The memory of eating this pudding came suddenly one afternoon when I was preparing lunch for Ali. For some reason the smell of carrots cooking down reminded me of this pudding. The memory that came rushing was sitting in the back of the car peeping out of the window on a Friday morning with my father driving the car to Abu Dhabi. My mothers’ eldest brother stayed and we would drive down to see them. I vividly remember how the highway was deserted and billboards would appear on the horizon about every five minutes and I would slowly grow in height as the car grew nearer. Some months, we would drive down every other weekend. The advertisements weren’t changed too often back then and I would make a mental note of what was the last hoarding that stood at the outskirts of Abu Dhabi which meant the city wasn’t too far away. This is a pudding my aunt used to make. I was never fond of Payasams. Ammayi was a pioneer when it came to making non-traditional desserts. Crème caramel, brightly colored Agar Jelly Pudding and cool glasses of Falooda were a few of the desserts she made 25 years ago. On that day in my kitchen, I wanted to try my hand at making this Pudding. I didn’t even know what was in it and I called my cousin inquiring about the sweet orange colored pulp with custard on top. She instantly knew I was talking about her Pumpkin and Carrot Pudding.
The twentieth day of Ramadan. Today marks three years since my paternal grandmother left us. In her loving memory, today I want to share her recipe for Pazham Pori. This is essentially a snack made right after a long siesta and is served alongside piping cups of tea. She was very fond of bananas and she always tried to convince me to have a couple of Cheru Pazham or baby bananas immediately after lunch when we visited her for the summer. Plantains were never out of stock in her kitchen. When visitors would come unannounced as was the norm in her time, in all probability she would have the help make a plate of these. Ripe plantains are slivered and dipped in a batter, which I later learnt, was her original recipe. I didn’t care too much for them till I started tasting versions made in other households. I still remember waiting for Umma to finish frying them so I could help myself to the bowl of leftover batter. It tasted blissfully similar to cake.
Nishana is one of the many wonderful people I have met after being married. Our husbands are technically uncle and nephew in relation but only a few years apart in age. We all spoke together on a conference call after our engagement when she was expecting their first child. I visited her home in Kerala after she had her baby and then they visited us in Abu Dhabi when they were flying back to United Kingdom. That was the beginning of innumerable number of hours spent on the telephone. A decade later, we have shared recipes, travel lists, pregnancy and labor stories’, and countless laughs. The number of times we have met in person can actually be counted on one hand. Ever since we’ve both had children, the number of chats have lessened too. Yet, our conversations, filled with warmth and quite laughter, flow effortlessly even when we haven’t spoken for months. When we do talk, it always ends with inviting each other to holiday at their part of the world. We did so late last year and that is when she made this incredible Chicken Fry.
I fall into the category of Malayalees that would be thrilled at the sight of steaming hot Vellappam for breakfast. Or dinner. Mind you, they’re best eaten if they’re made by mom so they are magically replenished and you can tuck into them leisurely. With tiny variations in ingredients according to the region, the batter is essentially rice and coconut ground together and allowed to ferment overnight. Its lacy edges and pillowy soft centers are characteristic features of these hoppers that are popular in the south of India and Sri Lanka. It is made in an Appam Chatty which is pretty similar to a wok. Ladlefuls of batter are poured into the heated pan and then swirled by the handles to spread where it rests against the sides to crisp and brown. The residual batter trickles to the centre where it is would be cooked through from the steam of the covered pan. One of the food resolutions I made for the new year is to tackle my list of food fears. This list has recipes that I have tried myself and they have fallen flat in either flavor or because of my imperfect technique. I have re-read these recipes and the thought of failing again and discarding the failed product puts me off. And sitting right on top of this list was Vellappam.
During the early years of my marriage when we used to live with my husbands’ parents, these Curry Puffs were was a recipe I earned brownie points with. Prior to my arrival, these were not made at home. For me these curry Puffs were a staple for Iftar, growing up, especially when we had cousins over. For this reason, these were one of the first recipes I could make from scratch independently. Cubed chicken is marinated briefly with spices and a dash of lemon and cooked and shredded. Onions are caramelized alongside garlic and ginger paste, chillies for heat and a little more spices are added before the chicken is mixed in for the filling. It has all the ingredients you would use in a good chicken curry except for whole tomatoes to keep the filling dry. With the notion of the table has to be filled with favourites when entertaining for Iftar, these would almost always by my contribution.
Today has been a whole year since Vellima left this world. Truth be told, we didn’t share a close bond. She came to live with us in Dubai 15 years ago right after I turned 15. She had a very strong personality and was a stickler for routines. The word clockwork could have been coined just for her. She always spoke her mind and was not one to sugar coat her words. And today when I think of her, I admire her. And for someone I haven’t seen preparing meals, a few of her recipes have a firm place in my list of favorites. Today I am sharing her recipe for Chemeen Vada.
Ramadan Kareem! My blog is the busiest at this time of the year and it has become a ritual of sorts picking and planning on what to share with you. This year, I started looking into recipes from my parents’ time. A few of them were dishes Umma made only during Ramadan too. With all the recipes out there, I was convinced that there would be some variation of this drink on the internet. It is part of planning process to see how many variations of the recipe are available and only pick to publish those recipes that aren’t too common to avoid adding more to the mainstream. So imagine my surprise when I found no recipe even remotely similar to this. I did a quick pop quiz with the above photograph too with the grand prize of a sinfully chocolate cake freshly baked. Alright, I did make it difficult and gave the bare minimum clues. I thought given the few ingredients seen, I would have at least one right guess. The guesses bordered on the dessert spectrum including sago pearl, rice and a rather ambitious coconut rose creme brûlée. Nothing remotely traditional except for one lovely lady who suggested a beverage given to increase lactation in new mums. If you’ve drunk that, I’m wincing with you too.
Isn’t this what you would call a showstopper? There’s nothing that can prematurely seize conversations giving way to a buzz of excitement when a whole bird is placed right in the centre of the table. The chatter resumes but it would all be in awe and appreciation for the bird that has arrived. Here she lies in crimson colored gravy that emanates the spices you are about to experience. And if it looks like a days’ worth of labour, the merit would have come your way even before she has been carved. Kozhi Nirachathu is one of the prized recipes of Moplah cuisine. A light onion masala and hardboiled eggs are stuffed into a whole chicken which is then fried and baked alongside a caramelised onion gravy.
After having parked right outside Azad Hotel, I followed my husband out into the bustling streets of Trivandrum. “I bet you haven’t had this before.” A polycarbonate sheet fogged up and I watched intently at the smoking iron plate sizzling furiously.. The man worked his way through a pile of ingredients, pounding at them with iron spatulas producing deafening clangs. He frees up a hand and cracks a couple of eggs a little away from the Turmeric stained shreds I still couldn’t identify. He quickly scrambles it and begins combining it with the rest of the ingredients. A few minutes later he scoops it into foil container and hands it over a man who has been watching this spectacle as long as I have. My husband comes with two containers and we are driving back home.
The blessed month of Ramadan has is nearing to an end. It is a month of restraint, reflection and submission for one’s heart and soul. Being visited by the altering weather flu, coupled with a severe sprains, my wavering health had my blog going more quiet than usual. I started fasting at a young age.