Banana or Plantains, Jackfruit & Mangoes are perhaps the vegetables or fruit that come to mind when one thinks of Kerala. Rice is definitely the choice of starch, but Tapioca comes a close second. Tapioca is very close to the Malayali soul and today I’m sharing the recipe for the simplest of Tapioca recipes – Kappa and Ulli Chammanthi.
Kappa is one of the Malayalam words used for Tapioca in Kerala. Depending on which part of Kerala you visit, you can also hear it called Kolli Kizhangu, Maracheeni, Cheeni Kizhangu or Poola Kizhangu. In Tamil Nadu it is called Maravalli Kizhangu. In English, it is also known as Cassava, Yuca or Manioc. Ulli is the word for onion (shallots in particular) and Chammanthi is a chutney. So Kappa and Ulli Chammanthi is essentially Tapioca with Spicy Onion/ Shallot Chutney. It is a popular breakfast dish in Kerala. You will find the best tasting Kappa and Ulli Chammanthi in the small roadside restaurant. It is a filling, and inexpensive breakfast too.
Growing up in East and West Africa, I only knew this starchy root as Cassava. I have delicious memories of deep fried crisp Tapioca sprinkled with salt and red chilli powder and a dash of lime juice.
It has long puzzled me how Tapioca became so popular in Kerala. Tapioca has its origins in Brazil. The name Tapioca is believed to be derived from the Tupi language word “tipi’óka” which described the process of making the root starch edible. I think Tapioca must have come to Kerala with the Portuguese and stayed on. I understand that Tapioca became a favourite in Kerala only after the second World War when rice was in scarce supply.
Kappa & Ulli Chammanthi is perhaps a really easy thing to make. The Tapioca root is peeled, cut into largish pieces and rinsed well. Then it is boiled till soft. The Chutney is nothing more than shallots and a lot of green chillies crushed together to a coarse paste with salt. I like to add a hint of tamarind to it. Generously drizzle cold pressed coconut oil and you’re good to go. No cooking there.
This dish is really all about the Ulli Chammanthi. It’s just a combination of 4 basic ingredients – onions/ shallots, green chillies (some people use toasted dried red chillies), salt and coconut oil. It is a very spicy chutney but the coconut oil falvours the Chutney like nothing else. It also tempers the fire of the chillies.
Traditionally, the Chutney is made using a manual granite stone grinder. That is the best version. However, grinding it in blender, in short bursts till slightly chunky will also do. Use shallots if you can find them. Red onions are a second best choice. Also cold pressed coconut oil is best. When cooking the Tapioca, it is best to add salt only after it has cooked. Certain varieties of Tapioca do not cook well if salt is added at the beginning.
Kappa and Ulli Chammanthi
For the Kappa :
- 2 medium tapioca roots
- 7 cups water to boil the tapioca
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
For the Ulli Chammandhi :
- 3 medium red onions (or 15 to 20 shallots)
- 4 to 6 green chillies (adjust to taste)
- Salt to taste
- 3 to 4 tbsp cold pressed coconut oil
- 1/4 tsp tamarind pulp/ paste
For the Kappa :
- Peel the skin off the tapioca and wash well to remove all traces of soil. Cut into 3 or 4 pieces along the length. Each piece would be about 4” long. Cut each piece in half lengthways and each half further into half, - a total of 4 pieces.
- Bring the water to boil in large pot. Wash the pieces of Tapioca once gain and drop into the water. Turn down the heat, and cover the pot. Let the Tapioca pieces simmer till they’re cooked and knife soft. This should not take long. The cooking time will vary from batch to batch. They will turn a bit translucent and creamish in colour. Do not overcook the Tapioca or they will become mushy.
- Once the tapioca is cooked, add the salt and let it boil for about 5 minutes more. Drain out the water and let it cool down a little. It should be served warm.
For the Ulli Chammanthi :
- Peel the onions or shallots. If using onions, cut them into quarters. If using a traditional stone, crush the onions/ shallots, green chillies and tamarind until you have a slightly chunky mixture. Add salt to taste. Use the stone to mix together.
- If using a blender, put the ingredients for the chutney except the oil into the jar. Pulse everything in bursts, at low speed so that the mixture does not become a puree but stays slightly chunky.
- Transfer to a serving bowl. Generously drizzle cold pressed coconut oil on the top. Serve immediately. Mix in the coconut oil just before serving with the cooked tapioca.