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November 2004 Issue
Part 2
by Monica Bhide
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Keralite Cuisine

The state of Kerala, also called coconut country, is in the southern part of India. Geographically it is over 600 km. in length and only 75 km. wide. It is a state with over 90% literacy, emerald back waters, miles of coffee and tea plantations. Kerala is the heart of the Indian spice coast. Vegetarian choices abound and their preparation is very simple. I love the fish dishes of Kerala cooked with pungent curry leaves, mustard seeds and the ever present coconut milk. Kerala has a large Christian population and beef dishes are quite common here – as opposed to the rest of India where the cow is considered scared by the Hindus who will not eat beef.

My first trip to Kerala was for a wedding in 1989. We were served a lavish wedding dinner on traditional banana leaves (an important fact I learnt was that the narrow part of the leaf should be to the guests left hand side) adorned with pickles, chutneys, rice, papads, vegetables curries of many types, small bowls for sambhar and rasam (lentil based dishes). All of the dishes are served and placed on the leaf in a predetermined order. Dessert is the intensely sweet Payasam (vermicilli cooked in milk and lots of sugar) followed by a steaming hot cup of South Indian coffee.

Kerala is the natural home of black pepper, cardamom, coconut and tapioca and their presence is dominant in the cuisine. Keralite “irachi” (meat) is generally cooked with strong spices and is a dry preparation. Of course no discussion of Kerala cooking can be complete without discussing the appam, a bread that looks like a pregnant crepe really. Served with mutton or chicken stew this mouthwatering bread takes a bit of practice to prepare. (For more on South Indian breads, please see A Sampling of South Indian Breads.)

 

Kerala Prawn Curry

  • 2 pounds tiger prawns
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 Serrano green chiles, split
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • ½ teaspoon Garam Masala
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • Cilantro leaves to garnish
Remove the shell from the prawns. Marinate the prawns with salt, turmeric powder and lemon juice and set aside.
Heat oil in a medium size pan. Add the fennel and green chile. Add chopped onions. Fry until transparent. Add the curry leaves. Now add the tomatoes and ginger garlic and keep continue to cook until the oil separates. Add prawns and the Garam masala powder.
Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add a can of the coconut milk and bring it to a simmer.
Adjust salt.
Garnish with chopped cilantro.
 

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