The Kitchen Treasure Hunt, an event announced by Dibs of Chitra Amma’s Kitchen, hopes to have food bloggers share with others, all those unusual or indispensable treasures they have in their kitchens.
I have a few accessories/ gadgets in my kitchen that I truly treasure. Two examples are my lemon squeezer (I hate squeezing lemons) and my kitchen tongs which I use to handle hot utensils without handles.
I would like to share here six of them which are very valuable to me for various reasons. They are not unusual as you can probably find them in many south Indian kitchens.
If I had been back at Cochin, I would have a treasure chest full of stuff to share, many of them used by my mother-in-law in a time where food was cooked, in large quantities, on a traditional firewood burning stove and when refrigerators and other modern appliances (which we take for granted now) were unheard of.
This one is called an “Appakaaral” and similar to the aebleskiver pan.
We use the Appakaaral to make “Neiyappam” which are sweet small fried dumplings.
To make them, the appakaaral is placed on medium heat, and each hollow is half filled with ghee (or a mixture of ghee and sesame seed oil). Once the ghee is hot, a jaggery sweetened rice batter is poured into each hollow to till three quarter full and fried till dark brown.
This is pan is also used to make savoury dumplings called “Paniyaram/ Uppappam”.
This particular Appakaaral was given to me by my mother-in-law and belonged to her mother-in-law (my husband’s paternal grandmother). In fact, you can see his grandfather’s initials (in Malayalam – A.G. Ra) etched into the side, even though the pan belonged to his grandmother! Not surprising in a male dominated society of the early 1900s.
Made of bell metal, it weighs a ton (I’m exaggerating but it does weigh 2 kg). This ensures that my Neiyappam never sticks to the pan and always turns out well. There are lighter and even non-stick versions available today. But I will never exchange this one for one of them.
This wooden implement is a “Mathu” or a butter churner. I inherited this from my mother and though I very rarely use it, I wouldn’t part with it.
Traditionally, this mathu would be a part of an assembly of two pieces of thick cord, a foot apart one above the other, which were hooked to the wall close to the floor. The pot/ vessel (bell metal/ ceramic) of yogurt (thayir/ curd) would be placed on the floor with the churner head in the yogurt and the handle through both loops. A second piece of cord would be wound around the churner handle a few times, such that the wound part is between the two loops.
The free ends of the wound cord would be pulled taut to ensure that the churner is upright and doesn’t fall. The ends would then be pulled towards oneself alternately causing the churner to move in a clockwise and then anti-clockwise motion continuously, till the butter rises up to the top.
The butter would be stored in a bowl of water. This butter would keep for 2 to 3 days provided the water in which it is stored is changed everyday. Remember, this was before refrigeration existed. Excess butter would be converted to ghee (clarified/ browned butter).
Do check out this link to see a visual representation of what I have just described. This picture also is a slightly different version of churning butter based on the same principle.
This is my brass mortar and pestle and I have had it since I got married. This is what I use to crush my spices especially cardamom.
Here is my brass dough press which we call a “Nazhi”, that my mother gave me. We use this to press out dough to make deep-fried savoury crunchies like thenkozhal, muthusaram, pokkuvadam, omappodi, etc and also to make certain sun-dried spiced rice munchies (which are deep-fried like pappads and very tasty) called “Karuvadam”.
It comes with different plates which are used depending on which dough is being pressed out. The required plate is placed at the bottom of the cylinder, the dough put into it, and the lid is screwed on. Then the lever on the top is turned clockwise, pushing the dough out into the hot oil.
And this beautiful brass vessel is an “Uruli”. Today, Urulis are very much in demand to lend living rooms or hotel foyers an ethnic feel with flowers or candles floating in them.
However, they are cooking utensils. They are perfect for those Indian recipes that call for thick heavy bottomed vessels to make sweets involving slow cooking of sugar/ jaggery syrups over medium heat, like neipayasam, mysorepak and burfi.
Urulis are also great for everyday cooking, except they’re heavy and difficult to cook with on the modern gas stove. A lot of the cooking for traditional wedding feasts is still done in Urulis.
Update (8th December, 2008):
I just realised after the reading the comments, that I should point out that the Uruli in this picture is is too small to cook in. It just looks big in my picture.
The bigger Urulis, which I have cooked in, were just too heavy for us to bring with us to Goa. We were also worried that they would get damaged during the move.
And finally, here is my “Kalchatti”. This translates as stone (kal) cooking pot (chatti). I was lucky to find this particular one at the local market on a visit to Palakkad, two years ago. A Kalchatti is carved out of a single piece of soapstone which is a softer variety of stone. This type of stone pot has to be initially seasoned repeatedly, by pouring warm “kanji” (starchy water from cooking rice) in to it. If the pot is used to cook without the seasoning process, it is very likely break on the stove.
New Kalchattis are light grey in colour but become darker and smoother with use.
Traditonal south Indian preparations of vegetables in gravy known as “Kootan” like sambhar, rasam, avial, etc taste extra special (I would say heavenly) when cooked in a Kalchatti. I do not know why or the chemistry behind this, but I can assure it is true. In fact, it was memories of eating food cooked by my grandmother in similar stone pots that had me searching for and buying this one!
So this post goes to Dibs' Kitchen Treasure Hunt.