Sunday, March 25, 2007

Grandma’s Meen Pollichathu : Fish in Banana leaf wraps – A Central Kerala Delicacy

There is only one person whom I miss the most in my life, my grandma whom I call Amma. If the time machine were a reality, then I would rewind and go back to tell her how much she meant to me and how much I loved her! I knew she was a part of me but never realised the depth of the bonding we shared until she left us 4 years ago! I never had a closure, I could not bid farewell to her, I was not there at the time of her death nor at the funeral....and towards the end she had lost her memory too, so I don’t even know if she was aware of my occasional visits to her, whenever I came home during my holidays.....she comes in my dreams and thoughts quite often and at times I miss her a lot..I think about the days I spent with summer holidays... my weekends during my childhood....her image is still crystal clear in my mind; standing in front of the gate anxiously waiting for me to get back from the school ..she used to send her maid to pick me up from the school and accompany me till I reached home safe..and I am sure she enjoyed those days, when both of us waited for the mobile bakery man to buy hot puffs and samosas and some sweets, because her kids, that’s my mother and her siblings never allowed her to eat any sweets coz of her high blood sugar. I learned the basics of bargaining from her; it was a pleasure and a great time pass to watch her bargain with the fish vendors...and at the end of all that intense bargaining, sometimes she offered them a cup of tea or some breakfast exposure to different varieties of fish started there. The root cause of my obsession with cleanliness and organizing traces back to her; she had a spotless kitchen and home and a perfectly pressed and arranged wardrobe. Even at the age of 70s, she wore neatly pressed clothes at home and such thoughts help me neglect my obsession for pressing each and every piece of cloth, including my apron and kitchen towels !! I have great respect for her..she was a strong woman who raised her three kids all alone after losing her partner at a very young age. She was very generous and affectionate too...I wish she had met CJJ before she left us, in which case, he would have been her favourite. My mother is a great cook, nevertheless, at times I tell her some of her preparations don’t even come close to that of Amma’s. She was a fabulous cook...she did not have an oven, but she used to bake cakes with a stove top vessel; she never used to frequent Chinese restaurants but she used to make the best fried rice and ofcourse the authentic kerala dishes and snacks....the days I spent with her are some of the sunken treasures of my life and when I dive into those memories, I get lost somewhere........!!

Grandma was from a quaint little town in Kerala, named Alappuzha or Alleppey which is labeled as the ‘Venice of the east’ because of its breathtaking view of the backwaters and house-boats; it’s a beautiful small town, famous for its network of canals and lagoons, crisscrossing the center of the town as well as boat races and coir products. Mean Pollichathu (Roasted Fish in a Banana leaf Wrap) is a ‘must try’ local delicacy which is generally prepared with a fresh catch of karimeen (Pearl Spots), marinated with various spices and a ground paste of pearl onion/small onions, green chilies, ginger, garlic, tomatoes and coconut milk and then cooked in banana leaf wraps. My grandma’s preparation is slightly different from this widely used recipe and this is my 4th attempt at reproducing her signature dish with certain changes adopted in the cooking method to suit my cooking conditions here in US; grandma used to do this at one shot where as my method consist of three stages. Recipe follows: -

Ingredients (Approx. for the size of fish shown in the picture)

Step 1: - Ingredients for Marinating and roasting the fish:

  • 1 whole fish cleaned, preferably Karimeen (pearl Spots); Pomfret,Tilapia
  • 3 tsp chilli powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp pepper powder
  • ¼ tsp ginger paste
  • ¼ tsp garlic paste
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup coconut oil (or vegetable oil) for frying
Step 2: - Ingredients for the gravy:
  • 1 cup finely chopped red pearl onions/small onions (around 20-22 nos)
  • 1 ¼ tbsp finely chopped ginger
  • 6-8 finely chopped green chillies
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves
  • A pinch of turmeric powder
  • A pinch of chilli powder
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • ¼ cup thick coconut milk
  • Salt to taste
Step 3: - Ingredients:
  • Banana Leaf - big enough to wrap the fish from all the sides.
Directions : Step 1
  1. Make 4-5 slits on the cleaned fish; mix chilli powder, turmeric powder, pepper powder, ginger and garlic paste, lemon juice and salt with 1-2 tsp of water to make a thick paste and marinate the fish evenly on both sides and keep it for atleast 2 hours. The slits made on the fish will help the marinade to penetrate into the fish during this time.
  2. Heat oil in a flat non-stick pan and place the fish, when the oil is steaming hot. Shallow fry the fish at medium heat by flipping each side when it is almost done; do not make it too crispy and do not overcook ; it should be soft and moist as the same fish is cooked again at the final stage. When the fish is done, (at this stage the oil will stop spluttering) transfer it to the gravy on the banana leaf,instructions for which follow.
Directions : Step 2
  1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan and sauté the chopped small onions, ginger, green chilies and curry leaves, in low heat, until they are cooked and golden brown in colour and add a pinch of turmeric powder and chilli powder to get a roasted colour. At this stage, add the thick coconut milk (Users of canned coconut milk need to dilute it by adding some water- for eg: 3 tbsp of coconut milk & add 2tbsp water) and salt and mix well to make the gravy; just combine the gravy well and turn off the stove; do not boil/cook it at all.
Directions: Final Step - Cooking in Banana Leaf Wrap
  1. Mildly wilt the fresh and washed banana leaf by keeping it on a low flame; Place it in a large flat non-stick pan; Make a thin bed with half of the gravy and keep the roasted fish and top it with the rest of the gravy. Cover and wrap the fish completely by folding the banana leaf, from all the sides and place a lid on top and let it cook for 10-15 minutes on low flame, until the gravy is thick.
  2. Serve hot with rice. You may wilt one more banana leaf and wrap it again before serving, to make it look like 'banana leaf parcels'.
Verdict & Recommendations!

It is very different from the usual fish preparations like fish curry and fish fry. It is not very spicy but still I suggest reducing the number of green chilies for those who cannot eat hot n spicy type of food at all. And if you are lucky to prepare this with a fresh catch of Karimeen (Pearl Spots), then you will notice an oil coating on the sides of the fish along with the gravy, which is not there in my picture as I used a different fish. Oil coating mainly depends on a fatty fish and also on the freshly squeezed coconut milk. Instead of using one whole fish, the same preparation can be done with fish steak pieces, wrapped individually in banana leaf, to serve for a group. This is one of the most famous central Kerala delicacy that adorns the dining table at the time of guest visits as well as X’mas and Easter lunches.

This post is a tribute to my grandma and hence my contribution for FAHC Campaign and Group Cookbook Project. Hope it meets all the criteria.

Thanks for reading this loooooooong post :)

No part of the content ( articles, photographs, recipes) of this blog may be reproduced without my written permission.Copyright © 2007-2010 All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Pineapple Wine & A Snow Grotto!

Spring is here and winter is bidding adieus! Poets’ two favourite seasons to metaphorically drive home the idea that adversities and prosperities of life are seasonal. How can one forget the lines of P.B Shelley, one of the English romantic poets who wrote “O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?” How true !! It is again reinstated when Hal Borland quotes, “No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” Isn’t it so synonymous with the dull days and happy days of life that come and go? Spring is the renewal of life and hopes and somewhere I read, "winter is door to spring...its a resurrection of hope " . I don’t think I can sum up this concept in any better way than these wise men did. Well, its time to talk about March winds, April showers and May flowers….spring cleaning and spring blossoms……the thought itself is quite refreshing ,isn’t it? :) But honestly, I do enjoy the winter days too, even though we all grumble about removing the pile of snow from the driveway and the slick roads and the icy winds and the dull days. It makes me all romantic, when the star shaped snow flakes tickle my face….waking up in the morning to see the nature covered under a soft, silky white blanket of snow…….the pine trees holding the snow flakes…goose walking across a frozen lake……the eerie look of the naked trees…..somewhere I see a pristine beauty during this season…..and one of those days I was lucky to capture a shot of this natural snow grotto that formed in a lake in our community. Thought it’s incredible and felt only a Virgin Mary is missing in there ;)

Now coming to the substance…. Well, I had a grin on my face when I read that pineapple was the chosen fruit for this month’s AFAM because I had something ready in my pantry, waiting for its turn to go into the spotlight! I am talking about "bottled poetry" here, yes, Pineapple Wine :) This is something I tried along with my experiments with Beetroot wine, which is my personal favourite as I get to enjoy the beet wine from the 16th day after its fermentation, where as I have to wait for more than 3 months to pour some of the bottled pineapple wine into my wine glass. And this recipe is for those who have the patience to wait that long and let me assure you, it’s worth the wait :)

  • 1 kg fresh ripe Pineapple
  • 1 kg (50 oz) Sugar
  • 1 tsp Yeast
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 small Lemon
  • 2 litre Water
  • ½ cup warm water
  1. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water with ½ tsp sugar and let it rise.
  2. Wash the pineapple well and dice them into small pieces. No need to remove the skin.
  3. Boil 2 litres of water in a big pan and dilute 1 kg sugar. When the water boils well, add the pineapple chunks and let it cook for not more than 4-5 mins and turn of the stove.
  4. When it cools down, transfer it preferably to a Bharani or any earthenware container or a glass jar and add the dissolved yeast and lemon juice and stir well with a wooden spatula and keep the container airtight and store it in a dark place, for fermentation for 21 days. On the 4th or 5th day, open the container and stir it with a wooden spatula and let it rest till the 21st day.
  5. After the fermentation process, strain it, without squeezing or crushing the pineapple at all, using a cheesecloth or muslin cloth on the 21st day and make sure that there are no residues; bottle the wine and rack them at room temperature in a cupboard and let it rest for 3 MONTHS allowing it to settle all the impurities and smells FRESH & PLEASANT at the end.

Once the wine is bottled, it should be left in a dark shelf, at room temperature, for 3 months for sure, as the smell that results from the activation of the yeast with the pineapple is very overpowering and it is not at all suggested for serving during this time. Also, for the yeast to convert sugar into alcohol, it is mandatory to keep the oxygen out and hence make sure that container is airtight, during the fermentation period. The alcoholic and the mild fizzy effect also depend on the quality of the yeast used. Please ensure that the fermentation jars and bottles are clean and not filled fully; leave some room. It is also suggested to open the bottles once in 2-3 weeks to let the gas out, formed inside the bottles. After 3 months, you will notice all its impurities settling down, creating a thick layer at the bottom, and the wine will be refined and clear and smells fresh and pleasant and tastes GREAT!

So, lets pour some wine and raise a toast to Maheswari for hosting this wonderful fruity event,AFAM and also to Sushma for hosting the interesting Monthly Cooking Tipology event!

Related Posts:

Beetroot Wine - Sweet wine Fruit Cake Grape wine


No part of the content ( articles, photographs, recipes) of this blog may be reproduced without my written permission.Copyright © 2007-2010 All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Tomato Bruschetta

Italian flavour, whether it is in food or music, always entices me. Bruschetta is a classic Italian appetizer (pronounced [brus'ket.ta] in Italian); slice of fresh country bread toasted with a nice rub of fresh garlic and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. There are lots of variations to bruschetta. A traditional bruschetta topping is a blend of fresh tomatoes and herbs and garlic with a bit of olive oil. This is a simple & colourful, easy to prepare appetizer as well as an afternoon snack too.

Ingredients (Approx.)
  • ½ loaf French bread
  • 2 red tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove finely chopped + 1 whole clove
  • ¼ cup fresh basil chiffonades
  • 1 tbsp green spring onion chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp + 3tbsp Olive Oil
  • A pinch of freshly ground pepper
  • Salt to taste
  1. Cut the tomatoes and squeeze out the juice and seeds from it and finely dice them. Mix the tomatoes, garlic, basil chiffonades and spring onion and toss with 1½ tbsp olive oil and ground pepper and salt and blend well and leave it in room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour to let all the flavours combine well.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F . Slice the bread diagonally with around ½ inch thickness and brush with olive oil and toast each side for around 2 mins or until the bread turns slightly golden.
  3. Cut the garlic clove in half and lightly rub garlic onto the toasted bread and spoon the mixture on the slices and serve immediately. The bread will get soggy if it is kept too long, so heap the topping just before serving. Serve with a glass of red wine and sorriso* :)
This is my entry for JFI - Tomato and thanks RP for hosting this month's JFI.

*Sorriso is Italian for smile :)

No part of the content ( articles, photographs, recipes) of this blog may be reproduced without my written permission.Copyright © 2007-2010 All rights reserved.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Some Of My Glass (Plexiglas) Paintings..

Thought of sharing some of my glass(plexiglas) paintings with you. These are not perfect; you will notice paint smudges and paint brush marks here and there but still they are dear to me :)

No part of the content ( articles, photographs, recipes) of this blog may be reproduced without my written permission.Copyright © 2007-2010 All rights reserved.