices with edges cut off.

Oil for frying.

Maida/plainflour: 2 tblesp, mix with water to make a paste.

Method

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  • Homemade curd is hung for 3-4 hrs to allow the whey to drip fully and you get semi solid hung curd.
  • Mix the grated paneer, green chilli, chopped carrots, capsicum, coriander leaves, pepper and salt and keep.

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  • Take a slice of bread, cut the edges and flatten it with a rolling pin.
  • With your finger coat the edges of the flattened slice with the maida/plain flour paste.
  • Place a spoonful of the curd mixture a little below one edge and roll the bread tightly diagonally. 
  • Bring the corner and firmly press so that a roll is formed.
  • Now pinch both the open edges together.
  • Prepare all the rolls and keep for frying.
  • Fry the rolls in hot oil till crisp and golden in colour. Transfer to a serving dish and cut each roll diagonally. Serve with Tomato Ketchup or green coriander chutney. Enjoy! 

 

 

Sadya Special Koottukari

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Kerala, my native state is Kerasamrudham! (blessed with a bounty of coconut palms). Right from primary classes the kids here are given lessons on how the coconut tree is a Kalpavriksha and how every part of it is useful to man and how we too should grow as individuals incorporating the message and be in some way useful to society. The coconut has profound influence in our cuisine too and hardly do you find  a Keralan preparation without any trace of it. Over the years,we have had  scientific studies sometimes heroing the nut for its health benefits and at other times issuing dire warnings against its use. But Keralites vouch for the coconut and go all out in its use…no sadya/feast is complete without the signature dishes kalan, olan, avial or koottukari that celebrate the nut in almost all its Avatars, the ground paste form, the extracted milk or toasted versions.

The Koottukari, simple as it is, is usually the one item in the Sadya that gets the most requests for 2nd and 3rd helpings. It’s easy to fall to its charm….if the almost mashed in goodness of the cooked chana dal  with specks of mellow soft gourd bits and dense and earthy little chunks of yam, all coated in the silky smoothness of the coconut paste gives the dish its golden goodness, the heady aroma given off by the  liberal addition of roasted coconut draws anyone to it like a magnet. Every time I cook the Koottukari my mind  takes me back to the times our extended family used to meet in our ancestral home in Shoranur. The wide open courtyard flanked by a profusion of Tulsi and Jasmine bushes, the narrow front corridors of the Nalukettu with the wooden charupadi which used to be the favourite spot for the men to have their murukkan (paan), the sunken nadumuttam open to the sky which never failed to fascinate us during rains as water gushed into it from the sloping roofs around making powerful natural showerheads….all flash through in vivid detail in my mind. The large and dimly lit kitchen too becomes all real in my mind…and there I can see my great aunt Leelacheriamma briskly plunging papads one by one into the boiling oil deftly with one hand and taking them out into a woven basket. She calls out…Januamme, thenga varavu nokkane…(Januamme, do have an eye on the frying coconut). Januamma bends over the cast iron kadhai in which grated coconut is browning to be mixed into the unfinished curry in the Kalchatty by the side. The entire kitchen fills with the aroma of the toasting coconut and as if on cue my poor stomach rumbles.

Youngsters these days are living and working in far off places and it is when you are away that the heart grows fonder for home and home cooking.Many a time simple and authentic recipes like the Nadan Koottukari don’t find a slot in cookery books too.  So here I am with a tried and tested no fail Koottukari recipe.So the next time you want to impress your friends and family with a genuine Kerala dish, go for the Koottukari….100% vegan, totally healthy and fingerlicking good!

Ingredients

Chana dal : 1/2 cup. Soak in a cup of water for atleast 1/2 an hour.

Ashgourd cut into 1″ cubes : 200 gms.

Yam, cut into ” cubes : 200 gms.

Turmeric pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Red chilli pdr : 1 tsp.

Coconut grated: 1 cup full for frying  1/4 cup for grinding..

Jeera: 1/2 tsp.

Salt to taste.

Coconut oil : 3 tblesp.

Whole red chillies : 2, broken to pieces.

Curry leaves: a bunch.

Method

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  • Transfer the soaked chana dalalong with the water and the cubed veggies to a pressure cooker.
  • Add the chilli pdr, turmeric pdr and a tsp of salt and keep to cook on medium flame with the pressure lid on.
  • Meanwhile in a mixi/blender grind the 1/4 cup coconut and jeera to a fine paste with a little water.
  • After 2 steams ( approx 10-12 mts) take off gas and allow the steam to release. Open the lid and transfere the contents to a heavy based saucepan.
  • Allow the curry to come to a boil. The curry should not be watery. If you feel there is more water, allow to boil and the extra water to evaporate.
  • Now add the ground coconut paste and mix well. Check salt and adjust. Take off gas.

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  • In a kadhai kept on fire, pour 3 tblesp coconut oil.
  • When the oil gets hot add the whole chillies. In another minute add the 1 cup of grated coconut with a handful of curry leaves and start moving the contents with a flat spoon to let the coconut roast evenly. This should be done on low heat as the coconut gets burned otherwise.
  • Keep stirring until the coconut gets roasted and takes a red ant colour. Do not allow to burn. Take off gas and immediately transfer to the curry and give a good stir. Tasty Koottukari is ready. Enjoy it with rice.

 

Wayanadan Chamakkanji with nutritious Avial

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A light stomach at night is what one needs for a good night’s sleep. And it is with this mission that I launched a tireless exercise to nail the one dinner recipe that delivered 100% total uninterrupted sleep. Soups, sandwiches, desi upmas and kichdis …all were tried one after the other. It was by sheer luck that I finally stumbled upon this gem of an option that ticked all boxes…diabetic friendly, light, glutenfree, nutritious and above all super tasty. The Chamakanji and Avial combo is a match made in heaven and a spicy pickle and some crunchy Arikondattam by the side —you are in food heaven!

Chama/little millet is grown widely in the state and has been easily available from ages. Only we had turned our backs to it all this while running behind flours and grains which gifted a majority of us with killer diabetes and obesity. Today we have come a full circle and are embracing healthy and glutenfree options to polished grains and flours. The Avial too is a pure keralan preparation…only the average housewife shies away from cooking it as it involves some precision veggie cutting and their spot on steaming for getting best results. But do we know that a little bit of effort cooking the Avial can go a long way? This is a preparation that we can keep refrigerated for a week because of the addition of souring agent. Just cook a big portion and divide them into different sealed boxes and tuck them into the fridge.

Somehow the Avial refreshes memories of long lost joint family life. Now those sweet moments of togetherness in families come alive only during weddings and festivals. Our day of pure family fun came the day my newly wedded sister was going to her in laws for the very first time. The elders in the family accompanied her and all were welcomed with a sumptuous lunch. Post lunch, as the family said their goodbyes and thanks, our elder uncle dropped a bombshell..” why don’t you all come to our house for  dinner? Let’s extend the fun a little more!” The shell shocked looks of matriarchs who hold the reins of house kitchen were ignored and it was quickly decided that all of 40-45 persons would come for dinner around 8 that night. The planning of the menu happened right in the car during the 5 min ride back home. Each one of us including the kids were allotted duties and we hit upon our tasks in earnest right from the word go…beds were made, nooks and corners scrubbed and dusted, 2 uncles soon hauled in big sacks of veggies and meat from the market, mounds and mounds of onions were getting chopped, fruits were getting peeled and prepped for fruit salad, a grand impromptu bar was getting ready in the terrace under another uncle’s supervision. By evening things went into a fever pitch… both the gas and wood fire stoves were blazing with sizzling pots and cauldrons…there were loud voices that went” who took my entire plate of fried onions? I told you I needed that big pressure cooker” accompanied by huge thuds of ladles falling on the kitchen floor and banging of shelves. The time was inching towards 8 and as if by magic the long family dining table began to be filled with casseroles of food. The guests who arrived that night were feasted to the best of beverages, food and desserts …most of them gushing at the superlative taste of home-cooked food. Years have flown away, but still we relish those sweet memories of the coming together of Parethody home cooks who took up an almost impossible cook off and came out with flying colours. The cooking of the Avial too is somewhat like this. An assortment of vegetables come together, don identical shapes, get anointed with turmeric and chilli, sprinkled with a little water and let to cook together on the stove top. And when just about done, down comes some sour curd and a liberal portion of coconut, chilli and jeera mixture. A quick dash of fragrant coconut oil and the amalgamation is complete. Elevated in taste, rich in fibre and nutrition…that is Avial for you…do dig in!

Ingredients for Avial

Ashgourd cut into approx 1/2 cm thick and 4 cm long pieces : 1 cup.

Pumpkin cut in the same 1/2cm thick,4 cm long pieces : 1/2 cup.

Raw banana cut to 1/2 cm thick, 4cm long pieces : 1/2 cup.

Yam cut the same way : 1/2 cup.

Drumstick: 1 cut to 4 cm length.

Carrot cut the same way : 1/2 cup.

Runner beans green: 1/2 cup, cut to 4 cm pcs.

Coconut grated: 1 cup full.

Green chilli : 3.

Red chilli pdr  : 1/2 tsp.

Turmeric pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Jeera : 1 tsp.

Curds : 1/4 cup.

Coconut oil : 2-3 tblesp.

Curry leaves : a few.

Salt to taste.

Method

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  • Grind the coconut, jeera and green chillies without adding any water in a mixi to a course grainy mix.
  • Take a heavy bottomed wide mouthed vessel ( I have taken a small uruli) and combine all the vegetables. mix the redvchilli pdr, turmeric and salt. Add less than 1/4 cup of water and cover and let cook on a small flame.
  • The veggies start steaming and would cook in their own water . Give a stir occasionally with a flat spoon so that all veggies get equal amounts of heat.

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  • When the vegetables are just about done, add the curds and give a good mix.
  • After 2 mins add the ground coconut chilli jeera mixture. Mix everything in nicely and switch off gas.
  • Add the curry leaves and the coconut oil and combine.
  • Tasty Avial is done.

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For the Chamakanji…Take 1/2 cup of chama rice and wash well. Keep to cook in a saucepan with 3 cups of water to make a thin gruel. Chama takes about 20-25 minutes to cook.

 

 

Jackfruit curry with stir-fried gluten free rice

 

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It is once again Jackfruit season. Like the phoenix that resurrects itself from the ashes, our humble jackfruit too has recently become the star in culinary circles. With its distinct meaty flavour in raw form and its health benefits, especially for diabetics, jackfruit dishes are today experimented with élan by big chefs and home cooks alike.

The jack fruit season brings so many fond memories to the fore. The lazy summer afternoons, with the entire family congregating in the open courtyard, all the action would begin when the huge fruit is struck a mighty blow right in the middle splitting it wide open exposing the golden yellow plump, fleshy and fragrant  bulbs of pure nectar. The elders with their oil smeared palms pluck out the bulbs with so much expertise and as children our job was to fill our mouths and stomachs with as much of ‘Chakka’ as possible. The chakka plucking was indeed the ideal time to chat, gossip, laugh and make merry for everyone- young or old. Time flies as basins fill up with cleaned chakka in some and seeds in another. The prickly outer skin and sticky parts would go to the cows as their meal….no part wasted.

Chakka stories were indeed fun stories. There was this Chakka kallan, our neighbor Narayanan who would sneak up the tree at the crack of dawn and once he saw us would try to camouflage himself by extending his torso to look like a tree branch, but that didn’t work and we would sing in unison Chakkakalla…Narayana. And then there was this tearjerker of a movie called Poombatta starring the cute and adorable Sridevi as child star. People thronged to watch the untold cruelty meted out on such a chit of a girl by her monster step mother. All of us kids were treated to the movie too and we were seated in a row….there is this moment when the angry stepmom plonks a monstrous Chakka on little Sridevi’s head and her head goes into a wild dance in an effort to balance the weight. Instead of gasps of horror from our row in the theatre there emanated a round of animated laughter (maybe our addiction to all the funny comic books was the reason) to which we were chided and shhhed by fellow movie goers.

My jackfruit curry recipe is a typical Punjabi style one. A few minutes of frying of the jackfruit chunks in oil brings out the meaty texture to the curry. The curry goes well with rotis and pulavs. Here I have decided to go full on healthy and have chosen veggie tossed gluten free rice to go with this vegan curry which looks and tastes truly meaty. A safe and healthy meal which helps you feel full and satiated for long, this recipe is surely one for keeps if you want to keep your calories in check. Enjoy!

Ingredients

Jackfruit pieces cleaned and cut : 500gms.

Onion : 1 chopped.

Garlic ; 5-6 flakes, ground to paste.

Ginger : 2” piece, ground to paste.

Green chilli : 1 chopped.

Tomatoes : 3 medium ones, grind to a pulp in the mixi.

Coriander pdr: 1 and 1/2 tsp.

Turmeric pdr: ½ tsp.

Red chilli pdr : 1 tsp.

Garam masala pdr: ½ tsp.

Kasoori methi : 1 tsp, crush with your hands.

Coriander leaves : a few.

Oil : 3-4 tblesp.

Salt to taste.  

Method

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  • In a heavy bottomed Kadhai add oil and place on medium heat. Fry the jackfruit chunks in the oil for about 3-4 mts until you see the edges turning slightly roasted.
  • With a slotted spoon take them out of the oil and place on a plate lined with absorbent paper.
  • In the same oil add the chopped onions and sauté till they slightly turn brown.
  • Add the chopped green chilli, the ground garlic and ginger paste and sauté for 2-3 mts.

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  • Add the tomato puree prepared in the blender. Also add the turmeric, coriander, red chilli powders and salt. Saute the mixture till oil starts leaving at the edges.
  • Now add the fried jackfruit pieces and a cup of warm water and mix everything well. After allowing the mixture to come to a boil, add the garam masala pdr. Cover the vessel and leave to cook for 10-12 mts till the jackfruit is done.
  • Open the lid and give the curry a stir. Crush kasoori methi in your palms and add to the curry. Garnish with coriander leaves.

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For the rice dish:-

Take a cup of gluten free rice ( I used a combination of brown and black rice ) and cook it with a lot of water and strain and keep.

In a kadhai on heat 2 tsps pour oil ( you can use olive oil/butter or plain vegetable oil to suit your taste). When the oil starts heating up grate 1/2 a garlic clove into it. As it turns golden, add 2 tblesps of finely chopped carrots and chopped spring onion and saute for 2 mts. Add the cooked rice and toss well in the mixture. Add salt and keep stirring for 2-3 mts. Transfer to a bowl and serve.

 

 

Pazhapayasam/ Banana kheer

 

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The Nenthran bananas are kerala natives….and how much we love them! We can never ever have enough of our banana chips, our banana halwa or those crispy fried pazham pori. We do try to make almost every possible version of banana delicacies at home but I think the one delectable item that still eludes our home kitchens is the Pazhapayasam. Taste a good Pazhapayasam and these are some involuntary reactions that happen…eyes close on their own in ecstacy, head rolls from side to side as if taking a bow and legs go weak as the ultimate surrender to the masterpiece concocted from such a simple ingredient.

My first tasting of Pazhapayasam, I remember was right after a rather scary encounter with the gentle giants…a couple of circus elephants. A big circus was in town and all kids in the family, right from my crawling baby cousin were taken to watch. Needless to say we had the time of our lives, laughing along with the ridiculously funny clowns and watching the trapeze artists with bated breath. But the one thing that really melted everyone’s heart was the cute little baby elephant that darted into the ring, dancing and fanning its big ears to the playing band music. The show came to a close and as luck would have it, all of us kids were invited to the animal sheds where saw naughty one again. Seeing our excitement, the elephant trainer offered to come to our house if we were ready to treat the tiny one with bananas and jaggery. The next morning was all the more exciting for us…from the crack of dawn we were bathed and scrubbed and waiting with the goodies and we were not disappointed…from the end of the road we could see the little grey ball of fun rolling down to us…but right behind was his mom…a somewhat frightening animal at that. They turned the curve to enter our compound and what happened in the next few minutes played out like a classic comic strip. The little one started happily chomping away at the goodies and coolly trotted up the front steps into our midst….we took flight screaming and squealing and an aunt who tried to come between was butted away by the little tusker…we ran for dear life and took refuge atop the dining table with the baby elephant following, sniffing our toes and going around the table merrily. More commotion was playing out at the entrance when momma elephant started climbing the front steps to come in too. From the dining room window we caught a glimpse of my father, who like a knight in shining armour was trying in vain to close the front door blocking her. The situation was somehow saved as the trainer jumped in, shooed away momma elephant and chased the little one out. The elephants and their keeper left, but we spent the day discussing the different versions of the episode. Lunch was over and to the table came some hot pazhapayasam…a quizzical look at Sankran Nair, the cook and he went…ee pazham sarkara okke chilavavande (we need to use up these bananas and jaggery…don’t we)!

One need not wait for a wedding sadya to relish the delicious Pazhapayasam. Try my payasam recipe… minimum ingredients, simple steps and what you get in result is a payasam that never lets you down.

Ingredients

Overripe Nenthran bananas : 600 gms. Steam them in the idly cooker and keep.

Jaggery : 300 gms.

Coconut milk : 2 and1/2 cups. I used 150 gms of coconut milk powder which I mixed into 2 and1/2 cups of lukewarm water and kept.

Ghee : 3 tblesp.

Cashewnuts chopped : 8-9.

Water to make jaggery syrup.

Method

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  • Take off the skin of the steam cooked bananas, split them in the middle and take off the veins and small seeds as much as possible.
  • Meanwhile in a sauce pan keep the jaggery and 2 and 1/2 cups of water on the stove to melt the jaggery.
  • Once you have prepped the bananas by deveining them,put them into a blender/mixie and grind to a fine paste.
  • Transfer half of jaggery mixture, ground banana paste and 2 tblesp of ghee to a heavy bottomed vessel and start cooking, occasionally running a flat ladle through the mixture.

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  • Keep stirring till most of the water gets evaporated and you get a dark sticky toffee like consistency. it is very necessary to take it to the mixture to a tight toffee stage to get the right result. Keep to cool.
  • Once the mixture has cooled down a bit add the rest of the jaggery water, the dissolved coconut milk solution. Now mix everything well so that the banana mixture, coconut milk and jaggery water is all mixed to form a slightly thick liquid.
  • Strain the mixture through a metal seive so that any hard bits are removed and discarded.
  • Now transfer the liquid to a heavy based vessel and heat till it just comes to a boil. Mix well with a ladle. Allow to boil gently for 2-3 minutes. Take off gas.
  • Keep a small kadhai on heat and add 1 tblesp ghee and fry cashewnuts. Once roasted, transfer them along with the ghee to the Payasam. Delicious Pazhapayasam is ready. Enjoy!