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In early September, I joined my husband as he went back to his village in Palakkad, Kerala, after a ten-year hiatus. He had grown up in Palakkad in a large joint family with his grandmother, mother, brother, and sisters along with several uncles, aunts, and cousins, with about twenty-five family members under one roof. His grandmother’s home looked exactly as it did over fifty years ago. The kitchen had seen a makeover, but if the walls could speak, they would tell stories of the people who lived there—sons, daughters, cousins, grandchildren, marriages, births and deaths, celebrations and feasts all held under the watchful eye of his grandmother, the benevolent family matriarch. Her integrity and strength were the foundation on which this home had been built and sustained.
The village consisted of some 100 plus row houses with clay tile roofs arrayed on the sides of a single road. The library was situated across the road from his ancestral home; the village pond was sure to fill up during the monsoons, and there were two temples at walking distance. My husband had spent many hours in that small library, reading all that he could lay hands on.
As we were walking to his aunt’s house, a man with a toothless, smiling face walked towards us. He looked like he had jumped out of the pages of R.K Narayan’s Malgudi Days. This tall thin man with thick glasses had a large man bun right on top of his conical head. His bare chest was disproportionate to his large tummy, and a white dhoti was tied around his small waist. “This is Ramu,” my husband said, a.k.a. “Kozhimuttai Ramu” as he was affectionately called by everyone in the village. “Kozhimuttai” literally translates into a hen’s egg. “Without him, I wouldn’t have passed my GRE exams and made it to America,” my husband reminiscences. “He was the head of the library, and he had the power to either let me in or keep me out—from Western novels to Wilbur Smith, from Perry Masons and Robert Ludlums to stacks of Reader’s Digests, encyclopedias and more, it was he who gave me the access.” Thank You Mr. Ramu for helping this man dream big, even as he grew up in this small village, I thought to myself.
Then there was Nallepilly Ayappan, who lived an hour away. He was a homeopathic doctor who treated children with issues from malnutrition to manic depression. He took time to share his extensive library of books and was full of interesting insights that made an impact on a teenager, eager for a sense of direction. His home had served as a quiet getaway. As I stood in Ayyappan’s backyard looking at the papaya and jackfruit trees, hibiscus, and pumpkin trails, he told me, “write about the panikoorka plants, they have so much healing power.”
So, this Thanksgiving, who are the Ramus and Ayyappans that have impacted your life in myriad ways? Who would you want to call or write and say two special words—Yours Thankfully!
As you think about who you plan to reach out to, here are some interesting recipes with papayas, jackfruit, and pumpkin for your Thanksgiving meal.
Ripe Papaya, Avocado, Cherry
Tomato Salad Ingredients
1 medium ripe papaya seeded and cubed
1 avocado peeled, seeded and cubed
10 yellow cherry tomatoes halved
1 Persian cucumber sliced
1 green chill minced
1 teaspoon ginger
1 lime juice
1 teaspoon chaat masala powder
Salt and black pepper to taste
Whisk the ingredients in the dressing together and reserve it in a small bowl. Place the papaya cubes, tomatoes, avocado, chili, and cucumber in a large serving bowl and refrigerate it. Right before serving, mix in the dressing, and adjust the seasonings to taste.
Jackfruit and Pumpkin Chili
This is an interesting recipe that requires a good quality root beer. This is a recipe that meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans can enjoy.
1 can green jackfruit, drained, washed
½ can pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon oil
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large red onion minced
1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
3 tomatoes chopped fine
2 green chilies minced
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon cayenne
Salt to taste
1 cup root beer
¼ cup water
Garnish: Cilantro chopped and sour cream (optional for vegans)
Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the clove, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, and bay leaf. Add ginger-garlic paste and minced onion and sauté till brown. Then add the tomatoes, green chili, turmeric, garam masala powder, coriander powder, and salt to taste. Add the jackfruit and cook for 2-3 minutes with a little water. Once the jackfruit is soft and cooked, add the root beer and pumpkin puree and let it stew for another 10 minutes on low heat. Check and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream.
Spicy Papaya, Pineapple Sangria
This is a great drink for the early afternoon before the Thanksgiving meal. The serrano can make it too spicy if you leave it for too long. If you can find edible dry hibiscus flower you can cook it in simple syrup and add it to the sangria. It gives it a sweet flower taste.
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 bottle white wine (like Riesling)
1 ripe papaya chopped
1 cup ripe pineapple chopped
1 serrano chili slit
Basil leaves for garnish
Heat the sugar and water and make it into a simple syrup. Place the chopped papaya and pineapple in a large serving pitcher. Add the white wine and simple syrup and mix. Add the serrano chili and refrigerate for a few hours. Remove the serrano in an hour if you don’t want it spicy. It gets spicier as you steep it longer. Serve cold with ice cubes and basil leaves.
Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team-building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area.
This article was first published in November 2017.