Posts Tagged With: kerala

Aviyal – Keralan Coconut & Vegetable Curry with Watermelon & Pineapple Salad

Aviyal - Keralan Coconut and Vegetable Curry with Pineapple and Watermelon Salad

Aviyal – Keralan Coconut and Vegetable Curry with Pineapple and Watermelon Salad

A simple, light summer curry with all the joys and sparkling nutrition of coconut and seasonal vegetables.  This is a recipe straight outta Peace & Parsnips and was recently featured online here in Reveal Magazine.  Recipes like this are a wonderful reminder for me of special times spent travelling and cooking in India.  Kerala is surely one of the most beautiful corners of the planet and its food is surprisingly vegan friendly, diverse and really healthy.

This is a recipe I learnt from my friend Narendra on the patio of a wooden hut in a yoga retreat, rural Tamil Nadu.  Although this is (probably) a traditional Keralan style curry, they love it in neighbouring Tamil Nadu also.  I had been eating it regularly in India and was so pleased when Narendra took the time to sit down with me and finally get a recipe on paper.  He taught me his families traditional recipe, from the ancient temple town of Madurai, and it was pleasing simple.  Like many Indian family staples, the difference is in the freshness of the ingredients; the vegetables and the spices.  Most Indian households will have what I call a ‘Sabji’ (Vegetable) man.  Just like a milk man in the UK, he wanders the streets in the mornings selling his wares from a cart, shouting up to the windows of house wives what’s good , freshest and of course, on special offer!  Fresh vegetables are everywhere in India and veg markets are frequent and always interesting to wander around and pick up some funky looking spice or odd looking root (maybe a mooli or two?).

The beaches of North Kerala are stunning!

The beaches of North Kerala are stunning! Kannur

Although this is a simple recipe, cooked most days in Keralan homes, it adapts well to the changing seasons in most countries.  Any variety of vegetables can be used in its preparation and Aviyal lends itself perfectly to British/ European veg.  In fact, Narendra’s grandmother used to call things like carrots ‘British veg’ as they we only grown and popularised in the time of the Raj, when much of Indian cooking as we know it was altered and influenced by British tastes.

The ladies at Varnam Homestay, Wayanand, Kerala - Lunch prep in full swing

The women Varnam Homestay, Wayanand, Kerala – Lunch prep in full swing

I was lucky to cook in a beautiful kitchen near Wayanad National Park, Northern Kerala with some amazing ladies.  Here I learnt some proper Keralan classics and top tips that you can only learn by actually getting your hands on the pots and pans.  I loved the way that they used very roasted coconut to add depth and flavour to sauces, especially when used with piles of freshly grated ginger.  I also loved cooking with a wide range of local produce, all of their dishes contained only ingredients from their own land.  Spices and all!  They even grew their own coffee and we were inundated each day with fresh exotic fruits, many of which I’d never seen before.  Mangoes grew above the hammocks in the garden, guavas, green figs, coconuts, plantains……you can imagine, it was a bit like eden/ nirvana!

Cooking at Varnam Homestay, Kerala

Cooking at Varnam Homestay, Kerala

Aviyal is such a healthy, light dish, nothing like the rich and fiery curries of the much of North India.  Coconut is king in the south, making travelling around South India a foodie paradise for vegans.  Its up there with places like Thailand or parts of the Med for traditional vegan dishes.  Anywhere that the vegetable or coconut thrives, you find brilliant vegan dishes.  Vegan food is so creative and evolving all the time, but it is nice to find dishes on my travels that reflect a cultures heritage and history.  We’ve always eaten and enjoyed vegan dishes, we just don’t necessarily give them that name (which, for whatever reason, can put some people off).

Indian spices, down at the market

Indian spices, down at the market

The Bits – For 4
For the curry
•2-3 fresh green chillies
•2 big handfuls of freshly grated or desiccated coconut
•2tsp cumin seeds
•220ml coconut milk or unsweetened soya yogurt
•2 large carrots, scrubbed
•2 large potatoes, scrubbed
•1 large courgette
•6 fat asparagus spears
•2 green plantains, peeled
•200ml water
•1tsp ground turmeric
•1tsp of sea salt
•1 big handful of mangetout or green beans
•2tbsp coconut oil
•2tsp mustard seeds
•3tbsp curry leaves
For the pineapple & watermelon salad
•A small pineapple
•One third of a small watermelon (don’t bother deseeding)
•1 large cucumber
•1 small handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
•A pinch of sea salt
•A large pinch of chaat masala mix or black salt (optional)

Do It
In a pestle and mortar or a food processor, blend together the chillies, coconut and cumin seeds (if you’re using desiccated coconut, add 2tbsp of the coconut milk to make a thick paste). This is best done in advance and can be left overnight in the fridge to develop zing.

Cut the carrots, potatoes, courgette, asparagus and plantains into 2.5cm pieces. Heat the water in a large pan and add the turmeric, salt, carrots and potatoes. Bring to a steady boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and pop a lid on the pan. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the courgettes and plantains and cook for 10 minutes more, keeping the lid on.

Add the coconut paste to the curry with the coconut milk or yogurt and stir carefully to combine. Cook uncovered for 8-10 mins on a gentle simmer. Check that the carrots and potatoes are tender, then add the asparagus and mangetout and remove the pan from the heat. Cover, set aside for a few minutes.

Jane and I in the Yoga Retreat, Tamil Nadu

Jane and I in the Yoga Retreat, Tamil Nadu

Serve

Really simply, with steamed rice.  Keralans love their rice!  A crunchy salad is great as a side, exotic fruits work well here with Aviyal.  This is how they served it in the Yoga Ashram (where the food was excellent).

Foodie Fact

Coconuts are wonderfully healthy, containing high levels of Lauric Acid which is anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacteria.  They also have the highest level of electrolytes known to man, making them perfect when exercising or when dehydrated.  In some parts of the world it is even used intravenously for the purpose of re-hydration.  Coconut can boost our metabolism and make our skin shine.

Keralan sunset

A Keralan sunset, Kannur

Categories: Curries, Healthy Eating, Peace and Parsnips, Recipes, Salads, Summer, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sweet Potato and Spinach Thoran (Keralan Stir Fry)

Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Thoran

Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Thoran

Do not be put off by the long list of ingredients, this is Indian cooking in a flash! Thoran is like a South Indian stir fry, very quick to get together and whip up.  Its one of those dishes that easily slots into the ‘staples’ category of your recipe repertoire.   Small efforts are rewarded with massive and delightful flavours.  Definitely our way of doing things.

The ingredients for this have been adapted to Wales, a subtle change from steaming, tropical Kerala.  I’ve still gone for some non-native ingredients, pepper and sweet potato, but swede and parsnips just don’t seem to fit the bill (although I did use them for a soup – coming soon……)

Thoran is what the Indians would call a ‘dry’ side dish, normally served with a saucy curry (like Sambar) and rice, some coconut chutney would finish things off like a tropical Keralan dream.  Thoran is cooked especially well in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and this part of the world is a vegans heaven.  There are very few dishes which are reliant on ghee (clarified butter) that dominates the cooking of North India.  In the south its all about the coconut and sometimes, if you’re lucky, the odd cashew.  The food is lighter and seems fresher, without the reliance on uber rich, spicy sauces (which I might add are extremely delicious).

Thoran is an essential part of a Sadya, which is basically a very elaborate South Indian Thali, normally served on a banana leaf (if you’re in the right joint) at festival times.  Sadya showcases the depth and diversity of Indian cuisine, the way for centuries it has been designed and modified to tantalise all of the tastebuds and senses.  Sadya will have dry curries, saucy curries, fluffy rice, crispy papads (poppadoms), sour chutneys, creamy/ herb based chutneys, smokey chutneys, banana chips, spicy pickles and normally a tamarind based soup (Rasam) to aid digestion of all of this.  In fact, a full on Sadhya served at a big festival can consist of around 28 dishes (some even go up to 60!)  I would have to say that to get the most flavour from your Keralan food, it has to be eaten with (well washed) hands.  Roll up your sleeves and dive in.  A Sadya sounds like an elaborate feast but its actually quite a normal meal, inexpensive and versions of it are served in modest restaurants all over Kerala.  I think we normally paid around one pound for an all you can eat Sadya.  Yes ONE POUND for all that deliciousness!  Welcome to India!  The dishes all come out in a specific order and a nice gentleman will come over and just keep spooning things onto your welcoming leaf.  It is quite a complicated process, but when you’re the recipient, you just scoop away and smile.

Trying to help, learning loads.....

Trying to help, learning loads…..

I have just got back from the Mother land and while I was there stayed in some amazing homestays.  I spent the first six weeks travelling from Delhi to Kerala with my Dad (see out blog ‘The Jalebi Express‘) and then we met Jane in Delhi and Jane and I travelled the Himalayas and spent time with the Tibetans up in Mcleod Ganj. Homestays are not normal in India, they vary greatly, some are just like hotels although many hotels in India can soon become something like a homestay.  If you hang around for a while, you are bound to get to know all the people that work there.  More so than in other countries.  Even in the heart of Delhi, I now know all the people who work in my favourite hotels, restaurants, shops and chai stands.

Whilst travelling around the spectacular North of Kerala we stayed at Varnam Homestay, just outside Wayanad National Park.  There, I had the pleasure of cooking with Beena (our host) and her amazing team of lady helpers.  Wayanad is tucked away in the northern tip of Kerala and is a stunning area, the flora and fauna are dense and spectacular; wild elephants and tigers roam the land and the people are gentle and very hospitable.  The way of life hardly wavers above a gentle amble.  Beena and Varghese our gracious hosts were amazing and could not have made Dad and I more welcome.  When I mentioned my passion for food and cooking they immediately roped me in to helping out with the next days lunch and dinner prep.  I learnt so much and was amazed to see their chopping skills.  You pull a plastic sheath over your index finger and use it as a mid-air chopping board.  The knives are sharp and occasionally you end up cutting through the flimsy guard.  Once the blood is stemmed, you carry on with a new colourful finger guard.  This of course never happens to the ladies.

The Varnam ladies get busy

The Varnam ladies get busy

We prepared many dishes, but the Plantain Thoran was one of the highlights, cooked over a wood flame stove with minimal fuss.  We also made a Keralan classic sauce, with highly roasted coconut and ginger as a base.   A very unique flavour and something I will be cooking very soon (I forgot the name, it may be called Inchi Curry – see here for a recipe).  Once i find a good supply of coconuts up here, our kitchen is heading towards Kerala again.

Varnam Homestay was set in some impressive farmland and forests.  The little huts are raised on stilts to ensure the farmers have somewhere to go when a tiger wanders by

Varnam Homestay is set in some impressive farmland and forests. The little huts are raised on stilts to ensure the farmers have somewhere to go when a tiger wanders by

Varnam Homestay is set in acres of its own land and we were served only ingredients that grew on their land, that included the rice, coffee, all the sensational fruits and vegetables and even milk (they had a few cows roaming behind the kitchen).  The family were so friendly and warm, Dad and I stayed an extra two days, mainly exploring the locals hills and testing out the hammocks for comfort and durability.  They all seemed to work well.  We also saw a tigers footprint, which looked fresh, but I am no expert.  It sounds like I’m belittling the whole experience but the food was a highlight and to be served only homegrown, was a rare and highly tasty treat.  Another wonderful aspect was the other guests, not something you can say in every hotel. They were such a good bunch from all around the world, we ate together on a large table and during the delicious meals,  very quickly became friends.  I think eating is the best way to meet new people, we all relax over a good curry!

Varnam's Plantain Thoran

Varnam’s Plantain Thoran

Indian food is mind boggling at times and can be complex, but that’s why I like Thoran, its cheap and quick.  The other wonderful thing about a dish like Thoran is it is there to use up any seasonal produce.  In Kerala for example plantains are a regular ingredient, as well as bitter gourd, yucca, yardlong beans, giant arums, red cheera and several different types of flowers.  Even banana flowers make a mean Thoran.  In Britain, you can opt for potato, green beans, carrots, I’d even go for asparagus.

Thoran is quick to cook and so easy to get together

Thoran is quick to cook and so easy to get together

The Bits – For 4 (as a side dish)
2 tbs coconut oil
400g sweet potato – or 1 big one (peeled)
1 onion (peeled)
1 large red pepper (deseeded)
(all finely diced)
4 large handfuls spinach leaves
1 teas mustard seeds
1 teas cumin seeds
1 handful curry leaves
2 dried chillies (cut down the middle lengthways)
2 tbs grated ginger
1 tbs turmeric
75ml water

Finish with……
1 massive handful grated fresh coconut (or desiccated coconut will do)
1 large chilli (finely sliced)
1 handful fresh coriander (finely chopped)

Do It

Thoran cooks quickly, so best have all your ingredients to hand and prepared.  Stay with the pan for most of the cooking time, stirring gently with a non-metal spoon or spatula.  I love this kind of cooking, its exciting!

In a large, heavy frying pan, preferably with a chunky bottom, warm your coco oil on high heat.  Add the dried chillies, mustard seeds, when the seeds pop a little add the curry leaves.  Fry for a minute and then add your sweet potato, onion and peppers, stir.  After a couple of minutes, add the ginger and turmeric and a little water if things begin to stick to the bottom.  Fry for a couple of minutes and then scatter the spinach on top and cover the pan with a lid.  Lower the heat a touch, leave to cook for five minutes.

Check that the sweet potato is softened, then stir in the grated coconut, fresh coriander and chillies.  Reserving a little of these for a final flourish.

Serve 

Spoon into a preferably warm and striking serving dish and sprinkle on your ‘final flourish’ ingredients.  Munch with relish and dream  of swaying palms and endless rivers of mango juice.  Check out those vibrant flavours!!

Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Thoran

Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Thoran

Foodie Fact

Sweet potato is packed with beta-carotenes.  In fact it is one of natures best sources of Vitamin A.  They also boast plenty of vitamin C.  Although SP’s are a starchy root veg, they actually help to maintain and regulated our blood sugar levels, mainly due to their high levels of dietary fibre.

One of the local residents, who was friendlier than he looked

One of the local residents, who was friendlier than he looked

 

Categories: Curries, Healthy Eating, Recipes, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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