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Basically, a food blog. But, don't expect too many recipes. I am a foodie, alright, but hardly a nice, little cookey !

Friday, November 04, 2005

Local foods

Our friend Reghu is an enthusiastic foodie. Yesterday all the three of us were chatting after dinner. Naturally, the topic turned to food. Reghu described 'Asthram,' a special dish made during some festivals in his native place, Punalur, in Kollam district. Its main ingredient is kachil, he said.

Kachil (kaachil, or kaavuthu, as we in the northern parts of Kerala call it), is a tuber associated with the Thiruvathira festival. Searching google, I discovered that its botanical name is Dioscorea alata. In Hindi it is called Chupari Aloo. Usually available by December, this tuber with a distinctive, mild flavour is a must for the fast observed by women on Thiruvathira Day in the Malayalam month of Dhanu.

(More on Thiruvathira later)

Well, Reghu said that this dish, 'Asthram,' is made with kachil in the main. There will also be some other tubers as well. Coconut paste was added to the boiled vegetables, with a dash of buttermilk. The dish will be of a loose consistency.

When inspired, Reghu will go on talking about food. Yesterday he was in such a mood. Then he described the payasam with mangoes, made in a temple in Tamil Nadu. His mother hails from Tamil Nadu. Or, her native village is now part of Tamil Nadu, after the formation of States on linguistic basis. He remembers that huge quantities of mango payasam were prepared during that festival, and distributed to all the assembled devotees. "The taste of that payasam could never be created at home, however you try," he said.

His wife, hailing from Alappuzha district, would make an avial with semi-ripe cashew fruits (kashumanga or parangi manga) and muringakkaya. Slices of raw cashew nuts are also added.

I described the watery avial made in our part of Thrissur district. It is of a pouring consistency, nothing like the dry avial made for sadya-s. The vegetables are allowed to cook till soft, the coconut is ground to a smooth paste and liberal quantities of water and buttermilk are added. As a final touch, a couple of smashed pearl onions will be dropped into the curry, giving it a delicious flavour.

R talked of the pulinkari, a stape of his childhood (which he still hates). Our pulinkari seems to be different from that of southern Kerala. Here, this curry has thuvarapparippu (tuvar dal) as the base. To the boiled dal is added any kind of vegetables, whatever available. But pumpkin makes the classic match. Turmeric and chilly powders and salt are added. Once the vegetables and dal are cooked, tamarind water is added and boiled again. Then seasoned with mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves and red chillies.

Reghu's pulinkari seems to have coconut paste also. R said that during his childhood, sambar had not yet made inroads into the rural kitchens of Vallluvanadu. It was either Pulinkari or morozhicha koottan (literally, curry into which butter milk (moru) is poured). If there is coconut in the house, then the latter, if not, pulinkari.

A wide range of vegetables could be used for both these curries. Chena (elephant foot yam), raw bananas, chembu (taro) or cucumber were the usual veggies for morozhicha koottan. As for pulinkari, almost everything went into it. In that way it was similar to moloshyam.

Moloshyam is another common dish of households in Thrissur district. Nothing could be simpler than a moloshyam. Also pronouced as molokooshyam, the name is said to have derived from mulaku dooshyam (which means, chillies are harmful !). True, this curry uses no chillies, not red chillies at least. If you have a hot tooth, green chillies could be added.

It is nothing more than thuvarapparippu (tuval dal), cooked with any vegetable, with just salt and a pinch of turmeric powder. A dash of coconut oil and a sprig of curry leaves are added as seasoning. It sounds simple, but making a good moloshyam needs a good hand. Just to think of the aroma of curry leaves and coconut oil arising from the hot curry is.. ah ! delicious !


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