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A bit of culinary Kerala

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

At the time of writing, I should have been packed and ready to fly to Chennai in India, and then on to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) in the southern state of Kerala for a short holiday.
Unfortunately, the trip has had to be postponed.
The Husband and I had planned to watch some Kathakali performances, eat Keralan food, visit interested sites, perhaps take a boat in the backwaters, gorge on Keralan seafood, explore markets, browse through bookshops, stuff myself... um, ourselves with Keralan food, and more.
I was disappointed... for a second, because I always remember my late father saying that "everything happens for the best". I've always believed in that and things usually work out. My father's parents were originally from Kerala and came to then British Malaya to work in the rubber estates, so perhaps they're telling me, in spirit, that it's not the right time to visit their homeland. *wink*
It would have been good to get out of Malaysia at this time, though. We are experiencing the worst haze (smog) I can remember. I don't think it has ever been this bad. I look out the glass doors of my flat and just beyond my balcony, I can see the haze pollutants just hanging in the air. Outdoors, it's hard to breathe and my eyes hurt. There's an eerie glow all around, which I would describe as pretty if it wasn't hazardous (in some places, it's at dangerous levels).
Well, if you have to stay in, cooking is always a good way to pass some time. And since I had been looking forward to Keralan food in Kerala but not getting to eat it there, I thought I should make a few dishes at home.
Coconut and green chillies are used a lot in Keralan cooking. A dish that contains both of these ingredients is aviyal, a mixed vegetable curry cooked with a fresh coconut-green chilli spice paste. Root and hardy vegetables like potatoes, plantain, carrots, long beans and drumstick pods are often included. I didn't have any of those so I used French beans, sweet potatoes, cabbage and after I turned off the heat, I added spinach so that it just wilted in the hot curry. I think I added too much water though, so the aviyal is not thick enough. And it should be yellow, which means I didn't add enough turmeric powder.
Fried fish with crisp onions
Kerala is also famous for its seafood dishes. Since there was already the aviyal, which has gravy to mix into rice, I just fried a couple slices of tenggiri fish that had been simply dredged in curry powder, turmeric and salt, and then garnished it with fried crisp onions and curry leaves.
For me, no curry meal can be complete without rasam – a tamarind-based soup. I like my rasam sour because that's what I grew up with, while the Husband prefers rasam that is not so sour. I add hot water to it to thin it down.
Rasam is kind of a tonic, so I always make extra and drink it like a beverage. Taken on its own, I water it down slightly because without the rice, my version can be too sour even for me.
It was a good meal. It wasn't Kerala, but at least I ate well.

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