This month’s Indian recipes are associated with Onam which is Kerala’s largest and most important festival and is celebrated by everyone in Kerala.  Three of my favorites are  Urulakizhangu Ishtu (Potato Stew), Ericherry and Olan. All three are vegetarian recipes. I hope you enjoy them are much as I do.

 

Urulakizhangu Ishtu, or Potato Stew, that is ready to be put on the table.

Urulakizhangu Ishtu, or Potato Stew, that is ready to be put on the table.

 

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Originally a Hindu festival, Onam is now celebrated by everyone in Kerala.  It occurs every year in the month of August or September after the harvest and lasts for three days.  The most important day is known as Thiruvonam and will be on August 23rd this year. 


The story of how Onam was started:


Kerala was ruled by a very good ruler called Mahabali. Kerala was very prosperous during his reign.  There was no poverty and the people were happy.  Once he performed a big yagna, or sacrificial ritual, to show his authority over the empire and show the path of truth to his subjects.  As his power grew, the gods became concerned that he was gathering too much power and thought had to be limited. 


As legend has it, Lord Vishnu was sent by the gods to destroy the ego of the king and curtail his power.  Vishnu appeared in the form of a Brahmin boy called Vamana (in this form he was called Vamanavatharam).  The king was very pleased to see the boy and asked him what he wanted as a gift.  The king’s ministers warned him to be careful as they thought there might be a trick.  The boy Vamana replied that he wanted only the land that he could cover in three steps.  The king was surprised and agreed to give the three steps of land. 


Vamana suddenly became huge and acquired the whole earth in the first step and the whole sky in the second step. As there was no place for the third step, the king asked Vamana to put the third step on his head.  The king kneeled down and Vamana put his foot on the king’s head. He pushed the king to the nether world. 


The people were very saddened with the loss of their king so Vamana promised that King Mahabali could visit Kerala once a year.  Onam is the day when King Mahabali visits Kerala. 


For the seven days preceding plus the three days of Onam, people decorate their courtyards each day with flowers. To welcome King Mahabali, everyone wears new clothes. 


The recipes this month will be selections of my favorites that are served at Onam.

 

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On Tuesday we had a small family party for the release of Kachi’s Kitchen.  I invited Kachi and Balakrishnan over for dinner with my mother and the four of us on the pretext of trying menu with new recipes.  When she walked in the door, she saw posters with pictures of the book cover on the walls, coordinating aprons and coordinating balloons all over the room.  It took her a few minutes to realize that this was a party for her.  We toasted with champagne all around.

 

Kachi's Kitchen custom plates

One of the custom plates designed for Kachi’s Kitchen

The table was decorated with some of the marketing materials from the publisher and several copies of the book.  I served dinner from the kitchen rather than passing serving bowls and platters around the table so I could surprise everyone with my custom painted pottery.  Since my daughter was with me when I ordered this pottery, she helped me pull off the surprise.  My mother was the first person to notice.  She had to point to her plate and say “look, look!” so people would take notice of them.  Kachi was speechless; my husband was impressed.  My son didn’t care as he believes plates only exist to bring him more food.  Kachi became a bit teary with all of the attention.
 

After a small plate of Indian sweets, I sent all of our parents home with a copy of the book and an apron.  It was a fantastic evening.  I think everyone was a bit overwhelmed.  I think it was a successful launch.

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So much has happened in the last two weeks.  I thought that once Kachi’s Kitchen’s cover, contents and pricing were accepted and locked down, I wouldn’t see the first hardcopy book for several weeks.  This turned out to be false.


Kachi's Kitchen, Indian CookbookI attended my high school reunion a week ago and found the first hardcopy waiting for me when I returned.  I was so excited that, after checking it out, I ordered many copies of the book to have available locally.  I was even more surprised when four large boxes appeared at my front door on Thursday.


Now that I am beginning to adjust, my husband and I took a stack of them to National Imports, a store that specializes in Malayali groceries, in Carrollton, TX.  On Tuesday, my family will have a release party to celebrate the culmination of a two year process.  We will be celebrating in style with champagne and customized Kachi’s Kitchen’s plates and aprons!  (Please don’t tell Kachi.)

 

To purchase the cookbook via the publisher’s website, click here.


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I am thrilled to report that Kachi’s Kitchen is finally finished.  The galley and cover design have been approved so it can finally go to print!  I’m not sure when it will be available for purchase but I suspect later this month or early next month.  Authorhouse.com, Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com will be selling the book online.  I plan to sell it from my site as well.

 

Kachi's Kitchen, Indian Cookbook

 

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This month I am focusing on a traditional dessert that is a central part of the Indian culture.  Payasam is traditionally made with boiled milk, a starch like rice or wheat, and sugar then flavored in a variety of different ways. 

Semiya Payasam, Vermicelli Payasam

Semiya Payasam (Vermicelli Payasam), is made with boiled milk, vermicelli noodles, cardamom, cashews and saffron.

It is given as an offering to the gods in south Indian Hindu temples as well as served at all important south Indian celebrations and important occasions, including birthdays and weddings, and feasts.  Serving Payasam is considered a sign of hospitality and welcome in Indian households.  Kachi served it to me when I first visited her home in Madras after my wedding.  It meant that her family welcomed me into their family. It can also be served at tea time as a special treat.  I have been told that the rice pudding made in England today derived from Payasam a thousand years ago when traders took rice to Europe.


There are many different varieties of Payasam that are made with different ingredients.  It is typically made by:

  • boiling milk with sugar,

  • adding rice, wheat (vermicelli) or lentils , and

  • flavoring it with cardamom, raisins, saffron, and/or nuts.

Two delicious recipes are featured for July.


Pal Payasam Recipe

A very simple and easy to make Payasam, called Pal Payasam, is made with mike, rice and sugar. I am including both the traditional method of making it as well as one that has been adapted to use the microwave oven and is really easy to make. 

Semiya Payasam Recipe

Another, Semiya Payasam (Vermicelli Payasam), is made with boiled milk, vermicelli noodles, cardamom, cashews and saffron.  This recipe is my favorite and is served for our family birthdays.


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I found some wonderful spice mixtures in my local grocery store that I use on grilled chicken for my daughter.  After tasting them and reading the labels, I was very surprised to learn that these products are made up of the same spices that comprise garam masala.  They are not advertised as Indian spice mixtures or garam masala but taste the same.  I’m impressed that Indian spices have become a part of the everyday American cooking experience.
 

Garam masala is an aromatic mixture that is usually used in non-vegetarian dishes, and in some vegetarian dishes, to give them a rich flavor. It literally translates from Hindi as ‘hot spice’ even though this mixture is not spicy hot. Some of the recipes in Kachi’s Kitchen that use it include:

 

Vegetable

Pachacurry (Vegetable) Puffs and Cutlets
Beet Cutlets

Kovakka Upperi

Vazhuthinanga (Aubergine) Cutlets

 

Lentils

Paruppu (Dal)
Paruppu (Toor Dal) Vada 

Vella Kadala (Kabuli Chenna) Masala

Cheera (Spinach) with Vella Kadala (Chickpeas)


Chicken/Egg

Mutta (Egg) Chapati
Malabar Mutta (Egg) Curry
Kozhi (Chicken) Biryani

Kozhi (Chicken) Cutlets

Kozhi (Chicken) Fry

Madras Chicken Curry


Fish

Madras Meen (Fish) Curry
Meen (Fish) Tikka

Stir-Fried Meen (Fish)


Lamb

Erechi (Lamb) Curry
Kheema Curry

Unda (Kofta) Curry


Rice

Pachacurry (Vegetable) Pulav


Other

Thakkali (Tomato) Chutney

Garam masala is usually made from cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cardamom which are roasted and ground.  The ingredients and their amounts used vary regionally across the country. In addition, it is often made with dried red chilies, cardamom pods, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, bay leaves and star anise.  By varying the recipe, the flavor is customized to complement the recipe for which it is used.  It is best when made fresh as the flavors and aroma are at their peak.  If you make it ahead, store it in an airtight container and use it as quickly as possible.

Below is Kachi’s recipe for garam masala.  It is a simple recipe that has a wonderful flavor.


Kachi’s Garam Masala Spice Mix Kerala Style

 

Garam masala spice mix

Garam masala spice mix

¼ cup  dried red chilies, ends trimmed and seeds removed
½ cup  coriander seeds
2½ Tbs  fennel seeds
2½ tsp  cumin seeds
1 tsp  cardamom pods, smashed with shells
¼ tsp  cloves
2½  tsp  black peppercorns
4 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves    

 

In a skillet over medium heat without any oil, roast the spices dry for 5 minutes stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.  Cool and powder the spices coarsely in a blender.  Store in an airtight jar.
 

 

Enjoy!


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I received the cover and galley of Kachi’s Kitchen last week.  The publisher has done a nice job on it.  They were able to incorporate some pictures on the cover that illustrate traditional scenes in Kerala – Chinese fishing nets , called cheena vala, used along the shoreline to catch fish; fishing boats; coconut trees along the backwaters and a typical thali meal.  The colors that were selected tie into the colors of the pictures.  There are a few small changes I want made before I finalize it.  The book is moving forward!
 
 

Kachi's Kitchen, Indian Cookbook


 
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All text and photographic content are property of KachisKitchen.com and are not to be used without permission of the author.

As I have talked with people about my cookbook, one common question is “Don’t I have to buy a lot of unique ingredients to make the recipes in your cook book?”  My response is no.  Most of the items are available in American grocery stores.  There are a few ingredients like fresh curry leaves, kovakka and koorka that can only be found in Indian grocery stores.

National Imports in Carrollton, TX

National Imports in Carrollton, TX

Most of these stores are family owned.  The store my family visits most often is National Imports in Carrollton, Texas.  As a Malayali, owner Alex Easo specializes in ingredients and foods used in Kerala cooking.  He carries a large number of items, most directly imported from Kerala that are not typically found in other Indian grocery stores. Upon entering his store, you will be met with a friendly greeting and the warm aroma of spices.     

Each aisle of the store is organized with different items so you can find what you want quickly. One aisle is filled with fresh spices, from rice powder to asafetida to ground pepper, a variety of teas and  Indian coffee. Another aisle is lined with prepared foods that can be warmed in the microwave and eaten in minutes. Some of the typical Kerala specialty items include shrimp pickle, papaddam and Kozhikode halwaI have tried many of these items and found them to be excellent.  I always keep several packages in my pantry for the days when I have too much to do.  Frozen prepared foods, like chakka thoran (jackfruit thoran), can be found in Alex’s store as well. He stocks fresh and frozen meat and seafood (like sardines) and fresh vegetables. I like to buy my vegetables here because of his good prices and selection. I know they are grown locally. In particularly like the red onions because they are tastier, besides being smaller than the ones sold by chain grocery stores and I can use them without waste. 

One surprise in National Imports is the amount of shelf space that is dedicated to snack foods – about 20 percent.  This seems to me to be a higher percentage than in other grocery stores. If my family can be considered to be a representative sample of the population, this should not be a surprise.  Some of the snacks are imported from India while others are made locally in the traditional style.  Alex’s snacks include thin banana chips (a Kerala specialty), banana cuts (quarters) plain or in jaggery and jackfruit chips (chakka cholam), I have some favorite brands (as good as one can find in Kerala) but they are all very good.

National Imports in Carrollton, TX

National Imports in Carrollton, TX

In addition to food, Alex stocks the latest Malayali magazines and movies.  Most Indian groceries stock them but they are all in Hindi.  We pick up some every month for my mother-in-law.

You should visit Alex at National Imports if you have the opportunity.  It is an interesting place and you will find that when you leave, you will be taking several bags home with you containing new things you want to try.

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Chicken Biryani

Chicken Biryani

This month I decided to focus on a popular recipe that is not originally from South India and its standard accompaniments.  Biryani is one of the most popular traditional dishes in India because of its rich flavor.  It was created in Persia and brought to India when the Mughals invaded India in the sixteenth century.  It is popular because it is a complete, delicious meal in one dish that includes rice, meat and vegetables.  Each state in India and each household makes it slightly differently by varying the meat, vegetables and spices.  To make a good biryani, it must be rich in flavor (not spicy hot), a wonderful aroma and the grains of rice should not stick together.  This month’s recipe features Chicken Biryani, also called Kozhi Biryani.  To complete the meal, all that is needed is pappadams and a simple raita.  I chose Onion Raita, or Ulli Raita, because I think its subtle flavor blends very well with biryani.

Kachi’s Kitchen also includes another delicious chicken biryani recipe that is carefully layered. 

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