October 2007


Rathna contributed a masala akki roti to our dinner, a terrific griddled rice bread seasoned with cumin and loads of fresh veggies.

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She grated up coconut and carrot and chopped onions and chilis.

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Then she mixed up a dough with rice flour and water…

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…until it formed a ball.

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To pat the dough out, an oil lined sheet of plastic was placed down, and she oiled her hand too.

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These took a long time to cook over low heat.

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And the result was delicious. The bread’s texture is rustic and hearty, but the sweetness of the vegetables and the cumin is very delicate altogether.

We ate Rathna’s akki roti with Suresh’s incomparable baingan bharta, or smoky eggplant.

This is such an easy and rewarding approach to eggplant.

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The only work is picking all the charred bits off the vegetable.

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Cooked in the karhai (wok) with tomatoes, onions and seasoning.

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Our dinner, Punjabi, Sindhi and Kannada food.

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In spite of my rolling out puffed chapatis for Suresh and Rathna that would normally be deemed too thick, I’m fed lovely food on a regular basis.

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This is a Sindhi flat bread known as a Koki.  Served with a papad, lotusroot pickle and yogurt, I thought this was very elegant. 

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And here’s a pan-Indian meal, with food from Mysore, the Konkani coast and Punjab.  Respectively, a Mysore dal on the rice, a popped rice fry treat (think complicated papad) and saag paneer.   

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A straightforward, and very tasty, mutton curry.

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Little potatoes sauteed with 4 out of 5 spices usually known as panch phoron (uh, five spice) in (rural?) Bengali cooking.  (That is, radhuni, nigella, cumin and fennel, but no fenugreek.) 

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A dish of minced lamb, keema.  Suresh makes his with cilantro stems.  He pointed out that this homemade version is juicy, not fatty, and lightly spiced.  Excellent. 

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Here’s a light breakfast of Upma, savory cream of wheat.  The chutney was made by Rathna–coconut and lots of toasted dal, I think. 

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And every now and then I veer a little from a strictly Indian diet.  This was fun, a roast chicken with garlic bread, salad, sauteed figs and gravy.  “Continental”, it’s called.

Rathna made lemon rice the same time she made curd rice.

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 Her work station is ready. 

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She chopped some onions. 

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And started frying mustard seeds with urad dal and chana dal.

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Then, a generous helping of peanuts. 

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It’s all cooked up together. 

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With lots of fresh chilis and a pinch of salt and turmeric. The heat is turned off, and Rathna is adding fresh lemon juice and cilantro to the mix. 

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Then, it’s all stirred together, simple as that, with freshly cooked rice. 

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Here it is on the plate, with some curd rice and a southern style papad.  Kannada soul food! 

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Miss Rathna works for Suresh, and she generously shows me what’s cooking.  She hails from Mysore and especially likes her Karnataka cooking.  Here’s a few photos of Curd Rice.

After cooking some soft, tender rice, Rathna prepared a simple tadka, a fresh hot spiced oil.  Or, ghee in this case.

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Mustard seeds, red chilis and curry leaves are sizzled.

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For the moment the tadka is put to the side.  Then, Rathna takes fresh yogurt (and some milk, don’t tell Suresh!).

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It’s churned. 

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Very simple.  Rice folded with the dairy and the tadka. 

Except that Suresh likes to add his own touch, fresh pomegranate seeds.

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The final plated dish will be featured in a forthcoming post.  And there’s more of this coming.  Thanks Suresh and Rathna!

Calicut, newly dubbed Kozhikode, is north of Cochin.  It’s a predominantly muslim area, home to the Moplahs. 

I ate at the Paragon restaurant a couple times. 

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*Once for lunch* where I enjoyed this thali which seemed pretty unique to me. It included a fantastic fish curry and fried bittergourd chips, around a fresh beet curry. 

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With tasty greens, dal and a potato curry, this was a combination of food I’ve never seen before. 

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I had it with the famous Kerala paratha, a crisp, chewy, tender, flaky bread. 

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And a very handsome salad, too. 

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Dessert was rice pudding. 

And *once for breakfast* with chicken stew in a creamy coconut sauce.

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These appams were incredibly delicious! 

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The edges were paper thin, and the base was deep and thick.  The flavor was truly sweet which complemented the savory chicken stew.  Paragon’s appams seem like a good reason to visit Calicut alone. 

Just across the street from the Paragon is Kumari, a shop specializing in sweets and fresh made banana chips. 

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I bought a bag, handed over still warm.  Thin, but perfectly crisp, like the best potato chips you’ve ever had. Here’s the crew at work. 

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The chips are peeled, sliced on a wood mandoline, soaked in brine.  You can see the various stages of chip production, with the fiery frying karhai back in the dark. 

At the Taj hotel chain’s Calicut branch is the Coral Reef restaurant.  I got early and listened to Burl Ives sing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” and an organ rendition of “Amazing Grace” before dinner was served. 

From the depths to the heights, though. 

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Just about when this perfectly tender, masala-laden squid dish arrived so did the live tabla player. And a vocalist with a harmonium.  It was great.  I enjoyed this prawn biriyani all the more because of the amazingly graceful music. 

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Not far from the beach is Zain’s Hotel. 

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The sign in the photo is just about all the English you’ll find here.  Nor was there much Hindi, so if you visit you should have good non-verbal communication skills or know Malayalam. 

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“Fish Biriyani” was spoken, and my server packed everything up for me to go.  I think I requested it to go at some point–just as well as I admit to feeling somewhat awkward about the scene.

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Some more food I really enjoyed was cooked for Stefin and I on our plush houseboat cruise. If you don’t know about Kerala houseboats you should definitely spend a minute and google. They’re lovely.

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Our lunch included these yummy green beans, redolent with coconut oil.

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Aviyal, a classic mixed vegetable dish up front. And sauteed cabbage with lots of coconut in back.

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Sambar, a spicy, hot, sour rich stew made from toor dal.

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You can get a sense of what this kind of Kerala rice is like.

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See how plump the grains are? It also comes in a ‘red’ variety which retains a bit of husk.

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On the right is kaalan, another classic vegetarian dish, made from cucumbers in a perfectly balanced sour yogurt sauce.

 

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And these fried Pearlspot fish, caught in the waters beneath our boat. Pearlspots are highly esteemed, and for a good reason–they’re terrific, with sweet, tender white flesh.

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At teatime, we had friend bananas. I don’t especially like friend bananas, but that’s just me. These had a little cumin seed in the batter.

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We bought a couple tiger prawns, as they are called locally, at lunchtime. These may be known elsewhere as scampi.

Dinner was served in the dark as the lights would attract too many bugs. Remember, we we’re afloat a tropical lake. So, the photos suffered a bit.

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Made into this, roasted on skewers, salty, perfectly tender and very, very sweet. Worth the expense, for sure.

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Dinner also included (clockwise from top) chicken curry, spicy fish curry, dal and sauteed okra. The okra here in Kerala, by the way, is superb.

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Breakfast offered this beautiful appam and spicy egg curry. I wish I knew the names for some of these preparations, but Malayalam, Kerala’s tongue, is a bit daunting to me.

My hotel, the Fort House, had a beautiful garden full of lush vegetation, including orchids and a pond full of guppies. The food was pretty good, too.

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This squid salad was served warm in a rich dressing of coconut. It included potatoes, carrots and tomatoes. A bit salty.

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Likewise, this tuna in tomato sauce was oversalted and even somewhat sandy. Tuna is cheaper here than some other fish varieties, perhaps because tuna doesn’t always adapt well to being cooked well done.

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The Fort House prepared excellent okra, full of fat, sweet garlic cloves. The dal, behind it, had plenty of crisp fried onions on top.

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For dessert, spiced dried figs.

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The hotel also made a terrific pineapple jam. So good it deserves a photo, even if it ended up on sweet, white toast.

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I had this mutton biriyani at Rahamthulla Hotel. It was good and seemed to be a spot for serious, and even somber, dining.

Before leaving Cochin I grabbed this thali at Dwaraka, a vegetarian restaurant in downtown Ernakalum.

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My post on Cochin is sadly underwhelming. Not in terms of quality, because I surely ate very well here. But I didn’t get to eat in quantity.

Not to dwell on it, but I want to explain the lack. I was suffering from a respiratory infection and spent a couple days in bed.

Poor me, it’s hard to eat from such a perch.

Certainly, the nicest time I had in Cochin was in the company of Babu and Joli, friends of Ammini Ramachandran. Thanks for the introduction, Ammini; I’m truly lucky to have received it.

By the way, Ammini has written a superb book on Kerala vegetarian cooking “Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts” which comes with my *highest* recommendation. You can, and should, buy it here: http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-9780595409761-1 . (Kate, I still have a copy for you on my kitchen table!)

Babu and Joli and I stopped at the commercial fishing docks first. Photography is prohibited for some reason, but we walked amongst crates and crates of fish–being unloaded, butchered, packed and iced. Most amazing, and I admit a bit sad, were gigantic manta rays being processed. Their ‘wingspan’ must have measured 6 feet across, and we watched as 5 men together struggled to lift one up. One lay on the ground nearby, cut in half.

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We went next to the vegetable market. The sun was high overhead and cast blue light through the shady tarps. It was banana day, and zillions of bananas of all sort were arriving for sale. Babu and Joli bought me four varieties, though I think there must be dozens. Indeed, one banana was juicy and another dryer. One banana was good for frying and the best banana of all, Stefin pronounced, was the one with green skin that looked unripe and was perfectly sweet.

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There were all sorts of vegetables.

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On the shelf, elephant foot yams.

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Here are some unripe mangoes, good for making pickles. I wonder if these might also find their way into various curries?

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Babu’s holding a ladle made from a coconut shell. Behind is a big, juicy, sour pile of amla, likewise good for making pickles. These are otherwise known as gooseberries, I think, though they don’t resemble what we call gooseberries.

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Dried fish of multiple varieties, you soak them for a few hours before cooking.

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Joli was shopping for dried shrimp today.

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These aren’t the best quality, she explained, which she found elsewhere. Better quality are meatier, and can be used in a variety of ways, including simply fried with a bit of chilli powder. Babu told me that the cheaper variety might be good for making chutney powder. I’ve made a couple dried shrimp chutney powders at home–they’re delicious.

After visiting the vegetable market, we went to enjoy lunch. You will know I wasn’t feeling well because I didn’t take any pictures and didn’t record the name! Geez. I should still describe some of the delicious food I ate with them. We ate at a buffet, and I piled my plate high with Kerala plain rice, cashew pulao, beef fry, sauteed tapioca and fiery fish curry, freshly cooked appams, onions in brown coconut curry, two more vegetable dishes, another fish curry, pickles and more that was lost to my addled memory.

Such a nice afternoon. I like this photo of Babu and Joli. Their friendliness is palpable in it, don’t you think?

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Thanks, you guys.

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