Sunday, April 8, 2007

Kappa (Tapioca) Biriyani - A Thattukada Specialty !

Preparation of tapioca/cassava/Yucca root in a Kerala fast-food style!

Thattukada, Kerala’s local version of fast-food joints, is a road side eatery and for any non-resident Keralite, it brings back lots of nostalgic memories and I see CJJ and his friends going all gaga over the "thattu" specials when they cherish their bachelor days. I have also had my share of "thattu" specials after pestering my father who used to give me a lecture on the hygienic and the quality of the food, whenever we were on our weekend shopping; but as a teenager, I could never resist the temptation of those ‘kappa’ and beef fry and the irresistible sight of the stacked up porottas (a multi-layered Indian flat bread). As I already mentioned in one of my previous posts, I can resist everything but food temptation!! And these Thattukadas used to be located near our local grocery store and like me, many others, both the grocery shoppers and those waiting at the nearby bus-stop, would also be in an internal tug of war, struggling to conquer their temptation to go and buy a parcel of ‘porotta’ with a side dish of beef curry or chicken fry or sometimes grab a plate of "thattu dosa" and omelets.

Around evening time, these thattukada-s, typically a moving four wheeler covered carts with a kerosene lamp and fresh banana bunches hanging down in ropes, are in full swing by firing up a large wok/kadai,an extra-ordinarily large cast iron pan as well as a steaming vessel of milk and boiling water in the cart . When someone orders tea/coffee, the guy starts pouring the beverage into the glass after stretching it to almost two arms’ length for blending, creating a foam on the top which usually fills up half of the glass; so if you order a glass of tea, usually you get to drink half a glass of tea and half a glass of foam ;-) Adjacent to these carts, one can also find rectangular shaped steel tables used for making Porotta/Parotta and it’s the best example of real craftsmanship when the guy starts punching the dough, then throws in the air for stretching and then layering and winding them like small spiral balls before he rolls out the dough. The customers would be sitting on long benches, enjoying this craftsmanship as well as relishing their food. The regular "thattu" specials are Kappa, beef fry/curry, chicken fry, Peas Masala, Dosas and Omelets, pazham pori (banana fritters) etc. The multi-tasking of "thattu" owners in making the tea, dosa and omelets at the same time and also catering to the instant orders of the customers...the sizzling sound that comes from the wok when the 'chef' throws in the ingredients... the impatient look on the face of the customers while waiting for their next order... the battle with the temptation of the passers-by..the screeching sound of the vehicles and the honking of the massive traffic ...the beaming light from the nearby shops in the background thriving with energy and activity...let me tell you, this is a MUST HAVE experience for anyone visiting Kerala and longing to enjoy the local flavor !!

Last time when we went to India, my brother introduced us to one more delightful "thattu" variety called Kappa Biriyani, a mix of tapioca/yucca root and chicken/beef curry topped with the traditional seasoning of mustard seeds, onions, dry chilies and curry leaves in coconut oil. Since my father has come to adjust himself with the reality that there is no point in straightening his two spoilt kids and an equally or more spoilt son-in-law, he let us have this dish whenever we had a craving. Also there was this sympathy wave working,"oh ..the kids come home once in two years.. let them enjoy!! :) :) And before returning from India, I made my brother narrate the visual preparation of this dish as he used to be the one who frequented this roadside eatery to buy the parcel and I tried to reproduce almost a similar version in my kitchen along with some expert tips from my mother. This dish is also called as 'Kappa-Erachi" and "Kappa Beef" in some places. Recipe follows :-

Ingredients for Kappa/Tapioca Preparation:
  1. 2 medium size Kappa/Tapioca washed, peeled and chopped into small cubes
  2. ½ tsp turmeric
  3. Salt to taste
Ingredients for Beef Curry Preparation:
  1. 1 ½ lb beef diced into small pieces (Around ½ to ¾ kg)
  2. 3 tsp roasted coriander powder
  3. 1 ½ tsp roasted chili powder
  4. 1 tsp freshly grounded pepper powder
  5. ½ tsp turmeric powder
  6. 1 ½ tsp fresh garlic paste
  7. 1 tsp fresh ginger paste
  8. 2 + 2 green chilies
  9. 2tsp coconut oil or any oil
  10. 1 medium size onion coarsely chopped
  11. 1 medium size tomato diced
  12. ¾ + ¼ tsp garam masala
  13. 1 cup green peas
  14. 1 sprig curry leaves
  15. ½ cup water
  16. Salt to taste
For the seasoning:
  1. 2 tsp coconut oil or any oil
  2. ¾ tsp mustard seeds
  3. 4 dry red chilies
  4. 1 sprig curry leaves
  5. ½ cup finely chopped red onions for garnishing
  • To Prepare Kappa/Tapioca: Wash the cubed pieces thoroughly in cold water; fill a large saucepan with water enough to cover the Kappa/Tapioca and bring to a boil. When it boils, drain the water and fill the pan again with cold water and add salt and turmeric and cook until the kappa/tapioca is soft when pierced with a fork/knife. Drain off the water completely and keep it aside. For a pictorial description on cleaning and cooking the Kappa/Tapioca, click here.
  • To Prepare the Beef Curry: Marinate the beef, thoroughly blending the ingredients from 2 to 7 and adding two green chilies and salt and keep it in the room temperature for 30 minutes and then pressure cook at medium heat. I wait for 4-5 whistles. Then switch off the stove and wait till the sizzling sound stops. There is no need to add water while pressure-cooking the beef, but if you are really scared of the safety valve (of the pressure-cooker) flying in the air, you may add ½ cup of water.

  • Heat 2 tsp oil in a pan and sauté the chopped onion and 2 slit opened green chilies until translucent and at this stage, add diced tomatoes and cook well. Now add the ¾ tsp garam masala and mix well. To this mixture, add the pressure-cooked beef and stir and combine well; add ½ cup of water and salt and bring to a boil in medium heat. When it boils, do a taste test and adjust the salt level and add fresh curry leaves and stir it and also add 1 cup of peas. Let the peas cook along with the meat for 4-5 minutes and later reduce the heat to the lowest level until the gravy is thick enough; do not make it too dry as the gravy is required to blend well with the Kappa/Tapioca.
  • Preparation of Kappa Biriyani: Add the cooked Kappa/Tapioca pieces to the beef gravy (both should be in equal quantities) and mix them well and finally toss with ¼ tsp garam masala to get the aroma and the flavor of the spices, at low flame. In another small pan, heat 2 tsp oil and splutter mustard seeds, dry red chilies and curry leaves and pour this seasoning onto the Kappa Biriyani. Garnish with fresh finely chopped big onions before serving.
Note: To roast the coriander and chili powder, heat the pan at low flame and roast the powdered spices separately until they change its raw color and turn a bit dark from the original colour. It will not take more than a minute to roast the powdered spices. It is always better to use fresh ingredients to make the dish taste better.

So, what do you think ... ready for a carry-out ? :)

For a list of MUST DO things in your next trip to Kerala, click here.


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