6 days I have been in India, surviving general class I journeyed by train from Cochin to Goa bodies pressed against each other invading personal space in a way that could only considered invasive, but for a unspoken etiquete that abounds in this world outside our norm.
In Goa as the sun came up I found my brother and friends practicing yoga on the rooftop of Blue Fin a lovely guesthouse sitting on the rocks of the most northern stretch of Arambol beach. This tourist paradise where revellers and aspiring yogi’s flock I spent 3 days watching, eating and acclimatising for the two month journey ahead.
It was Anand a beautiful soul from Nepal whose food nourished me during this time, much of my time spent at his restaurant, White Castle where a chutney spicy, nutty, herbaceous “SPICY SAUCE” piqued my attention made by frying shallots, tomatoes and chillies for heat before blending with coriander, mint and roasted sesame seeds. It is a recipe I will try and emulate on my return!!
Saying goodbye to my brother and friends it is time for my journey to truly begin onwards towards Mumbai where I will be taken in by Tejas Nair where every morning Madhavi the families maid will feed me the softest, fluffiest idli with coconut chutney every morning and where I will meet Sandeep Sreedharen learning about the cuisine of Northern Kerala and collaborating on a special dinner.
First stop Mapusa dropped 2 hours early opposite the taxi stand where my overnight sleeper bus will carry me to Mumbai. Wandering the local markets, full of radishes, eggplants, bitter melon, kohlrabi and many vegetables I didn’t recognize, however it was a man selling kokum that drew my attention, a giant basket of the freshest stuff I have ever seen. A member of the mangosteen family it’s skin is salted and dried before being sold, it’s salty sourness lending it’s distinct flavour to dishes the entire Koncan Coast from south of Maharashtra all the way to Kerala.
The bus ride that night was horrendous, tossed around like paint in a mixer I lay on the top bunk of my single sleeper, our bus lurching around each corner I am thrown towards the floor only my tense grip on railings keeping me in place, after which tired and worn I arrive in Mumbai.
As the waking metropolis of Mumbai rises from it’s slumber the city breathes to life, people moving in chaotic fashion towards their days work, I am jumped upon by the first rickshaw driver to see me “Thakur Village please” and we’re off towards Tejas’s family home where I am to stay for the next few days.
In the afternoon I finally meet Sandeep Sreedharen and I must thank Dhanya Samuel (of the blog the spice adventuress) for the introduction. We spent the afternoon excitedly talking of food and culture. He teaches me two recipes, first the refreshingly savoury drink kokum khadi made from the fresh kokum I’d bought in the market, a coconut based drink is a mixture salty, sour with a delightful freshness of coriander, surprisingly a hint of garlic actually works.
The second dish and the recipe of which I will now give you is puli mulaguwhere I learn that sometimes you don’t want to roast or caramelise your ingredients to get a distinct fragrance to your gravy.
The following recipes are Sandeep Sreedharen's of blog Esca Brahma, I have transcribed the recipes as I saw them made.
PULI MULAGU - PRAWN AND TAMARIND CURRY Serves 4
This recipe is all about feel and using your hands, ideally you would also cook it in a earthen ceramic pot which imparts a depth of flavour and homeliness to the dish, if you have any questions please ask.
4dstp Kashmiri chilli powder
2/3 dstp Cumin seed freshly ground in mortar and pestle
8 small green chillies cut diagonal lengthwise
Handful of dried tamarind
2 1/2 inch piece ginger
4 shallots peeled and cut into quarters
3 cloves garlic peeled and cut in half
500g shrimps or prawns shelled and de-veined
50g Coconut oil
Drop tamarind into 400ml of boiled water and leave to rest.
Using a mortar and pestle hit your piece of ginger forcefully once and add to medium bowl, do the same with the garlic but give it slightly gentler tap to bruise it without breaking into pieces.
Add to bowl Kashmiri chilli powder, ground cumin, green chillies, and shallots. With your hands scrunch the ingredients together mixing the ingredients together as well as roughly damaging them to help the aromatics and oils release.
In earthenware pot or the pot you have at home empty the contents of the bowl. Over the pot pour into your hand the soaked tamarind, your aim is to catch the fibrous strands of the pods in your hand while working the tamarind in your hand to release the pulp of it’s fruit. Repeat this process by pouring over your hand another 200ml of room temperature water again working the tamarind to release the pulp, repeat again with another 200ml of water you should now be left with mainly the husk of the tamarind you can discard.
Bring your soupy spice mixture to the simmer and cook for 10 minutes, add your shrimps or prawns, if using shrimps bring it back to a simmer before turning off and leaving a lid on for 20 minutes to finish cooking and infuse the flavours. If using prawns bring to a simmer and cook for 1-2 minutes until the prawns are half done before covering and sitting for 20 minutes to finish cooking.
To serve add coconut oil and season with salt to taste before serving with rice.
KOKUM KHADI – Serves 3
I had just read about this drink while reading Eating India the inspiring book by Chit Rita Banerji which follows her travels through India exploring each state and it’s myriad of cuisines an the history that has shaped them.
Again this recipe from Sandeep is all about feel and taste, you will need to balance the flavours yourself by tasting along the way.
300ml Coconut milk
Handful kokum (wet style, they look like leathery skins)
2 green chillies cut lengthwise
1 clove garlic peeled and squashed with a knife
Small amount coriander leaves chopped.
Salt to taste
In bowl pour coconut milk, kokum, green chillies, garlic and a little of the water, mix the mixture together with your hand mashing the ingredients together to release the flavour. Add chopped coriander.
Taste and check to see if it needs more sour (add kokum), salt, water to thin out the coconut milk and reduce the richness. Continue to mash the ingredients together with your hands.
Once your drink is well balanced and to you’re liking mix two good handfuls of ice through to chill and strain into cups of your choice.
The resulting drink should be creamy without being to rich, sour and salty with hints of garlic and chilli, the coriander should give it a freshness that cuts through all of those flavours.