TIMES OF INDIA – Ahmedabad 16-10-06
The lingering taste of Kerala
Kerala is not called God’s own country for no reason. Lush green fields, swaying coconut trees, backwaters and a host of vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies to tickle one’s tastebud. That’s Kerala for you. If you are thinking that Kerala food means only sambar and dosa… then you can’t be more wrong. And interestingly Kerala is also famous for its spices.
So naturally the cuisine is hot and spicy and offers several gastronomic delights. Most of the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes of this region have a generous use of spices and coconuts. The final tempering with oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves, red chillies and urad dal is almost the same for most of the dishes. Being a coastal state, rice and fish curry is the staple food for most people. On a hot sunny afternoon, siesta after having a meal of rice and fish curry can come quite close to nirvana.
The food here like many other states of India has its own flavour. Just a pinchful of tamarind can substitute tomatoes, but there is no real substitute for curry leaf. Almost all houses in Kerala have their own supply of curry leaves from their garden. Since time immemorial, coconut has been an integral part of the cuisine of Kerala.
A typical Kerala breakfast may be puttu, which is rice powder and grated coconut steam cooked together, idli and sambar, dosa and chutney, idiappam (string hoppers), or the most delicious of them all, the appam. Appam is a kind of pan cake made of rice flour fermented with a small amount of toddy (fermented sap of the coconut palm) which is circular in shape, rather like a flying saucer, edged with a crisp lacy frill. Apart from its divine taste, it also looks divine. Put it in your mouth and it just melts. But then to make a perfect appam is no easy task. It is eaten with chicken or vegetable stew. Kanji (rice gruel) and payaru (green gram), kappa (casava) and fish curry are traditional favourites of Keralites. Not to talk about the banana and jackfruit chips. They are perfect accompaniments for a cup of coffee in the evening.
The culinary efforts of the different communities of Kerala come out in distinctly different dishes of great variety. While Hindus specialise in delicious vegetarian food such as sambar, rasam, olan, pachadi, avial, thoran and so on, the Muslims and Christians excel in non vegetarian cuisine. The pathiri, a sort of pancake made of rice flour, and biryani which is a mouthwatering dish of rice cooked along with meat, onions, chillies and other spices are Muslim culinary delights. Christians have interesting recipes to make an array of fish dishes such as meen pollichathu, fish molee and so on. Christian cookery specially caters to people with a sweet tooth — crunchy kozhalappam and achappam.
Sadya is the feast one should enjoy on festivals like Onam. Avial, an all time favourite, is a happy blend of vegetables, coconut paste and green chillies. Avial’s seasoning is a spoonful of fresh coconut oil and a sprinkling of raw curry leaves, stirred in immediately after the dish is taken off the stove. Kottucurry is made out of cubed potatoes, onions and green chillies cooked in coconut milk with plenty of red chilli. Olan, a bland dish of pumpkin and red grams is prepared
by cooking it in thin gravy of coconut milk.
The rich and irresistible desserts form an essential part of the meals. These are served midway through the meals. Payasam is a thick fluid dish of brown molasses, coconutmilk and spices, garnished with cashewnuts and raisins. There could be a succession of payasams, such as the lentil payasam and the jackfruit payasam, Bengal gram payasam and so on, though Adapradhaman, a rich payasam with thin rice wafers, is arguably the ultimate delicacy.
Palppayasam, made with sugar, ghee and spices, brewed in creamy white milk is regarded as the last word in sweet dishes.
Karimeen curry recipe
Kareemeen – 1/2 kg (cut into pieces) Oil – 2 tbsp Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp Curry leaves – few Onion – 1 Ginger – 1″piece Garlic – 6 cloves Red chilly – 2 Chilly powder – 1 tbsp Coriander powder – 2 tsp Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp Fenugreek seeds – 1/2 tsp Mustard – 1/2 tsp Tamarind – 1/2 tsp Tomato – 1 Coconut oil – 1/2 tsp Salt
Put fish in cold water. Add 1/2-cup salt and vinegar. Keep for 15 minutes. Remove and cut. Heat oil in a pan. Add mustard seeds. Then add curry leaf, onion, ginger, and garlic. Fry till onions are golden brown. Now add coriander powder, chilly powder and turmeric. And fry. Add water with tamarind juice. Add salt and boil. Add fish and cook till done. Heat coconut oil and add fenugreek seeds. Pour over the gravy. Allow to simmer for 1/2 hour on slow fire till gravy thickens