Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Of White & Gold

The first day of college, I entered my class with visible nervousness, and saw her reassuring face smiling at me. It was comforting to see someone giving a friendly smile in an unfamiliar place. Only I didn't know then that P and I would go on to form a strong bond of friendship that was to last all these years and many more to come. P, my BF from college, and I shared some of the best times as classmates and later as roommates in college. While I lived away from my family, I sought the love and comfort of her home. P's loving family quickly accepted me as one of them. I spent holidays at her house, had silly slumber parties, took over the basement to practice for our dance shows, celebrated many festivals there, and most of all, enjoyed home cooked food!

P is a Keralite, or Mallu, as known popularly. It was at her house that I first had a taste of Kerala cuisine. Rich with generous use of coconut, spiced with red and green chilies and scented with curry leaves, Kerala food is full of bold flavors. Every visit to P's house was filled with a delicious breakfast of dosa and a lavish lunch spread of red matta rice, beet-root or cabbage pachadi, dry veggie fry called Thoran, rich and creamy aviyal curry with a side of inji curry (ginger pickle) or chammanthi (chutney) to spice it all up. I was treated to payasam on special occasions. Imagine that all that exotic food for a college student who survived on all sorts of rice preparations. Enjoying those delicacies with the sweetest family one can have made it all the more special. 

Today, on the occasion of Onam, I cooked two of my favorite dishes. Onam is an important festival in Kerala, almost like diwali. Women dress up in the traditional white and gold settu sarees, wear jasmine garlands in their hair, adorn the door fronts with athapoo (rangoli made with flower petals), and get together for thiruvathirakali dance. The most exciting part of the celebration is the elaborate feast called Sadya. It's some serious food business! Imagine a large banana leaf filled corner to corner with one delicious dish after another.

I prepared aviyal and spinach thoran today. Aviyal is a kurma like preparation made with many different root vegetables, beans, squash and raw bananas. You can throw in anything you like, as long as the vegetables are firm and don't get watery when cooked. Thoran is any dry vegetable stir fry. I used to love thoran made with beans. Today, I tried it using spinach since I already used beans in the aviyal. Neither of these dishes use overpowering spices. They are extremely fragrant and flavorful with the use of curry leaves, coconut, shallots and chilies. Husband had never tried Kerala food. All I can say is, he is converted now :).


2 1/2 Cups chopped vegetables - a mix of potatoes, pumpkin, green beans, carrots and eggplant
Curry leaves from one spring
2 Small green chilies - slit lengthwise in the center
1/4 Cup grated coconut
2 Shallots
1 Teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 Cup yogurt
1/4 Teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Red chili powder to taste
Water as needed

  • Chop vegetables into 1 inch long pieces. You can use a variety of gourds, beans and squash or yams. Make sure you choose vegetables that are firm and won't get watery when cooked. 
  • Add the vegetables, curry leaves, green chilies, turmeric powder and a little bit of water enough to cook veggies to a pot and cook until the vegetables are tender. 
  • On the side, grind the coconut, shallots and cumin seeds coarsely in a food processor. 
  • Add the coconut mixture to the veggies, mix well and cook for a couple of minutes. 
  • Add yogurt at the end, salt and red chili powder to taste, water if necessary and simmer for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and it's ready to serve.

Spinach Thoran

2 Cups packed finely chopped spinach
2 Heaping tablespoons of grated coconut
1 Large shallot
1 Green chili
1 Large garlic clove - chopped
Curry leaves from one spring
2 Dry red chilies
1/2 Teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 Teaspoon turmeric powder
2 Teaspoons oil
Salt to taste

  • Grind coconut, shallot and green chili coarsely and keep aside. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds and let them splutter. 
  • Add chopped garlic, curry leaves, red chilies and turmeric powder, and saute until fragrant. 
  • Add the coconut mixture and chopped spinach, salt to taste and cook stirring regularly. 

Serve the thoran and aviyal with some long grain rice or pooris with a side of pickle and papad.

I'm submitting these recipes to the South Indian Cooking Event started by Anu.

1 comment:

Jenny (VintageSugarcube) said...

What beautiful memories. Your writing is awesome and learning about Kerala cuisine is sooo interesting. I'm assuming it's a state/region? Hope to see you soon.


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