Kerala diaries: Food


As most Indians would probably know, Kerala is the land of Idlis, dosas, appams and sambhar. But sadly, despite the availabilty of these dishes at most places….I discovered that even the best of restaurants do not serve the authentic form of South Indian food.

In the name of dosas, we get fancy ‘Paper dosas’, ‘Set dosas’, etc. What I had in Kerala was a somewhat different version of the dosa that we get in Delhi. It is a little thicker than a chapatti and is not always served crisp and golden. Nevertheless, the taste is just right!

Idlis (rice cakes) are small and soft cakes of fermented rice dough and the sambhar has a variety of vegetables usually readily available in the south like cucumber, and tapioca stems, and seasoned with tamarind, not tomato.

But of course the spices! (Ouch!) It took me a day to get used the spices. My mom surprisingly took a longer time. But then, they just enhanced the flavour of the dishes. Even while roaming around in the street markets, one could take in the fragrances of cardamom, pepper, star anise, and a host of other strong, but pleasant spices.

At many places we had a kheer like dish, but instead of using rice, they used something like noodles in the milk, which sorta spoiled our mood. But apart from that, the local halwas and the sweet dishes made with rice were a treat for the tongue! Although you could make out the extensive use of coconut oil in the halwas, but that didnt bother us much after a few spoonfuls.

Karimeen fish wrapped in banana leaf and fried

The specialty of the backwaters

We also gorged on the special fish of the backwaters, known as the karimeen fish. The karimeen fish is a fresh water fish, which is soft and when fried well, gives a nice flavour to the tongue. The most popular version is the Karimeen Pollichathu, which is karimeen fish wrapped in a banana leaf and fried (Pollichathu means wrapped in banana leaf).

Uncooked Karimeen fish

Buying banana chips of course, was a given. The best part is, that most shops would make the chips right in front of you and serve them to you right then. However, we discovered that they tasted better when cool.

Sharja-some innovations aren't all that good!

We also tried something called ‘Sharja’. Seeing it on every restaurant’s menu, we were pretty eager to find out what it was. Turned out to be an ice-cold (chilled in fact) milkshake with coffee, banana, and chocolate powder, and ice. Though it sounds very interesting, to be honest, it is not very impressive.

Kerala, and most of the rest of south India, also has numerous varieties of the banana and coconut. The most popular was the orange coconut and the red banana. Although the red bananas were similar in taste as the yellow ones, the orange coconuts we found to be a tad sweeter than the green ones. What more, these coconuts were the perfect thirst buster!! 

Regardless, we did realize that the Keralites make full use of their bananas and coconuts and try to create a variety of things with these resources! In the end, the best thing that I liked about Kerala food was still the dosas and banana chips. 🙂

Oh!! Did I just forget the best part of having food in South India!! On Banana Leaves!!! Yes! we had food on banana leaves instead of plates…just in the traditional way. Now why dont we do the same everywhere?? Economical, eco-friendly and the coolest way to have food! Woohoo!! 😀

Dare to experiment!


I love to try out new things when it comes to food. Even when I cook, I never repeat the same recipe in the same way more than twice (unless I reaally love it). So here’s what came out of one of my ‘experiments with pasta’. I tried to create a simple one-dish meal, which was healthy, tasty and filling. Try it and tell me how you like it….please! 🙂

Ingredients:

1. Pasta (any kind..i generally use elbow macaroni or rotini

2. Milk (1/2 a cup)

3. Tomato Sauce (1 tbsp) or tomato puree

4. Honey

5. 1 Apple sliced

6. Oregano and Basil (or any other herbs)

7. Salt to taste

8. Red Chilli Powder (a pinch)

9. Cheese spread or melted cheese

Method:

1. Cook the pasta till it is al dente  and then strain the water.

2. Pour some butter/ghee in a pan and tip the pasta in it.

3. Add the milk and cheese and salt to the pasta and cook the pasta in it till the milk thickens slightly and you get a cheezy sauce that enrobes the  pasta. Then add the red chilli powder. You dont want to put in much. The chilli doesn’t have to be the dominant flavour.

4. Add the tomato sauce/puree and mix.

5. Take the pan off the fire and add the herbs to the pasta and mix again. Be careful not to break the pieces.

6. Add the sliced apple to the pasta and pour honey over it. I used little cubes of the apple and just a regular-sized spoon of honey. Too much honey will make it too sweet and take the tanginess of the tomato away.

ENJOY!!

And remember to give me your feedback! 🙂

Sorry I dont have any pictures of the pasta…but it should look like something like this…just with the apple and honey on top.


The ‘Watch What You Eat’ Problem


I was watching NDTV”s ‘Good Food’ when this happened. A  lovely hostess along with wonderful chefs who cook easy and marvelous dishes really make a good combination in my opinion. Hence, it is one of my favourite cookery shows. But something that happened on the show today (well, I was watching reruns) made me think. While conversing with an Italian chef on the show, she mentioned how ‘watching your diet’ had become such a fashionable thing in today’s world.

The issue was dropped right then, but my mind was still thinking about what she had just said. True, watching what we eat has indeed become an ‘in-thing’ these days. Surely, being careful of what we put in our stomachs is a good thing, isn’t it?

But then, there is a line between just watching what we eat and avoiding what we should eat.

After years of reports that foods which contribute excess calories and cholesterol are bad for the heart, people have really become obsessed with eating just what they think is low-fat, low-cholesterol etc. A joke I remember from the movie ‘A Cinderella Story’ had a trend+health conscious young girl asking for something which had no fat, no calories and no cholestrol at a fast food diner, only to get a glass of water. What people dont pay attention to is the word ‘EXCESS’. When Doctor Einstein of health said cholesterol is bad for the heart, he in no meant to say “Stop having Food”. Almost every food/vegetable/fruit etc has a certain amount of fat and calorie which is NECESSARY for the body. Why on earth would our mothers insist on our finishing our vegetables otherwise?

A Little amount of fat is very essential to the body. Well, unless you want to end up looking like Voctoria Beckham (probably even worse) at the age of 20, you might as well reconsider popping a few bites into your mouth WITHOUT thinking of how much weight you will gain. Your body could do some good with all that ghee and butter, trust me, that is all it really needs to give you some nice, and soft arms.

A little chocolate once in a while is great for your mental health (remember, chocolate helps with depression?). It will also give you some much needed anti-oxidants for that glow on the face. Unless, of course again you want to just slather oodles of concealer and blush a la Mrs. Beckham.

Another point which troubles me is the recent Diet programs that have come up and sadly gained popularity among the dim-witted bimbos of the world. While an Atkins’ diet might be good for an overweight Somebody who really just needs exercise, it might do more harm than good for a stick-thin super-conscious wannabe model. Yes, in the short term you will probably feel better about your rapidly losing weight, but in the long run, it might just give you broken bones and a malnourished body babe. Not So Pleasing.

Even the kind of exercise regimen you follow needs to be carefully monitored and advised by an expert. Somebody with a hypertension and high BP history cannot and should not do certain Yoga Asanas that probably Madame Shilpa Shetty swears by.

A diabetic needs a diffferent diet and a different kind of physical exercise from an athlete or say, a wrestler. So please, all you wannabe Dwayne Johnsons  of the world, use your brains and use your mouth in the right places. Eat what you NEED to eat, and think before you jump…literally.

A treat for the nose, is a treat for the soul


It has just stopped raining and the air is filled with a fresh, clean smell of wet earth. There is a cool, light breeze that carries the fragrance of the grass and earth with it and fills my nostrils and overpowers my senses. The first word that comes to my mind is “YUM”…

It is amazing how certain smells can really invigorate us, clear our minds of all staleness and bring a certain calmness to our frayed nerves. The smell of wet mud after the rains is one of those heavenly smells that I always look forward to after the gloomy darkness in the skies goes away.

And what better than to get a whiff of hot pakoras, the ever-popular rainy season Indian dish immediately after the rains. Or even that spicy aroma of Maggi just off the stove.

Better still, the warm and comforting vapours of ginger-basil tea- the perfect recipe for a congested nose and a bad cold.

That sense of upliftment I get when I hold a cup of hot coffee in my hands lasts for hours. MMmmmm…..that smell….my nose starts to tingle just thinking about it.

Its wonderful how certain smells evoke wonderful memories too….the smell of vanilla immediately brings back memories of walking down the streets licking on an icecream in my childhood days. The smell of ghee and gram flour invokes memories of my Grandma making me tins and tins of Besan Laddoos. The smell of wheat reminds me of my mom making me rotis for dinner and sometimes, even of that walk in the fields while on a camping trip.

The smell of chocolate takes one to another world altogether. And each person is transported to a different realm of imagination. For someone, it might just be a sweet reminder of the numerous birthday parties (same with butterscotch), for the other it might take one on a lustful journey, for me it is the perfect mood-lifter when things go wrong and nothing seems to cheer me up.

Oooh…food and memories have such a deep connection. And a pleasant one too!

What are your favourite smells? What do they remind you of? Do tell me!