My grand mom was a great story teller. She would narrate her childhood stories under the moonlight, on hot summer evenings in Chennai. Along with the stories, she fed us balls of rice mixed with molakuttal (vegetable stew with fresh coconut), appalam and pickle. This was the highlight of the evening for my brother, our neighborhood kids, and I. Gobbling it up quickly, we would eagerly wait for more stories.
I learnt from my grandmother that my community had migrated from the state of Tamil Nadu to Kerala, and settled in an area called Palakkad, and its surrounding villages. My ancestors had moved there upon the invitation of the rulers of Travancore, to teach Vedic scriptures and to take care of the temples.
Eventually they became land owners, restaurateurs and farmers. They brought with them a rich heritage and culinary skills. They assimilated and integrated themselves in their new land, following a ritualistic life, with great importance given to spirituality, education and learning. Their language was a blend of Tamil, Malayalam and Sanskrit. It represented their past mixed in with their present.
The Giving Tree
Life was simple and self sufficient for them back then. My parents grew up surrounded by coconut palms and paddy fields. The vegetables were from their own backyard: fruits from their groves, rice from their fields, and milk from their cows. Coconuts were in abundance, and my grand mom would always tell us “Give unconditionally, like a coconut tree, whose every part is used and serves a useful purpose.”
Just like the language, the food became an amalgamation of known and honed culinary knowledge, which merged into the existing local cuisine and ingredients. Palakkad cuisine is unique and different. It is the soul food of Palakkad Iyers all over the world.
Origins of Palakkad Cuisine
Palakkad cuisine has its origins in Ayurveda. It was originally conceived as a sattvic vegetarian diet, pure and devoid of onions and garlic, something quite hard for us to imagine in this day and age. Sattvic foods have fresh vegetables, sprouts, nuts, milk, and fruits. They are easy to digest, give nourishment and energize the mind and body.
As time went by, many Palakkad Iyers moved to Bombay and other states and cities across India, as well as globally. The cuisine has evolved from its basic sattvic roots.
But no matter where we are, Palakkad Iyers share the same love for our molakuttal, avial (vegetables in a yogurt and fresh coconut stew), puli inji (tamarind and ginger sauce), thayir pachadi (spiced yogurt with vegetables), mampazha pulisseri (ripe mangoes in a warm yogurt and coconut sauce), and mezhukku peratti (stir fried raw plantains with coconut and green chillies).
Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the SF Bay Area. She also blogs about cooking at rocketbites.com
(Beans, yam, chinese potatoes, peas, carrots and soy beans in a coconut and cumin stew)
This recipe is a vegetable version.
There is another version made with leafy green vegetables like spinach,drumstick leaves and cabbage.
½ cup toor dal (split red gram)
3 cups vegetables (yam, winter melon, drumsticks, beans, carrots,
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ cup grated fresh coconut
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal (split black gram)
Few curry leaves
Wash and cook the toor dal with water in a pressure cooker for approximately three whistles. Chop the vegetables into cubes and cook them with turmeric, salt, cayenne in a cup of water.
Grind fresh coconut with cumin to a smooth paste with one tablespoon of water. Add the cooked toor dal and coconut mixture to the cooked vegetables and ½ cup of water. Let it come to a boil on low heat. Add the curry leaves.
Heat the oil in a small pan and add the mustard seeds. Let it splutter and then add the urad dal. Gently mix till the urad dal is golden in color and transfer it to the stew mixture. Check the salt to taste. Serve hot with rice and pickle.