Welcome to the Kerala Kitchen!
Hello fellow Daring Bakers and Cooks! I'm Rose, who blogs under the name Magpie over at Magpies Recipes. I am so excited to share the cuisine of my home, Kerala with you all and some of my favourite family recipes!
Kerala Cuisine is as mind-bogglingly varied as its many communities, each which still maintain their distinct identity while living harmoniously ( well, most of the time The cuisine which uses predominantly rice, rice flour and coconut milk or oil apart from other plentiful local ingredients is also naturally food allergy friendly, offering many dairy and gluten free treats. There is also a plethora of vegetarian and vegan dishes. Kerala is also known to fulfill the meat and sea food lovers fantasies so there is something for everyone here at the Kerala Kitchen, and I hope you enjoy your visit!
Nestled in the southern tip of my vast, chaotic, vibrant home country of India, Kerala is a peaceful respite, proudly called “God's own country”. Undulating fields of green dancing paddy stretch out as far as the eye can see, and swaying coconut trees at the river's edge silently watch as canoes cut from their barks gently float by. There are long coasts and backwaters teeming with fish like pearl spot, pomfret, prawns, sardines, mackerel, plump seer fish and king fish, tiny anchovies... and mountains carpeted with tea plantations, spices and herbs. Malayalis are a friendly, hospitable bunch, and you will always be welcomed to their homes, to share their meals. If you receive an offer, take it, you will make your hosts and your tummy very happy! The best food in Kerala is home food and the restaurants rarely come close, except the little roadside dhabas and kallu shaapu's ( toddy shops) which are known for some truly wonderful fare.
The cuisine of Kerala is quite healthy and I think one of the most delicious ( but of course I'm partial and features the use of the fresh and abundant local produce: raw green mangoes add tartness to many curries, green plantain fritters are a common snack, and they are incorporated in many meat dishes as well. Bananas when ripe, are used in a plethora of sweets, roasted in their skins, batter dipped and fried or used to fill steamed rice cakes called ada. They are enjoyed as salty chips by the handfuls. Even the bark of the banana tree is cooked and so is the beautiful purple banana blossom. The large water resistant leaves are often used as naturally eco-friendly packaging or to serve food in, or even to wrap and steam cook fish with spices.
You will find the black, shell like tangy Kokum which is used to impart sourness to curries much like the tamarind. It however belongs to the mangosteen family, a delicious translucent white fruit inside the hard purple shell which is popular in other parts of Asia as well. We gorged on them straight from the tall trees after knocking them down with poles, but they are delicious in milk-shakes or smoothies too. Other common ingredients range from jackfruit to cashew which are used to make sweets like halwa or even curried.
Kerala continues to be a major supplier in the spice trade and its cuisine incorporates fragrant spices like pepper, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, more recently vanilla and an abundance of ginger and garlic too.
The most common ingredients are rice which is served alongside most curries, or made into the fluffy varied types of yeasted Appams. Also, ofcourse as a North Indian friend once exasperatedly commented: Coconut is everywhere, in everything! The Malayalis do have a strong bond to those coconuts which make their presence in every meal. The tender flesh is enjoyed as is, the mild soothing coconut water quenches parched throats in the hot and humid climate. Shredded coconut is added to vegetable stir fries and sweet dishes too, and many meat and vegetable dishes are cooked in creamy sweet coconut milk. Coconut oil is also widely used especially after all the good rep it is getting these days after years of being blacklisted. I love it's strong nutty flavor, but then again, not many do, so it might be something that grows on you. Test out a little if you are wary, while making fried eggs perhaps. It is great for baking too! I love it in this easy and quick one bowl, vegan coconutty banana bread - the perfect confluence of Kerala flavors!
Kerala has welcomed many people and cultures to its shores over the centuries, like the Chinese, Portuguese, Arabs, Jewish settlers, the British, and they all made deep imprints in the culture, habits and happily, the cuisine as well. The Portuguese left behind a fondness for tapioca or yucca served with meat or fish curries, and stews which were localised by being cooked in coconut milk which is a popular traditional favourite of the Syrian Christians like my family. We make many meat and fish dishes cooked in coconut milk which imparts a slightly sweet, creaminess to the curries that takes the edge out of the green chillies and spices.
The most popular is the Coconut Milk Stew or “Ishtoo” which can be made with just vegetables or also chicken, mutton or beef cooked in coconut milk and spices:
Pork vindaloo, a version of which is also popular in other states that also had a strong Portuguese influence is one of my favourites- soft tender pork cooked in garlic and pickling spices.
The colourful Hindu harvest festival of Onam features a feast of vegetarian dishes served on a large green banana leaf. The Onam Sadhya (feast) is best described as an edible artists' palette of myriad hues and flavors, ranging from spicy to tangy to sweet, with specific emphasis also placed on the order that it is served, to aid the digestive process.
There is a deep connection between religion, ayurvedic medicine and cooking, with each ingredient having medicinal value as well as deemed to make the body “hot” or “cold” and having different effects on the mind, body and indeed the soul!
Apart from vegetables cooked often with mustard seeds, curry leaves and shredded coconut called thorans, lentils are part of every meal. Lentils impart iron and protein to the usually vegetarian diet and many delicious lentil stews are made using different varieties. Here is my mother-in-laws recipe for the quick and easy, hearty Parripu curry or Lentil soup cooked with tomatoes and onions. Her trick is to toast the dal so that it becomes even more flavourful.
The Malayali Muslim community have a cuisine that is rich and decadently flavorful and their delicacies are a whole new world to me. I am not very familiar with them apart from the fragrant, rich and delicious mutton biriyani that my father's friend used to bring over over in a steel bucket covered with a damp cloth, every Ramadan, and we used to rush to the street when we heard the much awaited tinkle of his cycle bell!
I was thus completely enamored by this layered crepe dish called Chatti Pathiri,which is filled with a spicy chicken or other meat filling or a sweet coconut and dried fruit and nut filling.
I really hope you enjoyed this little taste of Ente Keralam ( my Kerala if you are interested in exploring more Kerala recipes, there are many wonderful cook books by authors like Mrs K.M Mathew, Mrs. B.F. Varghese, Ms Thangam E Philip who is considered the Julia Child of Indian cooking and her “Modern cookery” with a thousand odd Kerala and other Indian recipes is the first cookbook I ever owned, and my mother's too! Ummi Abdulla is the expert on Malabar cooking. Contemporary authors Maya Kaima and Raghavan Iyer's cookbook also feature many Kerala dishes as well as others predominantly from the South of India.
There are also many wonderful blogs dedicated to Kerala cuisine like our community blog The Kerala Kitchen where fellow Daring Bakers Ria, Finla, Swapna and others get together to try to share and preserve our wonderful cuisine. Inspired by the Daring Kitchen we also undertake challenging recipes like the Chatti Pathiri above to cook together!
Our little blog is fast becoming a treasure trove of Kerala inspired recipes and a network for those passionate about Kerala cooking or want to learn more about it. You are all welcome to join us and celebrate food!
Isn't it truly wonderful how richly diverse food is around the world! I wouldn't have it any other way!
Thanks for reading this article, I had so much fun writing it