Monday, October 30, 2006

Raman kutty mash

There is an advertisement that they keep showing on TV. The principal of a school retires from service and the boys are bidding him good-bye. There is this boy standing with tears running down his cheeks and a placard in his hands which says, “Please don’t go away”. This takes me back to the day our own Raman kutty master was leaving our village post retirement. My younger brother, only 8 or 9 years of age then, who was studying in 4th standard (if I remember correctly) came back sobbing from school. I took him in my arms and asked him, “what happened?” Ramankutty mash (that’s how we addressed him) virinju (he did not know to say, “pirinju” in Malayalam, which means retired) he said still sobbing inconsolably. We some how managed to console him. Later in the evening, our Ramankutty mash came home to take leave of all the family members, before he went away to his native village for good. He was so close to our family. He was like one in the family.

Our grandfather, after retiring from serving a British Engineer, who was the chief engineer during the construction of the Pamban bridge, came to his native village and took up agriculture. His formal education was limited to learning to read and write Malayalam and Tamil. His older sons also did not attend college, though his two youngers sons went to college and studied up to the masters level in their selected fields. So our grandfather, whom we fondly called, “Kalathappa” (kalam means farmhouse in Malayalam, since he went to our farmhouse everyday to attend to our fields we called him “kalathappa”) decided to give good education to all his grandchildren. Luckily for him, by the time his grandchildren arrived our village had a primary as well as high school, within 5 minutes walk from our home. Since all his sons lived in different towns earning their livelihood leaving their families back home under his care, he decided to appoint a teacher who would supervise the studies of his grandchildren outside school hours. That’s how he appointed Ramankutty mash as our “Kulaguru”. When any of his grandchildren attained the age of around 4, our Kalathappa would tell mash “Mashe! Our Venu (or Meenu or Chinu as the case may be) has to be admitted in school”. Mash would most reverently say “yes” and would come the next day to take the little one to school. He would then pick an appropriate date as the birthdate of the child, to ensure that the child was officially old enough to go to school. (That’s how until we were of marriageable age and our horoscopes were brought out we did not know our actual date of birth. Birthdays were always celebrated according to the star.) Mash was the one who taught us starting with our ABC’s for all the children in our family from my oldest cousin, who is 10 is years older than me to my youngest brother who is 17 years younger than me over a span of 24 years. In all these 24 years not a single day went by without Ramankutty mash visiting our house.

He would teach the children in our family until they reached 6th standard, sort of teaching the basics and allow us to learn on our own when we reached the age of about 10. One by one, there would always be 3 or 4 children to be taught. When I was growing up we were three cousins of the same age attending the same class and one or two neighbourhood children. He would come at 6.30 in the morning so that we all would be fresh and receptive. All he did was to make us read our lessons and do the simple arithmetic problems. He would make us recite the multiplication tables every day. We would be promptly woken up at 5.45 in the morning so that we would be ready with our books by the time Ramankutty mash came.

Ramankutty mash belonged to a village some 30 kms away from our own and during those days when public transport was not as good as today he stayed in a lodge in our village having taken up a teacher’s position in the primary school. He would go home to his family only once or twice a month during the weekends. So for all practical purposes our village was his village. Apart from our family, he was the “kulaguru”for one or two more families and in the evenings he used to teach children in his room, after school hours. There were other neighbourhood children who would come to our house to learn from him. He was treated most reverently by all in the family and he was also very respectful towards the whole family. In those very orthodox days, Ramankutty mash was the only non-brahmin who was invited to lunch for all functions in our family. He would be given a special seat and served by the family members. He had come to attend my marriage as well as at the time when my first child was born. It was then that he retired from his services.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Recipe: Elai Adai

Elai Adai (sweet parcels) is the most delicious dessert exclusive to Kerala. It is made out of jaggery, jackfruit and coconut (what dish out of Kerala doesn't have coconut in it? My handsome and charming son often says: Any recipe you have, adding coconut to it can only make it better). Another delicious treat made of the same ingredients is chaka pradhaman (more about this later). The elai adai can be prepared during the jackfruit season as well as off season and in remote places away from Kerala. The NRK's prepare elai adai by preserving the jackfruits as jam which in itself is quite the delicacy (side dish for adai for instance). As a child, jackfruit jam was the only jam available to us (none of your strawberry-raspberry mixes for us). The taste of elai adai is augmented by the delicious flavour of the plaintain leaf in which it is wrapped and steamed. My h. and c. son reminded me that this resembles the tamales available in Mexican restaurants. Similarly the Saraswat brahmins of Udipi and Mangalore make kadubu which is cooked by wrapping in turmeric leaf. Banana leaves are available in Indian stores, and frozen leaves are available in Chinese stores. The last time I visited the U.S. one of my nieces asked me if I could prepare elai adai for her. I told her that if she could arrange for the banana leaves, I could make them for her and she promptly got the frozen ones from the Chinese store, they were just what the doctor ordered for this purpose. Since my h. & c. son is not so industrious, we made it at his place by borrowing banana leaves from one of his neighbours. Thanks anonymous neighbours! Just goes to show that even in America, you just have to ask and you will receive.

A quick note on the jackfruit (Artocarpus integrifolia). This fruit is particular to India, especially Kerala. It is a huge egg-shaped fruit with a hard and prickly outer green shell, and it weighs some 10-20kgs. The sweet aroma of a ripe jackfruit can be smelt as far away as 50-100 feet (and 1 kilometer in the case of my astute and blessed mother in law). Cutting a jackfruit open is quite the process. You have to keep cutting it into halves to get it to a manageable size. First oil your hands and the heavy duty knife that you intend using. Without the oil, your hands and knife will get all sticky because as you cut it, the fruit secretes a white sticky resin. This resin has to cleaned off the fruit with a rolled up piece of paper of cloth. Because the resin hardens easily, it was used as a sealing agent to fix broken pots, buckets etc. There is a thick white stalk that runs along the center of the fruit. The edible part of the fruit comprises many yellow (yellow when ripe, white when raw) fruitlets that are firmly attached to this stalk. Each of these fruitlets in turn is "protected" by little white sepals. These sepals also have to be carefully peeled off the fruitlet. Ultimately you get a yellow fruitlet that encloses within itself a hard egg-shaped seed. The fruitlet is the most delicious fruit that you'll ever have the fortune of eating. It is full of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. This fiber is of course a double edged sword. Eat too much jackfruit at one sitting, and you'll pay the price the next day. Now don't throw away the seeds: like many other things we've figured out many tasty dishes that can be cooked with the seeds. But more of that later.

When I was growing up in Kerala, during the summers we used to get huge jackfruits from our family farm or backyard. Each of them used to weigh some 15-20 kilos. We all used to sit in our concreted backyard in a big circle (during summer, our house was full of visiting cousins and uncles, on any day there would be about 50 people at home). At 9 in the morning when the maid had finished her cleaning and dish washing, our Echiyamma (my grandmother) would order the maid to bring the jackfruit and call all the children to come and remove the ripe fruitlets from the fruit. We would all sit in a big circle, the maid would bring a jackfruit and an axe. She would then cut the jackfruit into bits and remove the stem. We children would sit and remove all the fruitlets and de-seed them. While we did that, we would pop a few into our mouths. Echiyamma and my periappa would cut them into small bits to be made into jackfruit jam or adai or some kootan. during the summers many kilos of jackfruit jam used to be made in our house, for immediate use and to be sent home with all our visitors.

The day on which elai adai was to be made, again my echiyamma used to summon all kids for the preparation. A minimum of 100-150 had to be made so that everybody would be fed, as well as plenty left over for sharing with the neighbours.

Finally, now onto the actual preparation of the elai adai. We'll assume the existence of the jackfruit jam. At a later date, I'll post how this jam is to be prepared.

Jackfruit jam: 250g
Jaggery: ¾ cup
grated fresh coconut: 2 cups
raw rice: ¾ cup
boiled rice: ¾ cup
gingelly oil: 1 tbsp
banana leaves: 1 per elai adai, size of 8"x8"
salt: a pinch

Soak the rice for 5 hours and grind to a thick smooth paste. Add the salt while grinding. It should be of spreading consistency. Add the gingelly oil to this paste and mix well.

To make the filling, melt the jaggery with 1 cup of water, strain to remove dirt and other impurities, boil it, add the jackfruit jam and loosen it. When the jackfruit jam is loose and of spreading consistency, add the grated coconut, mix well and remove from the stove. This should now be of a jam like consistency. This filling can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.

The banana leaves need to be mildly seasoned by steaming for a few seconds or (very) briefly held over a low flame. The point of this is to make the leaf pliable, otherwise the leaf tears when you fold it. Otherwise, just sun the leaf for 10-30 minutes (but watch it carefully, too long and the leaves will wither away). I've never tried microwaving the leaves, maybe that will work also.

Now take each leaf, spread a ladle full of rice flour as a thin layer. Now, spread 2 tbsp of prepared filling on top of this layer, but covering only about ¾th of the layer. Fold the banana leaf into half, fold the edges once again to seal the edges and place it in a steamer. Repeat for all the leaves, and steam for 25-30 minutes. When it is done, the elai adai should not stick to the leaf when opened.

Enjoy the elai adai.

Recipe: Keera Molagootal

Molagootal is a unique dish of Kerala Iyers. Everybody likes it including non-Iyers who try it. I've found that every non-Iyer who joins our family (by way of marriage) takes an instant liking to it. It is the most satvik food and at the same time delicious also. The taste is a blend of all the vegetables, and lentils, and fresh coconut. It is not very spicy nor oily, which makes it suitable food for young, old, and the invalid. Molagootal can be made with mixed vegetables (raw banana, pumpkin, winter melon, chena, koorka, payar), spinach (keerai), banana stem, cabbage. One of my videshi bahus swore by broccoli molagootal.

Keerai (spinach) is rich in iron, vitamin A, B, and C is a very wholesome vegetable.
It can be made with Are keerai (amaranthis), dhondu keerai, molai keerai (found mostly in TN), parippu keerai (available in Karnataka), spinach keerai (palak), shiru keerai (good diuretic). Of these traditionally we used Are keerai in Kerala, it used to be grown in our backyard.

Keerai (spinach/greens/palak): 300g
Toor dal: ¾ cup
grated coconut: ½ cup
mustard: 1 tsp
urad dal: 2 tsp
red chilli: 1
jeera: ½ tsp
turmeric powder: 1tsp
salt: to taste
Oil: 1tbsp

Wash and drain the greens, and cook. Cool. And grind to a paste. Pressure cook the toor dal with turmeric powder. Heat 1 tsp of the oil, add 1 tsp urad dal and 1 red chilli broken into bits, fry till the dal is pink in color. Remove. Grind coconut with fried dal and chilli and the jeera to a smooth paste. Boil the spinach puree with salt. Add the cooked toor dal and boil for 5 minutes. Add the ground coconut paste and add enough water to get pouring consistency. Boil. Remove from the stove. Heat the remaining oil, add the mustard seeds when they splutter, add the remaining urad dal, when the dal turns pink, pour into the keerai molagootal.

Can be eaten with rice, chapatti, dosa, pooris etc.
Accompaniments: Thogayal, Thair pachadi, Pachadi, Pulikachal.

Recipe: Rava Kesari

Also known as sojji in Tamilnadu, ksheera in marathi and kesari bath in Karnataka and sooji ka halva in UP. Sojji and bajji used to be the main snacks served during the girl seeing ceremony in Tamilnadu.

Rava (semolina): 1 cup
sugar: 1.5-2 cups
cashewnuts: 10-12
raisins: 15-20
ghee: 4 tbsp or more
orange food color (kesari): a pinch
saffron: a pinch (optional)
cloves: 3-4 (optional)

Heat 1 tbsp of ghee in a thick bottomed pan, fry the broken cashews and raisins (and optional cloves) and keep aside. Add another tbsp of ghee and fry the rava to a light pink color and keep aside. Heat 3 cups of water in the same pan, add the coloring and the saffron when it comes to a boil. Add the rava slowly, constantly stirring, and mix well. Allow the rava to be cooked at medium heat. The rava has to cook well. When it is fully cooked, add the sugar and stir well. When the sugar is fully dissolved, add the remaining ghee. Keep stirring until the rava starts leaving the sides of the pan. Garnish with the fried cashews and raisins and cardamom powder.

In Karnataka, while the water is boiling they add ½ cup of finely cut pineapple pieces and cook the semolina and pineapple together and then proceed as above. In Maharashtra, they don't add the food color but they cook the rava in milk. Kannadigas love khara bath and kesari bath for breakfast.