Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mathi-Nellikka Varattiyathu – A Malabar specialty with sardine and gooseberry

In my last post, I tried to paint the faces of Subaida, Umma and Bappa, some of the yarns in my childhood fabric, who belong to the Kerala Mulsim community and stirred my memories of the rich aromatic food they served, especially during the festival days of Ramzan and wedding ceremonies like Mailanchi Kalyanam and Nikah. From there I introduced you to a more prominent and distinct culinary pocket of Kerala, Malabar Coast, densely populated by Moplahs (Malabar Muslims) who crown the northern coast of our homeland with their flavorful and rich cuisine. Coming from the central part of Kerala, my experience with this cuisine practically starts with Pathiri, paper-thin flat soft rice breads and ghee flavored fried rice called Neichoru and ends with the Kozhikkodan Halwa, which we had a couple years back from the energy packed, 'Mittai Theruvu' in the historic town of Calicut. I remember my mother getting excited at those red and light-yellow colored Halwa and though I politely rejected my share initially, I developed a hidden crush for that melt-in-the-mouth sugar and ghee loaded confection from the moment it touched my palette.

The foodie in me always wished for a grandmother from this culinary capital who could teach me some of the traditional Moplah flavours, just like my grandma passed on her legacy to my mother and CJJ's grandma who taught me some of the traditional Kuttanadan specialties. My wishes were answered, when I was recently gifted with a copy of Malabar Muslim Cookery, authored by Ms. Ummi Abdulla. To my very limited knowledge on cookbooks available in Moplah cuisine, I think this book is considered a Bible on Malabar Muslim specialties ;( Please correct me if I am wrong). This book is a treasure house of authentic and traditional Moplah recipes that features Meen Pathiri - steamed rice pie with spiced up fish, Alisa- wheat porridge with meat, Meen kakkathilakkiyathu – Fish masala, Unnakkayi – boiled banana mashed and shaped into cotton pods and filled with sweet and egg filling, Kalthappam- sweet rice cakes, Muttamala-egg yolk garlands, Kaiveesal-egg jalebis along with a variety of Biryani and Pathiri. It has a good collection of vegetarian recipes too. Some of the names are amusing and dreamy at the same like Bariyittathu – Banana finger fries, Nulliyittathu –sweet egg fritters, Thurkkipathil- stuffed mutton pie, Athishaya pathiri- pancake with meat filling etc.

Unlike the new-era cookbooks, this book does not offer eye-catching glossy photographs of the dishes featured, which leaves a bit of vagueness especially if the reader has no idea about the recipes under discussion. Some of the recipes are illustrated through sketches That said, I must note that the recipes are presented with precise instructions which are easy to follow and the ones I have tried have come out well with a ‘home-style’ taste. This is a humble cookbook which has a very good collection of authentic recipes but this would have been a classic read, had the author laced the recipes with some family anecdotes and taste memories to get a glimpse of the Moplah lifestyle in a more cozy way!

Mathi - Nellikka Varattiyathu is a unique combination dish I tried from this book. Sardines are paired with dried gooseberries and cooked with the other five simple ingredients till dry. Since I did not have dried gooseberries, I substituted the same with frozen gooseberries and served with some gravy instead of making it a dry preparation. This dish was a pleasant change from our regular curried sardines in red gravy or fried preparations. Here’s the recipe:

Mathi –Nellikka Varattiyathu
(Recipe Source: Slightly changed from Malabar Muslim Cookery’ by Ms. Ummi Abdulla)

  • 6 medium sized Sardines/Mathi/Chaala, cleaned and washed
  • 2-3 big Goosberries/Nellikka (Original recipe calls for 2 tbsp dried gooseberries)
  • 1tbsp Peppercorns
  • 6 medium sized cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp fenugreek
  • 2tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt to taste
  • Grind the gooseberries/Nellikka with pepper to a smooth paste. Crush the garlic. Original recipe calls for dried gooseberries, seeds of which should be removed and soaked in water for sometime before grinding it with peppercorns.
  • Heat oil in a, earthenware, ‘curry-chatti’ or in a pan; add fenugreek and when it turns golden brown add the crushed garlic, ground pepper-gooseberry paste and sauté for a minute, in low flame. Tear some curry leaves add 1 cup of water and salt to taste and let it simmer for a few minutes. Now add sardines and cook on low flame till the fish is done. Swirl or shake the pan occasional to prevent the fish sticking to the pan. You can stop cooking when gravy is thick or as the original recipe says, cook till the gravy is almost dry.
Check-out other Malabar recipes of Ms Abdullah I've already blogged.

Egg Biriyani Chemmeen Biriyani

On a separate note, my prayers are with all those who unfortunately come under Hurricane Gustav’s radar and especially for people of New Orleans. We were there just a month back and it was heartbreaking to visit the Katrina affected areas and the scar it left on this place and its people. I cannot imagine how it is for those people to go through such a devastation one more time when the debris from the last hurricane is still a painful reality they live with. I really wish and pray that some miracle happens and weather devil changes it path of destruction and storm loses its strength!


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


  1. Wow, that is a totally new combination to me! I have that book, it is about time I start trying some recipes from it... :)

  2. mathi and nellikka? wow! definitely new to me :)

  3. mish,almost the same experiences here on malabar food.To my knowledge,Ummi Abdulla's is been considered as the Bible of Mopplah cuisine.Recently though happd to read about many including Sainuthatha who ownes "Saina's" at calicut.
    I am fortunate to have some friends still living in that part of Kerala,leaving an opportunity to occasionally visit them and taste unique varities.
    This recipe is sure to hit on sardine lovers,coz its of a different flavour.As i dont eat the same,no luck here.Your picture is still tempting.
    Even my prayers for the new orleans people.May God protect..

  4. Shn, the dish looks simply delectable!

  5. traditionally , this is cooked in mor..buttermilk and fresh green peppercorns.

  6. never heard of this combination..but i think now i feel it might be natural combo with the tangy flavour of nelikka blending well with the fish curry..i think you are making all non-veg before onam hits town...:-P

  7. I have yet to cook with gooseberries. I've never seen them here. This dish is intriguing, Shn.

  8. Something completely new to me. Looks awesome and sounds delicious. First time here. You have a nice blog.

  9. Never heard of this before....time I made some for myself....hard to resist :)

  10. Wow, thats a unique combination!

  11. I'm very curious about this recipe and I can't wait to try it. In Sicily, Italy a had a typical dish made of rolled up sardines with some sort of raisins stuffing, that was fabulous.I know that sardines and dry fruit is a great combination.

  12. i always get to see and learn new dishes on you blog. Looks and sounds so yummy.

  13. Sig, yeah...try a bunch of recipes....tasty dishes from a humble looking book :)

    Nags, it was new to me as well :)

    Ann, I have added Saina's also to my list....will check that one when we pass calicut next time... :) even if we recreate these recipes, there is nothing like eating from ist source, isnt re lucky :)

    Purnima, it is :)

    Mallugirl, I am ready....tell me what ur granny thinks about it..:))) can u blog that recipe pls? it sounds very tasty...the creaminess of buttermilk, fresh peppercorns and tanginess from gooseberry..with sardines...oh tasty that would be!!!

    Mathew, you re absolutely right on the tanginess part, but with a very pleasant difference from our usual souring agents manga, thakkkali and puli . hehe...ethokke 1-2 months munbu undakkiyathaa...eppo njan veg diet-l aanu...2 more weeks to go...pulisseriyum sambarum okke kazhicu jeevichu pokunne :)

    Susuan, you can find frozen ones at some indian stores...if interested, check ur local indian store :)

    Kitchen Flavours, thanks for dropping by.....warm welcome here :)

    Rachel, :) try and let me know if u liked the combo .

    Jyothsna, yes it is :)

    Pia, rolled sardines with raisin stuffing...wish i could taste it.....must be this one it is sort of the tanginess from the gooseberries and heat from pepper thats gives the dish its charachter. Thanks for letting me know about such a dish :)

    Kate, you re always welcome here :)


  14. Hi Mishmash

    I come to your blog very often to see the new posts. Your post is a real treat for the eyes. Keep it up.


  15. whoa, i ve never heard of this, nellika s usually used only for pickle and one 'nellika tenga arache curry' iam sure this tates unique and differnt from normal puli, kodam puli, etc.

  16. I wish I could get fresh sardines to try this.

  17. woow.....U reminded me of my mom now...being from kannur Im very familiar with these dishes as my mom prepares them always at alisa, muttamaala,meen pathiri, pathiri, unnakkaya and all...butshn, i tell u ,for making alisa u need special type of wheat just meant for alisa. I tried with a couple of wheat here in uk and they dint work for me. They never got cooked even after cooking for long time pressure cooker. And so i bought some wheat from kerala while coming and it was good!! And muttamaala is made out of duck eggs. Even meenpathiri needs special type of rice. With the par boiled rice that i bought from here, it dint work well and was taking hell lot of time to cook.Nice, keep posting. Ramadan Mubarak!

  18. I absolutely love this dish. I just got back from my vacation and my mom made this dish quite a few times as I thoroughly love it.

    I will be trying yours soon.

  19. Happened to trip into your blog site and was pleasantly surprised. I'm from Kozhikode aka "koyikode", a hardcore mapplachchi. I got Ummi Abdullah's book when I started thinking I can cook. When my granma and aunt and mom saw the book, they started laughing and said "But Ummi Abdullah is not even a malabari!!" But I still liked her cooking, but never followed her. My granma took me in as her apprentice. We live as a joint family and earlier had upto 75 families living under the same roof, cooking in the same kitchen and this recipe here was almost a daily :) When there weren't fresh amla, we always had a bharani of dried amlas that she would soak n use.
    Just might like to visit my blog..

  20. Greets!

    It is my first time here. I just wanted to say hi!

  21. ...exactly why farting should be mandatory [url=]tjene penger blogg[/url]

  22. pretty cool stuff here thank you!!!!!!!

  23. Dear Shn,
    I really appreciate your effort for collecting and presenting Kerala's traditional recipes. But I really have objection about the recipe of the famous Kannur Kinnathappam. (The best one is availabe in and around Thalseery- southern side of Kannur district) Usually we use Jaggery (vellam) for making kinnathappam and it looks grey in colour at the end of preparation. May be this one is a 'sugar version of kinnathappam'.
    I know some people who makes it in large quantities for selling to bakeries. I'll try to collect the recipe from them and forward to you


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.