Saturday, December 26, 2009

Chettinad Curries - A Primer

One Page Cookbooks
Chettinad Curries

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1.: Mandi Heat a spoon of oil. Add a pinch of mustard, half a handful of chopped onions, 2 garlic cloves, a chopped green chili and a handful of sliced okra. Stir & cook for a minute. Add half a spoon of tamarind paste and two pinches of salt. Add half a cup of water in which rice grains were washed. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Chettinad Cuisine - You don’t usually see a tiny region giving birth to a whole new cuisine. Chettinadu (The land of Chettiars) has this distinction of creating one of the most aromatic cuisines of India.

In direct contrast to Brahmin cuisine, Chettinad cuisine uses meat and exotic spices extensively. Contrary to popular belief, Chettinad cuisine is neither spicy nor oily. It is however, bursting with flavour.
Chettinad is a small region in southern Tamilnadu consisting of Karaikudi and 74 other villages. It is not a geographic entity and so does not have a clear cut boundary. This is the homeland of the Nattukottai Chettiars (Nagarathar). Being one of the driest areas of Tamilnadu, it is not conducive to agriculture. Unable to farm, its people instead became successful traders, bankers and businessmen, going as far as south-east Asia to trade. Their enormous success and legendary wealth
are reflected in their palatial houses and the expensive spices used in their cuisine.

The Curry base: Chettinadu curries are built from the same four basic building blocks as all south Indian curries – lentils, yogurt, tamarind and coconut. What makes them unique are the flavouring and certain cooking techniques used. The Chettinad cuisine shows the influence of far eastern ingredients and cooking

In spite of their great wealth, Chettiars frown upon wastage of any sort. In their curry, the Mandi, even the water used to wash rice grains (Arisi Mandi) is not wasted. Polished rice always has a thin coating of flour on it. The water used to wash rice grains dissolves this flour. When added to the curry, this water not only adds nutrients, but also acts as a thickener.

When the regular tamarind stew (Pulikulambu) is flavoured with fennel, it becomes a uniquely chettinad curry. (Similarly, the regular more kulambu uses a blended mixture of coconut, cumin and chilies. Add fennel and some ginger- garlic paste and this spiced up more kulambu becomes a Chettinad Morekulambu.
Chettinadu Kara Kulambu is just a regular kulambu on steroids. Here onions, tomatoes and garlic are stir fried, mashed and mixed with tamarind paste to cook up a rich, thick kulambu.
Perattal ( stirred up) is another unique curry where boiled vegetables are stirred and cooked with freshly ground masala paste. (See Pasi Payaru Perattal). The simple Paruppu is spiced up with garlic, onions and chilies, becoming the Paruppu masiyal. Similarly the humble rasam is flavoured by fennel, ginger and garlic morphing into the Chettinad rasam. Even Keerai Masiyal, the quintessential Brahmin curry is jazzed up with garlic to morph into a more flavourful avatar.

Flavouring: Chettinadu cuisine shows the south east Asian influence in its use of spices like marathi mokku (dried flower pods), anasipoo (star anise) and kalpasi (dried bark). Other spices like fennel, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, ginger and garlic are commonly used in everyday cooking. A quick and dirty method of converting a normal Tamil curry into a Chettinad curry is by adding some fried fennel, ginger and garlic.

Goodies : Chettinadu cuisine uses all the traditional vegetables, spinach and pulses of Tamilnadu cuisine. It also uses a variety of sun dried vegetables/ meats reflecting the aridity of the region. Some curries pair well with certain vegetables and these combinations are frequently cooked. Thayir pachadis frequently use carrot, cucumber, gooseberry, boiled snake gourd & ash gourd. Mandi is usually cooked with spinach, chilies, okra, mochai, or sun dried vegetables. Keerai Masiyals usually use mulai keerai, arai keerai, manathakkali keerai, ponnanganni keerai or siru keerai. Kootus are made with eggplant, chow-chow or banana stem. Puli kulambu uses okra, bitter gourd, eggplant or bottle gourd. More kulambu usually has eggplant, okra, ash gourd, drumstick, okra or colocasia.
.Universal garnish : Heat a spoon of oil. Add two pinches of mustard, a pinch of asafetida and curry leaves. Add to all these curries as a garnish just before serving.

Shopping List :

50 gms :Mustard, Fennel, Ginger- Garlic paste, Garlic, Coriander seeds, Cumin, Dry red chili, Pepper, Asafetida, Cilantro, Chana dal

100 gms: Onions, Tomato, Shallots, Green chili, Tamarind paste.

200 gms : Okra, Ash gourd, Coconut, Mung dal, Tuvar dal, Fish

Yogurt, Spinach.

2.: Chettinad Pulikulambu (Tamarind stew) Heat a spoon of oil. Add a pinch of mustard, fennel, half a handful of chopped onion, tomato and two garlic cloves. Cook for 2 minutes. Add a handful of chopped bottle gourd flesh. Add a cup of water, a pinch of pepper, a spoons of tamarind paste, a pinch of jaggery, two pinches each of salt and sambar powder. Simmer for 10 minutes.

3.: Chettinad Morekulambu ( Yogurt stew) Take half a handful of chopped coconut, a green chili, half a spoon of ginger garlic paste, two pinches each of coriander seeds, cumin, fennel and salt . Blend to a paste. Mix in half a cup of water, a pinch of turmeric, half a handful of chopped shallots and a handful of chopped and boiled ash gourd. Simmer for 10 minutes. Mix in half a cup of yogurt. Simmer for 2 minutes and serve.

4.: Chettinad Karakulambu (Spicy Sour Stew) Heat a spoon of oil. Add half a handful each of grated coconut, chopped shallots, tomatoes, 2 garlic cloves and 2 pinches of fennel. Cook for 2 mins and blend to a paste with half a spoon of tamarind paste, two pinches each of salt and sambar powder. Mix in half a cup of water. Bring to a boil. Add half a handful of a boiled vegetable and simmer for 5 minutes.

5.: Perattal (Stir fried vegetables) Take a cup of boiled vegetables. Mix in a pinch of fennel powder, pepper powder, chili powder, two pinches of salt, half a spoon of ginger garlic paste and half a handful of grated coconut. Stir and cook for a minute.

6.: Paruppu Masiyal (Mashed lentil curry) Heat a spoon of oil. Add 2 chopped garlic cloves, half a handful of of chopped shallots, a chopped green chili, a handful of boiled tuvar dal, a pinch of turmeric and 2 pinches of salt. Stir and cook for a minute.

7.:. Keerai Masiyal ( Mashed Spinach curry) Take a cup of chopped and boiled spinach. Mash with half a handful of boiled mung dal. Heat a spoon of oil. Add half a handful of chopped small onions, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, half a spoon of salt, a torn dry red chili and two pinches of cumin. Stir and cook for a minute. Mix in spinach and simmer for 5 minutes.

8.:. Chettinad Rasam (Thin lentil stew) Take a cup of water, Mix in half a handful of boiled and mashed tuvar dal, a spoon of tamarind paste, half a spoon of ginger garlic paste, two pinches of salt, a pinch each of fennel powder, black pepper and two pinches of sambar powder. Add four crushed garlic cloves. Simmer for 10 min. Filter out solids. Mix in two pinches of chopped cilantro.

9.: Chettinadu Meen Kulambu (Fish stew) Heat a spoon of sesame oil. Add two pinches of fennel, a pinch of fenugreek seeds, 2 curry leaves, half a handful each of chopped shallots, tomato and a chopped garlic clove. Stir and cook for 3 minutes. Mix in a cup and a half (300 ml) of water, a spoon of tamarind paste, three pinches of salt, chili powder & coriander powder. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 mins. Add a handful of chopped fish and simmer for 5 min. ( Fish can be marinated in a paste of lemon juice, chili & turmeric powders for an hour before being added to the stew)

10.: Kola Urundai Kulambu (Lentil ball sour stew) Soak half a handful of each of tuvar dal, chana dal, two dry red chilies and three pinches of fennel in a cup of water for 30 min. Drain and blend to a coarse paste. Mix in half a handful of chopped shallots, a pinch each of asafetida, cilantro and two pinches of salt. Form into small marble sized balls and steam for 3 minutes (or microwave for 30 seconds). In the gravy above, add these lentil balls to the stew in place of fish and simmer for 10 minutes.

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