I may be sounding biased but that’s only to be expected because I’m talking about the food that I grew up eating, and now cook for a large part of our everyday meals. The truth however, is that my native Palakkad Iyer cuisine is definitely amongst the healthiest vegetarian (also largely vegan and gluten-free) diets in India, and possibly the world. Our food is mostly stir-fried or steam cooked and uses very little oil and spices are always added very judiciously so that the natural flavour of the cooked vegetable/ vegetables shine through. Also, our everyday cooking is by and large an easy affair, and has time proven combinations of dishes that go together and are usually served together to make sure that every meal is a well balanced one.
Sure we deep fry some of our food, and we do make sweets and desserts which though delicious aren’t necessarily low on calories. However, in the old scheme of things, these food items usually made an appearance only during festive occasions or the odd occasion when the situation demanded it.
Getting back to the everyday dishes from Palakkad cuisine, they’re generally very easy to cook and sometimes it is the cleaning and chopping up of the vegetables that takes more time that the actual cooking of it! Our cuisine makes good use of seasonal vegetables and is mostly cooked with very little oil, stir-fried or pan cooked with a few spices, and usually features fresh coconut.
I know greens are not necessarily everyone’s favourite vegetables but then they are good for you. I’m one of those who likes my greens cooked, and especially the way we do. You can find the other ways we cook greens, both Amaranth and Spinach in these recipes for Keerai Mashiyal (Mashed Spinach/ Greens) and Keerai Molagootal (Amaranth/ Spinach with Lentils and Coconut Gravy).
Today’s recipe is a slightly different way of cooking green or red Amaranth leaves (we call it “Keerai” in Tamil and “Cheera” in Malayalam) from the way we usually cook our “poduthuval” or “thoran” which are dry (without gravy) vegetable side dishes. Mostly, poduthuval or thoran are vegetables that are cooked till dry, tempered with a mixture of mustard seeds, husked/ spilt black gram dal (urad dal), curry leaves, chillies and hint of asafoetida and then finally finished a sprinkling of fresh grated coconut.
This preparation with Amaranth leaves or Keerai also follows this procedure except that, unlike any other recipe of this kind, a little uncooked rice is also added to the pan with the greens to give it some body (and flavour too), as greens tend to shrink in the pan when cooked.
I have seen versions of this recipe where split yellow moong lentils (moong dal) are used instead of the uncooked rice, but for me this particular Keerai Poduthuval/ Thoran is what it is because of the addition of rice. The other version of making this Keerai Poduthuval/ Thoran (not the way we cook it, but as it is in the rest of Kerala) is to cook this with chopped onions and sometimes garlic. The rice is not added, but it is finished off with coconut as is done on this recipe. This Thoran is generaly served as a side dish along with rice and a gravy “curry” like sambhar, rasam or pulissery.