I doubt there’d be any true Malayali whose eyes would not twinkle at the mention of the word “cutlet” and I am no exception. Cutlets crept into our staple diet long before we knew it. Especially on a cold, rainy day, there is indeed nothing more comforting that a couple of piping hot meat cutlets and maybe a pot of hot tea if you please.
Last night, I spent some time catching up with an old friend and a fair share of the conversation was about the amazing beef cutlets that were served in our school canteen. The St. Thomas school canteen is (with very good reason) known for the incredible food it serves. Be it the hot, spicy beef curry that would give any thattu kada (the local food shacks in Kerala) in the city a run for its money, or the warm beef cutlets the Santhomites gorged on, wrapped in parottas (a trend that is supposed to have originated and promptly stayed within our school campus boundaries), or even the regular oonu (the regular, fuss free meal served in Kerala) that was served ever so lovingly in our school canteen; food that we all took for granted for all the years we spent there and the food, the thoughts about which, brought serious pangs of nostalgia when we learnt what default hostel canteen food was supposed to taste like. Yikes!
Other memories I associate with the good old beef/chicken cutlet (veggie cutlets are sacrilegious just the way veg biryani is) is from the days I would stop by the neighbourhood bakery, right after school before heading to my math tuition. Amma would have given me about 20 bucks to spend on a snack, just so that I would fidget less while I tried to keep myself from banging my head against the wall, while the teacher went on relentlessly about the god forsaken differential equations or that integration. Let me not deviate. The sole motivation for my heading to that horrid math class was what the yummy beef cutlets in that tiny bakery lent.
Even to date, when I make a visit back home, Amma always makes it a point to either make a batch of yummy beef cutlets for me or at least take me for a visit to Supreme Bakers (arguably the best in Trivandrum) so that I can roam around like a wide eyed 5 year old who wants every single thing the shop has to sell. This should give you a decent idea about what cutlets mean to me. So I felt it was only justified if I had my own recipe for this wondrous creation. Well, this is my grandmum’s recipe which I have only as much as tweaked, a slight bit. So here goes.
Things you will need for about 20 medium sized cutlets:
Beef- 700 gms
Potato- 1 medium-large (boiled and mashed well)
Onion- 1 large chopped finely
Green chillies- 5-6 chopped finely
Ginger- 2 inch stick chopped finely
Crushed whole peppercorns
Garam masala- 1 tsp
Egg- 1 beaten
Breadcrumbs- 1 cup
Oil for deep frying
How to go about it:
In a pressure cooker, cook the beef thoroughly with about 2 teaspoons of the crushed pepper, a little less than half a glass of water, salt to taste and half of the ginger. Once cooked well, allow it to cool for a bit and run the meat through a food processor to mince it well. A regular mixer grinder will also do. Keep that aside.
Next, in a wok, heat some cooking oil, sauté the onions until they begin to turn brown. Add the garam masala, green chilies, the curry leaves and the remaining ginger and keep sautéing for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the cooked beef to the wok and mix well and sauté until all the water content is lost. Add more salt if required.
Let the mixture cool. Then, add the mashed potatoes to the mixture and mix thoroughly with your hands.
Make small balls of the mixture, depending on how large you want the cutlets to be. You can either let me remain as balls, or you can flatten the balls slightly with the palm of your hand the way I did it
Dip each of them into an egg wash and then promptly put in a bowl of breadcrumbs to make a coating all over.
Deep fry the cutlets in oil until both the sides are nice and brown and serve hot with ketchup.
Note: these cutlets after coated with the breadcrumbs stay well in the freezer for a month easily. You can make a big batch and leave them in the freezer, frying them as and when you need them.
Yet another Diwali far away from home; far from the colour and the lights; far from amma’s mutton curry and delicious mithai; far from the pretty clothes, the jhumkas and the bindis; far from love, farther from the warmth. Vienna in her dreary attire for the day lends little comfort even as I turn to the enormous windows. Little does she realize that I am homesick with every chord in my heart yearning to be a part of the festivities back home in India; pangs of envy creeping up like ivy from corners of my being I didn’t even know existed, as I scroll down my Instagram feed to see my friends with their happy faces gorging on ladoos, wearing happy hues of yellow and orange and red. As I give a glance at this baby diarrhoea green sweatshirt I am sporting as we speak, I can feel the corners of my mouth drooping further down.
Diwali for me has always been and will always be synonymous to my dad; the enthusiasm, excitement and cheer that his soft brown-grey eyes would exude for at least a full month. During the hours we spent in the evenings, planning the budget for the crackers, the food and the festivities for Diwali eve, I would see him turn into a little boy, his bespectacled crinkly eyes barely able to contain their excitement. I remember those trips probably more than 20 years ago that we made to Sivakasi, the hub of super fancy fire crackers, solely for the purpose of purchasing crackers for our home celebration. We would pick some of almost every variety they had; the regular sparklers, the coloured ones which spat out fire in hues of green and red and blue, the flower pots, the flower pots which would whistle on being lit, the chakras, the rockets, oh the ones that would go up and burst into inexplicably beautiful, exquisite designs (those were his favourites) you name it, we had it. After my sister made an appearance in 1995, we made a few adjustments and resorted to local cracker shopping. We would fix a date well in advance and on that date, my sister and I would barely be able to sit through school hours before hopping on to the school bus to rush home; take a quick shower with little to no drama and be ready in our frocks, all set to make the visit to the cracker store.
I still have those scenes in the busy streets of Trivandrum, illuminated all over with cheap string lights in every colour under the sun, etched in my memory. The October-November air always had a crisp and borderline chilly feel to it and just reminiscing about it brings back the same old butterflies I used to feel year after year, Diwali season after Diwali season, in my stomach. Who knew then that we were busy making memories; memories we will take to our graves. I will ever be thankful to our parents for just teaching us that it was and that it will always be about the little things. No fat paycheque or fancy designer wear can ever be a substitute for the untainted happiness we shared as the tightest group of four as we celebrated each day we had together; for utter sense of importance that prevailed in our young minds as we made reasoned decisions, as to what to spend on and what to keep for the “next time” depending on the number of currency notes dad had in his well-worn leather wallet.
Many years have passed since I moved out of my hometown. I run my own home today and I have noticed (and you may have too) the fondest of memories are seldom about the gifts that were showered on me, or anything remotely worldly for that matter. My most favourite memory compartment is, to date, filled with lame jokes, laughs, fights and make ups, walking on dad’s feet, squeezing amma’s hand while we sat wobbling in the auto rickshaw, the great food we enjoyed at our old dining table laid with that white lace table cloth with frayed edges, the 4pm movies on the television, foolhardy with the sister, the ice cream dates, the trips to the beach, the drives around the city, the tears, the victories, the failures. There is not a single moment that I spent with my little family, the four of us alone, that I would have had any other way.
Today, although dad is farther away, I know deep inside that this is his time of the year and that he’ll still be grinning his foolish grin maybe still taking a sip of rum and coke from that glass I know so well. Today, I know better than to take things and life for granted; that every moment is a blessing and that there is more than enough time to just stop and smell the roses. Today, I know that tomorrow is not a promise or an eventuality and I make it a point to tell the souls I love, that I love them lest I be left alone with unsaid goodbyes or hugs and kisses that were kept for another day, yet again. Today, I know that it is all about the little things and I sincerely hope you do too. Happy Diwali, folks! 🙂
Being two souls who have never taken to the glitter and the glamour of city life (honestly quite repulsed by it) or the crowd and noise that comes along with it, the Husband and I are eternally in pursuit of places where we can be in sync with nature, far, far away from the madding crowd; where we can sip on some wine, under the blue skies or just as much as while away time under the trees while the sun shines, listening to the sparrows chirping away. If not for these spots that let us be one with nature, it has to be the timeworn, quiet townships with majestic buildings, their grey walls that have stories to tell from the innumerable winters they have witnessed and withstood; with the narrow, cobbled streets that make for countless alleyways. We have invariably turned to the peace, the quiet and the warmth of the countryside whenever we have felt the need to unwind or to get the calm in our systems restored.
It was during one of those erratic work weeks that the Husband and I chanced upon, on the internet, this tiny village somewhere on the hills in the lush Italian countryside; Montelparo. Nestled between the sprawling Apennine Mountains and the calm Adriatic Sea that reminds you of a sheet of cornflowers in full bloom, in the eastern Italian region of Le Marche, Montelparo deserves a lot more literature dedicated to her beauty and serenity than what exists currently. Here we got our share of the countryside with a side of the old, rustic, old town feel. It is not without reason that the insiders refer to Le Marche as “Italy’s best kept secret.”
A quick survey on the internet told us that the fastest way to get to this quaint village on the hills is by car, and voila! We flew to Rome and then rented a Fiat Panda, all set to discover parts of lo stivale which seemed to be unheard of even by the locals. So, with our small suitcases stowed away in the boot, a full petrol tank, route downloaded on Google maps, sunglasses and a bottle of water, we set out on our own mini adventure as early as 7 in the morn. The drive was not supposed to take us any more than three hours as per Google maps. And lo and behold, the drive was one right out of the movies; where the lead characters drive their supercars through the highways lined with the lush green grass, with the towering mountains in the background set against the azure skies with clouds that remind us of cotton candy from the carnivals. The sole difference in our case was that, we did not look anything like the said lead characters; sporting our just-out-of-bed looks, in oversized tees, sneakers and worn out pairs of shorts. So glamourous.. NOT!
The drive was easily the best we have done to date. It was my first time in Italy but no book or research on the internet had me prepared for the beauty that she is. There was this point during the drive that we realized that we were not even talking and instead we were both just gazing endlessly out of the windows as though out of the sheer desperation to hold on to every moment that was flashing by, right in front of our eyes. Talk about living in the moment. There was a stretch of the highway that ran adjacent to the coastline to the Adriatic Sea; the water so blue that it almost made us feel like we were cast in an animated Disney flick. We stopped at one of the quiet coves at Pedaso, for a short break in the sun before we started to ascend the hills to get to Montelparo. We sat by the cove with our feet in the blue water, while the warm sun shone on our bare backs. With our batteries charged, we were ready to get back on the winding road to the village we had been reading about.
We drove by vast fields of golden sunflowers (remember Sting and his gruff voice, although he was referring to fields of barley, what a pity) smiling away at us as we whizzed past, through the narrow hill roads, by the white wooden board with ‘Montelparo’ painted on it in black. We had arrived.
A tiny village on the hills, with houses, the lone church and bungalows, all built in an identical stone that was a light brown in colour; dark cobbled streets running past all these dainty structures; a piazza to serve as a parking area for the entire village (just to shed more light on how tiny the village is); and the utterly breathtaking view. The whole village is so high up that you can see the vast expanse of the countryside laying in front of you for as far as your eye can reach; the green of the surrounding hills, the sunlight bouncing off the valleys, the stone chapel in the distance, the trees; all set against the canvas lent by the blue skies.
We had already made reservations in a cozy looking hotel going by the pictures and the reviews on the internet; Boutique Hotel Leone. Run by the sweetest British couple Madeline and Tim, our experience at Leone was not a step behind perfect, right from the moment we set foot in that cool, airy, stone structure that houses the hotel that fits the picturesque background like a well-fitting glove. The holiday hangover that I am currently experiencing, even after a good one week after the Italian sojourn does not let me keep for later the fact that the whole show behind this luxury hotel is put up by none other than these two adorable individuals. A luxury hotel, with just 8 rooms, the amount of research that must have gone into each of the factors that makes this charming little place an experience in itself, seems unfathomable.
Madeline who was once an accountant is the one who seemingly runs most of the front desk and administrative work, while Tim is the head chef. Just as we entered we were welcomed by the two of them personally, with the warmth one would expect only from family or long lost friends. After a brief chit chat, Madeline showed us to our room and holy moly! Considering the perfection with which Hotel Leone operates, I cannot help but talk about each of the factors that made the experience arguably the best we have had in a long, long time. So here goes.
Décor: Boutique Hotel Leone spelt out two words for me right at the first instance; warm and tasteful. Normally, these are not two adjectives I would expect to go side by side in a hotel environment. But Leone had it all. The furniture, the rooms, the setting the cute little bar, the terrace overlooking the spectacular view, the restaurant, the indoor part of which gives you vibes from no less than an old Scottish castle with the white washed, stone walls and the beautiful dim lighting, spelt out ‘class’. Another aspect that quite caught my fancy was the common living area for the residents, painted in a beautiful hue of fresh green, furnished with a few comfortable armchairs and sofas and adorned with those classic lampshades; the bookshelves loaded with all sorts of books (cookbooks in particular) reminded me of a scene from a long forgotten storybook.
Rooms: Even if we choose to ignore the view out of the windows (as difficult as that might be), the rooms in this hotel are worth every penny you spend. It was almost like every single aspect in the rooms were taken with utmost seriousness right at the toddler stages of the hotel; be it the huge comfy beds, the classy furnishings, the spacious bathrooms or even the mini bar for that matter. I must mention the cute complimentary basket that greeted us in the room filled with fresh fruit and some homemade cookies.
Services: Out of the umpteen hotels we have stayed at, individually and together, Leone is the first place where the rooms were cleaned and the beds made, twice a day; once in the morning and once when you are out for dinner. I mean, how amazing is that! By the time you get back from dinner, your beds will be made, with a little chocolate left for you on the pillow, all ready for you to just snuggle in between the sheets for a good night’s rest.
Food & Drink: As I had mentioned, Tim is the head chef in this hotel and he’s a star (for want of a more apt term.) By now, if you have been following my blog for a bit, you must know as to how seriously I take my food. So, take it from me, the food Tim whips up is phenomenal. The Truffle Ravioli that made for our first meal there was just something surreal. The fresh mussles in a white wine, garlic and parsley broth, the Pumpkin Ravioli and the seafood risotto need to be given honourable mentions. As regards drinks, Madeline is a genuine case of wine connoisseur-ness (again might need to apply for an artistic license) and the most helpful of them all. The husband and I love our wine, but do not consider ourselves connoisseurs and for this reason, we kept describing to the lovely Madeline what we were looking for in terms of taste or flavour and the bottles she picked were always absolutely on point.
Amenities: Keeping aside the fact that Hotel Leone is situated on a gem of a property, the amenities provided leave no box unchecked. Be it the lavish outdoor pool by the trees, the terrace where you can spend hours gawking at the hills and the valleys in front of you while Madeline treats you to the finest local wine, the restaurant with a stunning outdoor area for the days when the sun is out as well as the cozy indoor area or the bar, Hotel Leone has it all.
I realise I can go on forever about this stellar experience that we got to experience out of sheer luck. We were unable to put our finger on even one minute flaw in the whole experience, and that I feel is the result of all the hard work these two lovely individuals have devoted into this project. They had just three staff members whilst we were there. Two lovely interns, who were so on top of their game, making sure every guest is comfortable, warm and friendly at the same time never overstepping the mark even the slightest bit and an efficient and (again) warm, housekeeper. I could not help but notice how even the music played in the restaurant was so on point. That is the attention to detail you can see for yourselves in this little gem.
In case I have left you wondering if all there is to experience in Montelparo is the silence and the beauty of nature, please keep in mind that there are a gazillion old towns in the area accessible by car which are absolutely worth a visit. Also, the beaches are not far at all. Trust Madeline to help you out with all that you will need including maps, directions, recommendations and what not to make your day trips as perfect as your stay.
If ever you do plan to make a visit to the lower part of Italy, and you are looking to spend a bit of time with your loved ones away from the city madness, under the blue skies, sipping on some good wine, head straight to Leone and let Madeline and Tim do what they do best. I promise, you will not be disappointed. 🙂
My undying love for coastal flavours and cuisine is not the best kept secret. On the days I am not whipping up flavours from the seaside in the kitchen, take it for granted that my mind will be wandering far away, somewhere on pristine, white sands with a cool sea breeze on my face, salt on my lips, watching the waves wash against the shore, tirelessly. There is indeed something so comforting, so soothing about the ocean; especially in the dead of the night, under the moonlight.
Although it’d be criminal to whine, sitting in the beautiful city of Vienna, I cannot help but admit that I do sometimes miss the close proximity of the ocean and the fresh sea food that comes with the package of living by the coast. Anyway, today being one of my fidgety days when I can’t seem to find enough patience to put pen to paper, I am going to get down to business sooner than usual. This recipe is as easy as coastal cuisine gets. It is an authentic Kerala delicacy and may be prepared using prawns or fish. Another fact that may garner your interest is that you can fix on a south Kerala style or a north Kerala style depending on the variety of tamarind you use. Read on for more.
Things you will need:
Prawns- 500 gms
Grated coconut- ½ cup (even full fat desiccated coconut works fine)
Fenugreek seeds- ½ tsp
Turmeric powder- ½ tsp
Chilli powder- 1 tbsp (vary according to spice tolerance)
Tomatoes- 1 chopped roughly
Onion- 1 small
Green chillies- 3 slit
Ginger- a half inch stick
Malabar Tamarind/Cocum- 4-5 pieces soaked in water for 15 minutes. (If you would like to make this a south Kerala delicacy, instead of the cocum, take a gooseberry sized tamarind ball, soak it in water and take the juice)
Curry leaves- 2 sprigs
Cooking oil (I prefer to use coconut oil for the authentic flavour
How to go about it:
Make a smooth paste out of the coconut, turmeric, chilli powder, onion, ginger and water enough to make it a loose paste.
Heat 2 tbsp cooking oil in a wok, and allow the fenugreek seeds to splutter. Add the coconut paste to the wok with sufficient water to make a thick gravy. Add the chopped tomatoes, curry leaves, salt and slit green chillies. Add the soaked cocum pieces (or if you are using ordinary tamarind, add the juice to the gravy but make sure you reduce the water used to make the gravy, lest the gravy should be too watery)
Add the cleaned prawns to the gravy, mix well, bring to a boil and leave the gravy to simmer for about 20 minutes keeping the wok closed.
Your prawn curry is ready to be served with steamed white rice, or idiyappams (string hoppers) 🙂
Since I had decided to spend a quiet Saturday at home, I was just going about making my breakfast, listening to some Bollywood numbers from the early 2000s, singing along with the lovely Sunidhi Chauhan as she breathed out “bhaage re mann kahi..” in her husky, soulful voice. Before I realized, I found myself reminiscing about the umpteen bus journeys I have been on, in those “volvo buses” as we prefer to call all the enormous multi axel buses (irrespective of their actual manufacturer) we resort to, especially for overnight, inter-state travel.
As odd as it may sound to a lot of you, I have always been a fan of overnight travel in these semi sleeper buses. I have lost count of the number of times I have sat through the night, by the window, watching the silhouettes of the trees lining the highway in the dark; the lone house far away with an oil lamp flickering on the verandah; fleeting glimpses of men in groups of 3 and 4 walking back home, maybe after a glass or two of local country liquor (assumptions, assumptions). It was on these journeys that I undertook, most of the time on my own, that I got a lot of my thoughts in order. There was always something soothing, something comforting in sitting by those glass windows of the bus spending sleepless nights, watching the short-lived sights on the highway glistening in the moonlight; something that nudged the child in me while I spent hours racing with the moon; something that whispered to me to stay patient and that the choppiness of sea had to end at some point and that calm would inevitably prevail.
I remember vividly how travelling overnight on one of these buses was my escape route every time I felt the need for some solitude to get the calm restored. Those were the days when I quite literally loved the journey much more than the destination. I would invariably have a list of things to sort out in my head, that would take hours of arguing with myself, beating myself up, shedding a few tears and in the end pacifying myself right before feeling rejuvenated to take on the world and all it had to throw at me, all over again. By sunrise, when the skies turned a lovely hue of violet and blue, before turning into that lovely shade of pink I would without fail have had the rosiness in life restored.
Having said that, there is one other thing I have always looked forward to especially on my journeys from Trivandrum to Bangalore. The food. Amma has always (every single time) packed a yummy dinner for me every time I was travelling from home. More often than not, it would be a couple of soft chappatis and a spicy beef roast. I would be thinking about the tight package in aluminium foil, even before I got on to the bus. And I shall shamelessly admit to you at this point, that I would gobble it up as soon as the driver turned on the engine, which means I would be starving by the time 8PM (which is dinner time for normal souls) came a knocking.
I seldom had reason to fret because the bus would take a halt for dinner and on the Trivandrum Bangalore route, it was almost always at Haripad, the little township in Alapuzha district, home to great, authentic Kerala cuisine. As soon as the bus would stop at a little run down shack on the wayside, I would be the first to fly out of the door, quite contrary to the demeanour that is expected out of a young lady travelling alone in my part of the world. I would just not give two hoots to the looks and the stares that have been meted out to me for daring to look like anything but a docile house cat because only the women who travelling with their husbands or fathers or brothers were expected to step out of the bus as late as..wait for it..8pm.
I would find for myself a cozy nook in the shack and call for a plate of hot, soft, lacy, appams along with a plate of steaming hot, spicy egg roast or chicken curry. I don’t think I have it in me to put into words the emotion that every bite of those super soft appams dunked liberally in the hot gravy engulfed me in. You have to experience the raw culinary skill hidden in these run down shacks to believe it. Nothing I write will do justice to the love that is served as food in these little joints.
Today I share with you the recipe to the Kerala Egg Roast which is almost as the same as the Tamizhan Muttai Thokku. It is a hearty, semi gravy dish with spells out comfort for all the days you are feeling meh. Super easy and totally worth the negligible amount of effort it takes.
Things you will need:
Eggs- Hard boiled and halved- 4
Onions- 2 medium sized, chopped finely
Garlic- 2 big pods minced
Tomatoes- 1 large, chopped finely
Turmeric powder- ½ tsp
Chilli powder- 2 ½ tsp (I use the normal chilli powder, but feel free to use Kashmiri chili in case you are not up for some heat)
Coriander powder- 2 tsp
Garam masala powder- ½ tsp (available in all indian stores)
Cumin seeds- ¼ tsp
Black Mustard seed- ½ tsp
Dried red chillies- (the large ones that is used for tempering) 2 or 3
Curry leaves- 1 sprig
How to go about it
In a wok, heat some oil on medium heat. Splutter the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, dried chillies and curry leaves. Sauté the chopped onions and sufficient salt till they turn soft and a nice golden brown. Should take about 7 minutes. Please feel free to keep sautéing because well cooked onions is what gives this recipe the flavour.
Add the minced garlic, sauté for about 2 minutes, until the raw smell is lost. Add the tomatoes, mix well and keep the wok closed for about 2 minutes. After that, open the wok and keep sautéing till the tomatoes are mashed well and the onion tomato mixture start to look homogenous.
Add the masala powders to this and keep sautéing till the oil starts to leave the sides of the gravy. Add some more oil if the mixture starts to look too dry. Sauté for about 5 full minutes.
Add half a glass of water to this, mix well. Add the boiled and halved eggs to the gravy. Make sure you don’t stir excessively and mash the eggs up. Be easy on the eggs, coat them with the thick gravy, close the wok and let it simmer for about 4 minutes.
Open the wok, if the gravy looks nice and thick, your Kerala style egg roast is ready to be served with chappatis, appams or idiyappams. Dig in 🙂
Summer seems to have officially made an entry. Before I moved to Vienna, I would have expected the temperatures in the city to not soar beyond maybe a 20 degrees, but I now realize I could not have been more wrong. At a solid 33 degrees, Vienna ensures that I am not spoilt beyond correction or recognition in the little ways she does. With the city that has not embraced the concept of air conditioners (apart from the ones you find in swanky offices) yet, gym visits are not so fun anymore. The idea of a ‘summer glow’ gets oft mistaken for the term ‘sweaty pig.’ The good part is that all the coats and the jackets have all been duly stowed away and the shorts, the tees, easy breezy dresses and the best of them all, open sandals that lets you show off pretty pedicures that cost half a fortune, have been brought out. Well, you win some, you lose some I reckon.
While walking back from the gym, sipping on a bottle of cold, freshly squeezed orange juice with a hint of ginger, watching the sweaty cyclists whiz past and the new moms ambling by in the sweltering heat with their babies in colourful prams, I realized that I am still lagging behind my whole plan of a-recipe-a-week. The past two weeks somehow kept me on my toes. Especially this week with the little nephew bobbing around in the house, with demands no less than Kathakali performances from your truly to keep him from crankiness, I am surprised I found time enough to eat three square meals. No, I am kidding. Food seldom gets jeopardized in a household I run and you must know that by now.
Anyway, since time does not make the effort to find you, I decided to keep dinner plans simple and instead put up the recipe of a dish a lot of you have been asking for; the Kerala toddy shop style fish curry. This is one recipe that can take me back to the Kallu Shaap (toddy shop, and toddy being fermented palm wine which is native to my part of the world, Kerala) by the backwaters of Kuttanaad, on that bright, sunny day in April, where I had my first taste of toddy with my dad. Kuttanaadu is one place, I am sure every malayali holds close to his/her chest with immense pride. Being the point with the lowest altitude in India, the beauty Kuttanaadu encompasses is something I believe no words can do justice to; her vast expanse of green paddy fields under the pastel blue skies; the canals and the backwaters that stretch out for as far as your eyes can reach; the coconut trees swaying in the wind that line the pristine water bodies; the kettuvallams or the houseboats with intricately woven thatched roofs that stand testament to the efforts put in by the natives; kids running by the narrow roads chasing old cycle tyres with sticks; the run down toddy shops serving cold toddy in tall, glass bottles; the peace, the quiet and the serenity; the food.
The toddy shop kitchens I believe are homes to raw, brazen culinary skill at its finest. Home to arguably the most beautiful water bodies on the planet, a dearth of fresh fish and seafood is unheard of in Kuttanaadu. That, coupled with the bold use of fresh condiments make the food served in the toddy shops not only spicy but also an unforgettable experience in itself. Today I share with you the recipe to the fiery, red fish curry, the way it is served in the toddy shops of Kerala. This is one dish for which my marginal utility never dips. If I had to pick just one dish for the rest of my life, it would be this red hot gravy. So, here goes.
Things you will need:
Fish- 500 gms washed and cleaned (I use Trout here. In India, this curry works best with Seer Fish or King Fish)
Onion- 1 large chopped finely
Tomato- 1 large chopped (this is strictly optional. A lot of people I know do not use tomatoes in this curry, but I love the flavour tomatoes lend and the fact that it helps in thickening the gravy, just the way I like it)
Ginger- 1 small piece chopped finely
Garlic- 6-8 pods sliced finely
Turmeric powder- 1 tsp
Kashmiri Red chili powder (not Kashmiri chili powder)- 3 tablespoons (this is for a medium to hot curry. The ratio is 1 tbsp for about four pieces of fish)
Malabar Tamarind- 4-5 pieces (soaked in water for 15 minutes. This is the fulcrum of the dish and is absolutely unavoidable)
How to go about it:
First, in a wok, heat some cooking oil and temper 1 tsp mustard seeds, a generous amount of curry leaves and ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds. Once the seeds splutter, add the ginger and garlic, sauté for a minute.
Next, add the chopped onions to the wok. Sauté till they start to turn golden brown. Add the tomatoes to the wok, keep the wok closed for about a minute for them to cook. Once the tomatoes have softened, keep sautéing till the raw smell goes away. Add the turmeric, red chili powder. Mix well and keep sautéing till the oil starts to leave the sides and the raw smell of the condiments is lost.
Add the tamarind pieces along with the water. Add about 1 glass and a little more of water and add salt. Mix the gravy well and then proceed to add the fish to the gravy. Coat the pieces in the gravy and keep the wok closed on high heat.
Once the gravy starts to boil, reduce the heat to a medium. At this point, shake the wok well to mix the gravy that may look a little watery. Do not use a spoon to stir as that will break the pieces of the fish and the entire dish becomes unappetizing. Keep the wok closed to simmer for about 20 minutes. After that, open the lid and let the gravy boil on high heat for about 5 minutes or till the gravy starts to thicken.
Once the fish is cooked and the gravy has thickened, the dish is ready to be served. This fish curry tastes better a day after it is made. Serve with hot rice or tapioca. Enjoy!