Sunday, November 8, 2009
My two weeks away from home meant that I did no cooking at all. Now I am back, I still haven't got back into my routine like it used to be before the vacation happened. I cook, and we eat but I haven't been taking pictures to blog about it all.
There a lot of little things (nothing earth shaking, or a matter of life and death) that just need to be done first. I shall do my best to keep posting here regularly and answering mail, but it looks like it is going to take me a little bit longer to get back to visiting your blogs.
Now onto the matter of this post. As I have mentioned many times before, I come from coconut country. This definitely one way to describe my home state, considering one can see coconut trees almost everywhere one goes in Kerala. So naturally coconut tends to be omnipresent in our cooking.
Every Keralite (a person belonging to the south Indian state of Kerala) worth his salt, in those days, would have a few coconut trees (if not a whole grove) around his house and having to buy a coconut would probably be classified as one of the worst things that could happen to a person.
No, I am not joking. I remember my mother-in-law being quite upset that we (who lived in Mumbai first, and Goa later) had to buy coconuts from the market while they got theirs from the backyard!
My maternal grandfather was equally passionate about the coconut trees (and banana plants) in his back yard . He used to personally tend to the coconut trees ensuring excellent coconut yield, until he was in his mid-80s.
Now things have changed a bit, at least in the cities, with many people living in high-rise apartments here, growing one's own coconut trees is an impossibility. I mean, who can grow a coconut tree on the 3rd floor? If it ever does happen that this (growing coconuts on the 3rd floor!) becomes possible, I can bet you that it would be a Keralite who discovers how this could be done!
Even today, anyone in Kerala who has a little bit of soil within the walls of his compound is bound to have at least 2 coconut trees growing there!
One might then wonder what people did with all the coconuts they got from their trees, apart from cooking with them.
Well, some would be given as offerings in the temples, some given away to neighbours and friends or occasionally sold to anyone who came asking to buy coconuts, while many people used the more mature coconuts for extracting fresh and pure coconut oil.
And if you still had coconuts which had crossed the stage where you could cook with it but not quite dried out (yes, there are different stages of coconut maturity, each good for different dishes), you sometimes made thengaipodi/ chammandhipodi.
As an aside, when coconuts are harvested they are stored as they are and not de-husked. This ensures they keep longer. Even when they are de-husked, a small conical portion of the husk is left over the "eyes" of the coconut to ensure they don't go bad.
"Thengai" means coconut and "podi" means powder. Thengaipodi is another Palakkad Iyer preparation, this time borrowed from Kerala where it is known as "Chammandhipodi" (this means chutney powder). A lot of chammandhi podi recipes include shallots and some have garlic as well, but a typical thangaipodi will not have either.
You will find a variety of thengaipodi recipes in cookbooks and on the internet. This is how I make mine. As an improvisation, I sometimes add curry leaves (if I have them in excess, along with the red chillies) but this is not done traditionally.
1 1/2 cups fresh grated coconut
3 tbsp split black gram lentils (urad dal)
4 to 5 dried red chillies (increase or decrease to suit taste)
small bit (about size of a grape) of tamarind
1/4 tsp asafetida powder
salt to taste
1 tsp oil
Put the coconut into a wok/ pan and toast over low to medium heat, stirring frequently, till the coconut is quite brown. Take care to see it doesn't burn.
Just before the coconut has browned and is ready to take off the fire, add the red chillies. Ensure the chillies don't darken or burn while sautéing. Keep aside.
In the same wok/ pan, heat the 1 tsp of oil. Add the lentils and sauté till golden brown in colour. Add the asafetida powder, stir a couple of times and take the pan off the heat. Cool to room temperature.
Put the toasted coconut, red chillies, browned lentils and asafetida powder, salt and tamarind into the jar of your mixer/ grinder/ blender and grind to a slightly coarse powder. When done, the coconut will become finer with a slightly gritty feel from the lentils.
Bottle and store at room temperature (will keep for a few days) but refrigerate if keeping for longer.
Serve with warm rice and ghee (mix a couple of spoons with rice and ghee) or with yogurt and rice (this is my absolute favourite way of eating this chutney powder). You can also serve it alongside idlis or dosas, mixed with a little oil, instead of milagaipodi.