Sometimes we tend to romanticize a place a lot and it could be because of all the reading we have done or all those documentaries we have seen or it could be because of the food we have tasted or the people we have interacted with. I have been building up such a heightened image of Kuttanadu, “the rice bowl of Kerala” through some of my posts and if you are a regular here, perhaps you already know that it is mainly because I have never been to this place, blessed with natural beauty and known for it simple people and CJJ has the habit of waxing eloquently about its scenic beauty, calm and quiet surroundings and ofcourse the fabulous food he has tasted from his grandma.
During their week long vacation, they made a visit to their paternal house as well and he remembers how they used to play cricket along with their distant cousins in their spacious backyard and those days when they used to go for hunting, with their uncles and coming back with 10-15 birds from crane family and grandma making her signature dish, “Mundi” (from crane family) Roast and all of them relishing the peppery, crispy and roasted bird. Though as kids their main duty was to hold the torch light, the adventurous days of the childhood still holds a special place in his mind. And if it was a Sunday, they used to go to the nearby church, starting 30 minutes early, though it was only 10 minutes walk, so they had time for a casual chit-chat with the locals on the way; and in the evening, his uncles used to take them to the school ground to watch football matches between local clubs and again the kids enjoyed all the attention as the villagers would be curious to see the not-so-familiar kids around. When CJJ started working, he still used to visit his maternal house once in a while and those traveling with him in the boat would be staring at him as he would be in his jean and trendy shoes and carrying a backpack which was again another unfamiliar sight for the villagers and enough to give them an impression that he was a “varathan”, meaning an outsider and then one of them would ask him, “Mon, evidutheya?” meaning “ Honey, Which family are you from ?” and the moment he told them their family name, that triggered another set of enquiries about his parents and their well-being as everyone know each other and that’s the beauty of this village .
One funny incident that’s still tickling CJJ’s memories is his visit during his +2 days and this is how he describes the incident,”….. I was tagging along my father to his ancestral home and I was wearing my ankle shoe which was the IN-style those days, and on the way, there was this pavement work going on with mud taken from the canal. Normally people remove their footwear and walk barefoot. But coming from a city and wearing trendy clothes, my pride didn’t allow me to do so. So by the time we reached home, my shoes were covered with mud, a thick 2 inch layer of heavy mud. I learned the lesson the hard way and on the way back, I walked barefoot :)…It took me couple of days to clean my shoes :) “.
Do you have any idea how I feel when I get mails from my brother-in-law, R with photographs capturing the lush greenery of this place, supplementing CJJ’s stories?? And that’s one of those days, I change my tone of gratefulness, for giving a romantic house-boat ride in the backwaters, to one of complaint, for not taking me to Kainakary, the village where his grandma resides and in his defense, he always has the excuse that the house was locked that day and grandma was not there!! Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to let you have a sneak-peak into the simplicity I keep talking about, before getting into the recipe. These are some of the pictures R sent me, from his last trip to Kuttanadu.
- 1 lb (approx. ½ kg) prawns or shrimp peeled, deveined and washed thoroughly
- 1 cup red small onions thinly sliced
- ¼ cup garlic minced
- 1- 1 ½ tbsp ginger minced
- 4 green chillies split lengthwise
- 2-3 sprigs of fresh curry leaves
- 1/3 cup small coconut slices/’Thengakothu’
- 1 piece ‘kudam-puli’/Gamboge
- Masala powder (Recipe follows)
- 1 ½ tbsp coriander powder
- 2 tsp red chilly powder
- ¼ tsp +1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp + 1tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds/’Perinjeerakam’
- ½ tbsp black peppercorns
- 4-5 small ½ inch cinnamon sticks
- 1 clove
- 1 cardamom
- Grind and powder the spices, mentioned to make the masala powder. Make a marinade with this masala powder, turmeric, salt and lemon juice and apply it thoroughly on the cleaned prawns, using your hands and leave it in room temperature for around 20 minutes. Soak the kudam-puli in some water to make it soft.
- In the meantime, chop the red small onions, ginger and garlic.
- Heat oil in a big shallow pan , sauté the small onions until they turn pale in low flame; add minced garlic, ginger and green chillies cook until everything turns transparent, At this stage, add turmeric powder, red chilly powder and coriander powder and stir continuously until the raw smell goes, making sure that you don’t burn your onions or spice powders. Now add the coconut slices (coconut slices should be smaller than the prawns) and 2 sprigs of curry leaves and combine well with the base mixture and then add the marinated prawns to this; take out the leftover masala from the bowl by adding a couple of tablespoons of water and pour it to the pan and also the softened kudam-puli (without water) and cook covered, in medium heat, until the prawns changes its colour and is almost cooked. Do not add water to cook the prawns. Once the prawns are almost cooked, remove the lid and roast them, in low flame for 10-15 minutes, until it reaches a brown colour, as in the picture, and fully dried up. Do a taste –test in between and adjust the salt, if needed. Just two minutes before turning off the heat, make a well in the centre of the mixture and add 1 tbsp coconut oil and a sprig of curry leaves and coat the entire dish well with this oil and herb; do not omit this stage of cooking as it really helps the dish to attain a wonderful aroma of the coconut oil and fresh fragrance of the curry leaves.
- Serve warm with rice or chappathi (Indian bread). This dish attains its real flavour after a couple of hours from cooking and tastes the best, the nexy day!!
Other Kuttanadan Recipes from this blog:
Other Chemmeen/Prawn recipe from this blog: