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Flavorful Journey

Sujata Sivakrishnan Monday, May 2, 2022
Flavorful Journey

Irish Dramatist Denis Johnston once observed,' myths are not created, they create themselves '. Long before the Portuguese tested the choppy waters on the rocky Kappad Beach, 10 Kms from Calicut in 1498 and Vasco da Gama left his indelible footprints on the sands of time, the Malabar Coast of Kerala beckoned ships from distant lands way back in the 3rd and 2 nd Millenia.

Ancient Greek Texts refer to Dhows, the magnificent sailing boats used by the Arabs in 600 B.C on their maritime Voyages carrying merchandise from as far as East Africa. Buoyed by the winds that blew their sails and a prayer in their heart, these adventurous traders set their sights on hitherto unknown lands that took their vessels beyond the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and landed on the virgin sands of North Kerala. These adventures dating back to antiquity, pre date Globalization! After the collapse of the Roman Empire around 476 AD, traders from Assyria, Babylon, Egypt as well as the Phoenicians and Arabs took centrestage, many married local girls and were lost in the heady romantic settings of delicious food, lush mangroves, purple starry nights and the pristine blue of the Arabian Sea. Rice being the staple grain in the region, bread and rotis were alien to the local food habits. The women folk innovated with what they had and powdered rice, kneaded to a smooth dough to make the softest flat bread for their Arabian paramours! Thus was born the famed Malabar Ari Pathiri. The poor men were all lost in these enticing choices and chose never to return to their own land. Did this jugalbandi of religion, flavors and ideas get stripped of its freedom by the Colonial Powers in later years? I often wonder with anguish where did Dravidian India that encompassed all into its bosom of Oneness, lose to the ' manifoldness of phenomena' that Tagore referred to in his early Play, Nature's Revenge?

Malabari food is synonymous with Thalassery cuisine. This nondescript Port Town boasts a heritage steeped in antiquity and a gentle peep into Kerala's chequered history will yield a veritable treasure trove and a priceless heritage. The Town famed for many firsts - the first Cricket match played by the British, the first cake baked in India and the first Circus besides its gastronomic delights is the unsuspecting Backpacker Tourist's delight. Spice trade began here as early as 1500 BC and Thalassery pepper is still considered a prized ingredient by Cordon Bleau Chefs globally. These large peppercorns are more pungent and provide an increased complex flavor with added citrus notes thus making them the finest of all peppercorn options. I have often wondered why the Muslim delicacies of Thalassery did not get a GI Tag enabling it to be protected from 'piracy ' across Restaurants attempting cheap copying of Thalassery's signature dishes. Why, we Malabaris would cringe at Biryani and Ghee Rice cooked with the long-grained Basmati!

The flagship Dish of the Muslims of course remains the undisputed Thalassery Biryani. Cooked to heavenly fluffy perfection, only Kaima or Jeerakasala Rice - a fragrant, short grained thin rice that needs no pre soaking is used..It does have that distinct Arabian touch - the evaporated rice cooked with whole spices and the marinated meat are cooked separately in a delectable marriage of flavors, layered with melted ghee, sauteed raisins, cashews and a mild Malabari Biryani masala powder freshly made and finally cooked on Dum with live coals on the sealed lid. Even the tantalizing accompaniment of Date Pickle, Raita and Coconut Chammanthi ( Chutney ), is a fusion of West Asia and Kerala.

Thalasserry Biriyani

Thalassery Biryani

( Serves 6 -8 )

For the Chicken -

Stage 1 -

4 large onions,finely sliced

50 gms each Cashew and Raisins.

Heat 1 cup good quality coconut oil like Kera or KPL Shuddhi and 4 tbsps Milma ghee together in a deep skillet. Deep fry the sliced onions to an even golden brown color. Lift out from the hot oil, strain well and spread immediately to cool in a large plate. In the same oil, first fry cashew, then raisins to a golden brown and keep aside.

Stage 2 - Heat a large heavy-bottomed pan. Add 3/4 th of the oil-ghee mix from the skillet, add 3 finely sliced large onions and saute to a good pink ( do not let it brown ) , then add 50 gms each of crushed ginger, garlic and green chillies. Saute continuously, add 1 kg Broiler chicken ( cut into 10 large pieces ) , mix well until the meat changes color to white ( will take about 4 mts ).Now add rock salt to taste , mix to coat well . It is in this stage when the meat changes color that the pores open and salt penetrates correctly, add 1 med tomato sliced, pour over 250 gms thick sour beaten curd. Mix well. Add half of the kept aside fried onions. Do not add any water ( water content in the onions, curd and tomato is enough for the cooking process ) . Cover to cook .on a medium flame until chicken is cooked. Will take about 8-10 mts. Keep aside.

Stage 3 - Into a large heavy bottomed pan, pour the rest of the oil- ghee mix from the skillet and add 1 tbsp ghee. When hot, add 4 small pieces cinnamon, 4 green cardamoms 3 cloves , 1/2 an Onion thinly sliced and saute until onions turn transparent ( do not let it brown ). Now add 4 cups well washed , drained aged Kaima / Jeerakasala Rice ( I prefer the Rose Brand Kaima Rice) . It's most important not to pre soak this delicate rice or wash early to keep aside for use later. Coat the rice with the ghee and onions ,stirring all the time for about 4 mts. Pour exactly double the quantity of boiling water, keeping the flame on high, add salt ( rock) to taste and cover with a tight lid for the rice to cook..The water should fully evaporate and should take about 8 -10 mts..Lower heat fully and now let it cook in its own steam for 5 -6 mts . Switch off flame. Add 1 tsp ghee , turn rice with a large slotted spoon to fluff through. Keep covered.

Stage 4 - Turn on the flame of the Chicken pan, add 1/4 tsp fresh Biryani masala powder , sprinkle 2 handfuls of finely chopped fresh coriander leaves and mix. Remove half of the chicken and its masala . Arrange a layer of rice on top , sprinkle a pinch of garam masala, 1 tsp rose water, some chopped coriander leaves, fried nuts . Alternate with the final layer of rice , nuts , coriander leaves, remaining fried onions, 2 tsps melted ghee and sprinkle 1 tsp rose water..

Cover with an aluminum foil, and bake for 8 mts or place the Pan on a Tawa on low flame for 6 mts.

Thalasserry Biriyani

The cupful of steaming Sulaimani served with the Biryani is a fragrant black tea brewed with a few mint leaves, lightly sugared and served with a slice of lime floating in it. The drink itself is believed to have been introduced to the locals by the Sulaimani Bohras of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Deep fried, crisp anchovy or marinated fried squid rings served with onion rings and fried fresh green curry leaves, with wedges of lime are delectable side dishes.

Ghee Rice:

(Serves 4-6)

2 cups - Jeerakasala Rice

2 med size onions finely chopped

2 med sized onions thinly sliced and deep fried to a golden brown for the garnish.

1/4 cup- raisins and broken cashews fried golden for the garnish..

Thalasserry Biriyani

Heat 4 tbsps pure coconut oil and 2 tbsps ghee in a heavy bottomed pan, saute the chopped onions to a deep pink with 2 bay leaves, 1green cardamom, 1 small stick of cinnamon, 1 clove, add the washed, rice strained ,saute lightly on a low fire to coat the rice well . Bring 4 cups water to a roll boil with rock salt, 2 sticks cinnamon, 2 green cardamom , 2 cloves and 2 bay leaves. Add a few drops of lime juice and carefully pour the boiling water over the rice. Mix once, let bubble, cover and cook until done and fluffy. To plate : Serve in a large deep Dish garnished liberally with fried nuts , raisins and fried onions.

Mutton Stew ( goes best with Ghee Rice, Kerala Parathas and Pathiri / Orotti ).

Serves 4-6.

750 gms - tender lamb,curry cut.

2 med size potatoes, boiled ,slightly mashed

3 med large onions - sliced thin

8-10 Shallots, sliced thin

1" piece - Indian ginger, julienned

10 green kanthari chillies, slit

6- bird's eye chillies ( ripe red )

4- small sticks cinnamon, 1 green cardamom, 1 clove.

Fresh curry leaves

This pot of earthy goodness is made without the tart tamarind that sneakily finds its way into most Kerala curries. Freshly extracted milk of 2 large coconuts is added to this delicious Stew which is reminiscent of Malabar's tryst with Portuguese culinary influence.

Heat 3 tbsps pure coconut oil and 1 tsp Milma ghee..Add whole spices, 2 Bay leaves , onions, ginger, curry leaves, chillies ,1/4 tsp uluva and saute to a deep pink. Add well washed pressure cooked Mutton ( 5 whistles ,add a few whole spices ) , cooked potatoes and cover to bubble together for 5 mts. Add 2 tspful fresh coriander powder, cover and cook for the spices to blend. Lower heat, add thin coconut milk , let come to the boil and now add the thick coconut milk or first extract. Check salt and seasoning. Let bubble on low flame, sprinkle 1/2 tspful freshly ground pepper powder, a large pinch of uluva powder and a pinch of Malabar garam masala. Finally, spoon over 1 tbsp coconut oil, garnish with fresh curry leaves broken and finely chopped coriander leaves.

Thalasserry Biriyani

Iftar Specialities in this area include some best loved favorite snacks like Ari Kadukka , Mussels fry or Asian Green Mussels which are a specialty to this Coastline growing on the rocks battered by the waves of the iridescent Arabian Sea, Chatti Pathiri a rich sweet cousin of Lasagna , Stuffed whole Spring Chicken or Kozhi Nirachathu and Unnakaya which is ripened mashed bananas stuffed with lightly fried nuts and coconut ,then shaped into thick finger length Rolls and finally deep fried in Ghee..

Kunhi Kalthappam endearingly makes its way into many a heart and the recipe goes thus -

Soak at least 5-6 hours, 1cup Kaima or Basmati rice

1/2 Cup good quality Ponni Rice.

Grind well washed rice to a fine paste with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 cup sugar , little water to a thin dosa batter. Keep aside covered for 1/2 hour. Mix well. Heat a heavy Uruli or med size pan, pour 1/2 cup coconut oil and 2 tsps ghee . When hot , on medium to low flame, pour a ladle of the appam batter right in the middle of the oil to make small appam. Immediately spoon hot oil over it so that it puffs up in the centre. Lift out carefully when the underside is golden brown. These delicious little snacks are served with an accompaniment called Pandam in local parlance.

Pandam :

Soak 1/2 cup Chana Dal, for 4 hours. Wash well, add little water and pressure cook for 2 whistles. Drain water. Heat 2 tsps ghee in a small skillet, add 1/2 cup raisins, cashew bits, coconut grated and lightly saute until color changes to a golden. Add cooked Dal, toss , add powdered cardamom. Serve with Kunhi Kalthappam.

Chef's Special: Cooking is an art perfected with dollops of patience. Food cooked with love tastes delicious!

Then they will say - Yeh Dil maange more.

Serve with love.😊

Sujata Sivakrishnan


Indian Central School, Kuwait.

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Express your comment on this article

Tuesday, June 7, 2022
Please google the meaning of word "paramour" and do the appropriate correction.

Sana K
Thursday, May 5, 2022
Your article is a poetry inspiring me to bring south flavors to my kitchen counter.
Your words send the aroma across our senses as we read.

Ms. Tina Noronha
Wednesday, May 4, 2022
What a beautiful Article. It is sensory evoking; I could almost sense the rich aroma of thalassery biryani. Never knew thalassery cuisine has so much history. The poetic theme of the article makes me nostalgic. Every dish has a story, and this is a story well told. Excellent work of literature. Kudos to you, Ms. Sujata Sivakrishnan.

Ivy Verghese
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
A beautiful presentation of an informative article.
I simply loved it.Keep writing and all the very best ma’am

Dr. Jiby Paul
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
❤️ Malabar vibes!!!
I have really enjoyed your writing and the recipes. Delicious to the core.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Ma''am ,as you write, you put your whole heart into it. Looking forward to your next column.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Very well written. Enjoyed reading about the interesting facets of history surrounding North Malabar. Looking forward to reading more such articles.

Usha Dileep
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Sujatha mam, your article was matchless, it was indeed a flavorful journey, which added flavour to our minds and hearts, really eager to try out the recipe, you are simply matchless and nonpareil so is your creative spree, waiting to see more flavors and colors in the journey and wish you all success and well-wishes in your endeavour. Love you so much Let your aura be more shinier and brighter.Your love parches our covid ached hearts dear.A perfect treat to all.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Loved your article on “Flavorful Journey”.
As a Kochite loved your Malabari Menu.
Your menu seems to be delicious to the core!
Weekends sorted and the conclusion on chefs special was well said👍🏻👏🏻


Shon George Jacob
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
East or west food is the best

Asha Sharma
Monday, May 2, 2022
Knowledge and application are beautifully merged in this article. Enjoyed thoroughly. Congratulations Sujatha

Monday, May 2, 2022
Mussels and biriyani are our all time favorites- A Thalassery guy 😎

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