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  Age on Sunday   14 May 2017  Mild, just like a Carnatic tune

Mild, just like a Carnatic tune

Published : May 14, 2017, 12:48 am IST
Updated : May 14, 2017, 12:48 am IST

Brahmins of Palakkad in Kerala boast of a unique vegetarian fare, but many culinary gems are vanishing.

Thamaravalayam Paal Curry
 Thamaravalayam Paal Curry

Palakkad in Kerala is famous for churning out some of the finest civil servants, its Carnatic musicians and the variety of vegetarian food on offer. Influenced by neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the region has evolved a distinct style of preparing food that stands out from the rest of Kerala. The agraharams of Brahmins find a prominent place in history and are known for their distinct culture, lifestyle and food. The food is largely vegetarian with a mind boggling variety of sambar and rasams. The sambar in this region has rice added to it instead of tur dal which is again a hallmark of this community.  There is also a sambar made out of raw jackfruit, the recipe of which was gladly shared by some grannies.

My fascination with Palakkad cuisine started while working at a star hotel when two of my colleagues — both Palakkad Iyers — spoke at length about the variety of vegetarian fare available in the region. I noticed that most of the preparations tended to stay away from an over use of chilly, ginger and garlic rendering the preparations a mild flavour. For example, the Avial prepared in other regions is yellow in colour because of turmeric but here turmeric is completely avoided as also garlic rendering the avial white in colour. Also the extensive use of leafy greens ensures that the food has multiple health benefits.


Being a chef in search of novel fare, the Palakkad Iyer food piqued my interest and the next break I got, I reached Palakkad to taste and learn first hand the food I had heard so much about.

I was not disappointed — I found that the people of the community made use of seasonal fruits in every way they could in addition to preserving them in brine for use later. I visited some agraharams and unearthed recipes that had vanished over time. The grannies were only too ready to part with the recipes of these dishes.

Uppumangayum Nellikkayum Koodi Arachukalakkiyathu
Another speciality of the Palakkad Iyer cuisine is the use of raw mangoes and gooseberries stored in brine for around six months till they almost melt, which is used as a side dish. Now that practice is slowly dying as the special ceramic vessels used to store the mangoes in brine are hard to come by. The Palakkad cuisine includes both mangoes and gooseberries brined separately but mixed together with chillies, shallots and salt. This alone can be used as an accompaniment to rice.  
100 gm salted mango
100 gm salted gooseberry
50 gm coconut, grated
10 gm green chilly
5 gm ginger
20 gm yoghurt
5 gm mustard seeds
2 gm fenugreek seeds
2 gm curry leaves
2 gm dry red chilly
Salt  to taste



Grind the ingredients numbered 1 to 3 to a fine paste. Mix the ground paste with the beaten yoghurt/butter milk. Taste-check and add salt if required. Heat oil in a small pan. Splutter mustards and fry dry red chilies and fenugreek seeds. The fenugreek seeds will go brown in a few seconds. Switch it off and add the curry leaves. Pour over the curry. Serve immediately with rice.

Thamaravalayam Paal Curry
One such heritage recipe is the Thamaravalayam paal curry made using coconut milk. Thamaravalayam refers to dried lotus stems. Lotus was found in abundance in the region at one point of time. So preparations made out of died lotus stems were a staple.


Dried lotus stems were fried or made into chutney or else incorporated into this recipe. But now with the ponds disappearing and a fast paced lifestyle, no one has the time to dry the lotus stems or procure lotuses.

150 gm lotus stem
50 ml coconut milk
10 gm coconut
2 gm curry leaves
1 gm mustard
10 gm shallots
2 gm ginger
2 gm garlic
20 ml yoghurt
Salt to taste
5ml coconut oil
2gm dry red chilly  

Soak lotus stem in the water for half an hour. In a pan, pour coconut oil, crackle mustard seeds, red chilly, ginger, garlic, shallots and curry leaves. Add lotus stem and sauté for two minutes. Now, add the coconut paste along with some water and cook on simmer. Add thick coconut milk and yoghurt and serve.


Chakka Mooda Kozhukkattai
This is made out of ripe jackfruit mixed with melted jaggery with rice flour added. The rice flour used in most of the recipes have been beaten in a pedestal by hand. Then it is dried in the sun and powdered. These days, no one has the time to use the pedestal to beat rice flour and would rather use the mixie but it takes away the taste.


(For 1 Portion)
75 gm ripe jackfruit
25 gm jaggery
50 gm roasted brown
rice powder  

Heat water and bring it to boil. Add jaggery and jackfruit pieces and boil till jackfruit is cooked. Add the rice powder gently and keep on stirring till it becomes solid. Make it into small balls, roll these balls in banana leaves and tie them. Steam cook these balls.


The writer is Sous Chef —Banquets, Holiday Inn, Kochi

Tags: food