A taste of my childhood…..
While the title may sound like gibberish to most of you, it is actually Malayalam, my native tongue. And for my international readers, Malayalam is the language of Kerala – the state often referred to as ‘God’s own country’ residing at the southern tip of India.
I contemplated, pondered and procrastinated a lot about posting this recipe or rather this meal. The bulk of my readers will not connect with it in any manner or attempt to make it even. But this is a meal, so reminiscent of my childhood that I felt it must be a part of my space……a way of capturing or leaving behind snippets of my life for the future generations.
Even though I grew up in the Middle East, my mom made sure that we were exposed to all types of Indian food during our childhood. So while many of my friends struggled to settle in India post teens or while attending college, our integration into the Indian way of life happened almost seamlessly. Food can really affect your life!
Rice gruel is the humblest of dishes from India especially South India; often labeled as peasant food. Today, very few savour this and often prepared only when one is convalescing and is forced to eat bland foods. But rice gruel can be incredibly delicious when paired with the right dishes, so full of carbohydrates that it is an instant energy boost.
Though rice gruel is prepared using all varieties of rice, my favourite is the one made using broken red rice. The whole red rice has large, plumper grains that may not be enjoyable to many but this broken variety (available at Indian stores) has a texture that is almost like eating quinoa or bulgur wheat.
Dry shark chammanthy is another traditional dish which is consumed in the southern regions of Kerala. It’s really hard to come up with an English translation to chammanthy but it’s something like a dry chutney. Often had with rice, gruel or steamed tapioca, this chammanthy is prepared using dry shark and other types of dry fish.
The dry shark chammanthy is a good example of how food evolves in a particular geographical region from what’s available locally. Dried fish is plenty especially around the coastal regions as a means of preserving the surplus; coconut is another staple of Kerala and combine these two to get this wonderful chammanthy.
Personally, I hardly eat shark anymore these days due to sustainability issues. Most of the time, the shark that reaches our table is sourced unethically. I have not had a shark based dish for the last 15 years and do not intend to make it a practice either. This lot of dried shark came from a nearby Indian store with origins in Srilanka, I believe. There was not much of information on the packet to know more about the catch. But there are stores and seafood dealers who engage in ethical fishing of shark varieties that are not harmful to the species or environment. But if you do not want to use shark, use any other dried fish if you wish to replicate this dish.
Pappadoms or Poppadoms (as many call it), have quite a cult following in the West. Chilli pappadoms are my favourite way of eating this Indian accompaniment. Blame on it my ‘chilli obsession’, but a dash of red chilli powder, crushed garlic and curry leaves can take the humble pappadoms to a whole new level.
So here’s my complete meal – Podi ari kanji (red rice gruel) with unakka sravu chammanthy (dry shark chammanthy) and mulagitta pappadom (chilli pappadom).
For the rice gruel, you need:
1. 2 cups broken red rice; washed well, soaked for 30 minutes and drained
2. Salt, to season
3. 5 cups water
For the dry shark chammanthy, you need:
1. 150gm Dried shark pieces, soaked in water for 1 hour (this is done to remove excess salt)
2. 1 tsp red chilli powder
3. ½ tsp turmeric powder
4. 2-3 green chillies
5. 4-5 shallots, crushed coarsely
6. 1 cup freshly grated coconut
7. 1 tbsp coconut/vegetable oil
For the chilli pappadoms, you need:
1. ½ pack of Indian pappadoms
2. 1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder
3. 3 garlic cloves, crushed
4. A handful of curry leaves
5. Vegetable oil, to fry the pappadoms
To prepare the rice gruel;
• Bring the water to boil, season with salt and add the broken rice; Cook till the rice is done.
• Gruel has a porridge like consistency but if you want to, add more water for a thin broth like consistency.
Note – After serving in a bowl, stir through a tsp of hot ghee to enhance flavour.
To prepare the shark chammanthy:
• After soaking for the required time, remove the shark pieces and pat dry.
• In a pan, heat oil and add the shark pieces along with red chilli and turmeric powder.
• Lightly fry for 10 minutes, remove and cool. Grind to a coarse consistency
• Heat the same pan and return the ground shark along with the rest of the ingredients. Toss through on medium heat for 5 minutes and remove.
• No salt is required as the shark will have enough salt but taste and season if necessary.
To prepare chilli pappadoms:
• Heat oil in a deep pan.
• Cut the pappadoms into strips using a scissors
• Fry the pappadoms in oil and keep aside to drain.
• In another pan, heat 1-2 tbsp oil and add the garlic and curry leaves.
• Saute for a few minutes, remove from heat and add the chilli powder.
• Add the fried pappadoms and toss through.