Friday, December 25, 2009

Iyer Curries

One Page Cookbooks
Iyer Curries

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1.: Paruppu (mashed lentils) To a pressure cooker add half a cup of tuvar dal, a pinch of turmeric powder, a cup ( 200 ml) of water & two pinches of salt. Pressure cook for two whistles. Let cool and mash.

Iyers are Tamil Brahmins, who migrated from North India in waves from as early as 3000 years ago. Some were invited by southern kings for performing vedic rituals and some moved after vedic sacrifices were banned under the Buddhist / Jain kings. They settled mostly in Cauvery delta of central Tamilnadu (Tiruchi, Tanjore and Mayavaram). They adopted and influenced the language, cuisine and culture of the south. The different Iyer sects roughly correspond to the migratory waves as in Vadama (northern sect), Vathima ( central sect ), Brahacharanam ( Guru followers), Ashta Sahasram ( eight thousand) etc. Even after 3000 years, their language still retains a smattering of Sanskrit words, most vedic rituals remain intact, many still pay homage to the north Indian river Narmada and all of them trace their ancestry to one of the eight sages of the vedic era.

Iyer Cuisine is vegetarian and frowns on the use of of anything apart from basic spices. So spices like fennel, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves are not used. Onions / garlic are believed to be aphrodisiacs and are avoided / replaced by asafetida. But unlike the more orthodox Iyengar cuisine, Iyer cuisine tolerates them and they are increasingly used. Like most south Indian curries, Iyer curries are built on tamarind, lentils, yogurt and coconut. Different combinations of these building blocks give rise to different curry families. .

Cooking rituals : A bath is mandatory before cooking / eating. Concepts like madi (avoiding contact with unwashed garments), pathu (avoiding contact with cooked food), echil (avoiding contact with saliva), preferring freshly prepared food and frowning on storing leftovers are still religiously observed in many households. It is interesting to note that all these rules were originally designed for one purpose - to ensure food safety. The concept of echil led to South India’s undying love for the use of banana leaf as plates (The plates get contaminated by saliva and throwing them away was considered preferable to washing and reusing them). The concept of not storing ‘left overs’ has been frustrating quite a few housewives down the ages. In spite of advances in food safety, storage and refrigeration, and in spite of the fact that many curries actually taste better the next day, the weight of tradition still remains strong !

Serving Rituals: The cooked food is first offered to Gods, then to ancestors (who are believed to appear in the guise of crows) and then served, first to males. They chant a hymn worshiping food, sanctifying it, ritualistically offering it to various Gods before being eating. A brief ritual is observed at the end of the meal, thanking the Gods. The women are served next, but do not follow these rituals.

The most favourite 'curries' of the Iyers are also the most basic, requiring little or no cooking at all. Iyers are known for their love of Thayir (yogurt) , paruppu ( boiled tuvar dal) and ghee. The meal starts with cooked rice consumed with paruppu and ghee and ends with yogurt eaten mixed with rice. Iyer’s undying love for yogurt- rice combo has earned them the name ‘Thayir Sadam', which is what most lunchboxes of Iyer children still contain !

Iyer migrations to Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra have led to the development of distinct cuisines in these places. At their core, you'll see that these cuisines follow the Tamil Brahmin style of cooking, with some key ingredients replaced with whatever was available easily in the new lands they settled in. For example, replace sesame oil with coconut oil, replace tamarind with yogurt as a souring agent and Tanjore cuisine starts resembling Kerala Brahmin cuisine.

Instant Sambar powder : Mix two spoons of coriander powder, a spoon of red chili powder, a pinch of asafetida and turmeric powder

Shopping List : 50 gms: Coriander seeds, Dried neem flower, dried turkey berry, pepper, cumin, salt.

mustard, curry leaves, turmeric, dry red chili, green chili, asafetida, peanuts, sun dried vegetables, sambar powder.

250 gms: Tuvar dal, chana dal, mung dal, urad dal, yogurt, tamarind paste, eggplant, beans, raw papaya, butter, milk.

One each - Coconut, lemon & potato, carrot.

2.: Ghee (Clarified butter) Take a cup of unsalted butter. Add to a pan and heat on medium flame till it melts. Continue heating till the bubbling & frothing stops and the liquid becomes golden and transparent (you should be able to see the bottom of the vessel through the liquid). Switch off flame. Bottle the golden liquid. The bottom layer of sediment is usually removed, but it is perfectly edible. (When you evaporate all water out of butter, it becomes ghee).

3.: Thayir Pachadi (Raw yogurt curry) Take a cup( 200 ml) of yogurt. Mix in two pinches of salt and a handful of chopped / grated carrot / cucumber / tomato / beetroot.

4.: Paruppu Podi (spicy lentil powder) Heat a pan. Add a handful of mixed lentils tuvar dal / mung dal / chana dal. Stir and roast on low heat till lentils brown. Let cool. Blend to a powder with two dry red chilies, a pinch of asafetida and three pinches of salt.

5.: Vatral Kulambu (Sour stew with sun dried vegetables) Heat a spoon of oil. Add two pinches of mustard, a pinch of asafetida, and half a handful of sun dried vegetables (sundakkai / okra etc). Dissolve 3 spoons of tamarind paste, two pinches each of jaggery/ sugar, salt and sambar powder in a cup of water. Add to pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 min.

6.: Paruppu Thogayal (Lentil paste) Heat a pan. Add a handful of split mung dal. Stir & roast over medium heat till it browns. Let cool. Add to a blender with two dry red chilies, two pinches of salt half a handful of chopped coconut, a bit of tamarind, little water and grind to a thick paste. Omit coconut, tamarind and you have Pathiya Thogayal

7.:. Milagu Kulambu (Pepper sour stew) Heat a spoon of oil. Add two pinches each of peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin, chana dal, tuvar dal and 2 curry leaves. Stir and cook on gentle heat till lentils start to brown. Let cool and grind to a powder. Heat a spoon of oil. Add two pinches of mustard and pinch of asafetida. Mix a spoon of tamarind paste in a cup of water. Add to pan. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the ground powder, two pinches of salt & simmer for a minute.

8.:. Araichu Vitta Sambar (Lentil Tamarind stew) Heat half a spoon of oil. Add a dry red chili, a pinch each of dhania, pepper, tuvar dal and half a handful of grated coconut. Roast and grind together. In a cup of water, mix half a spoon of tamarind paste , three pinches of salt, sambar powder, a pinch of asafetida and a handful of chopped and boiled vegetables ( Ash gourd/okra/eggplant etc ). Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the blended powder, half a handful of boiled and mashed tuvar dal & simmer for two minutes.

9.: Lemon Rasam (Lemon lentil soup) Heat half a spoon of ghee. Add two pinches of cumin. Mix half a handful of boiled and mashed tuvar dal in a cup of water. Filter and strain out solids. Add the filtered liquid to pan. Add two pinches of sambar powder and salt. Simmer for 2 minutes. Take off heat. Mix in the juice of a lemon & a pinch of coriander leaves.

10.: Thayir (Yogurt) Boil a cup of milk. Let cool till lukewarm. Mix in a spoon of yogurt. Cover and rest for 4 -5 hours in a warm place till it sets. Refrigerate.

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