CHENNAI: On a sultry summer afternoon, NS Krishnamoorthy, home chef and owner of Prems Graama Bhojanam welcomes us with a glass of spiced buttermilk. “Traditionally, guests are usually served with either buttermilk or panakam to beat the heat,” says the man who has over three decades of experience working with multinational food companies. During his stint in these companies, he learned more about ingredients and village food.
We find a quiet corner in his busy restaurant, and as we sip down the buttermilk, he narrates, “I was really young when I started cooking. I used to enjoy donning the chef hat at home every day. That's how I unwind. When guests and family left the table with satisfaction and a huge smile on their face, it made me immensely happy.”
Krishnamoorthy grew up in a village in Hosur. The agricultural fields in his land yielded millets and their plates were often filled with different varieties of millet dishes like upma, dosa and idli. He was unaware of the health benefits back then, but he feels grateful that he ate the right food and continues to do so.
As a teenager, he loved helping his mother in the kitchen and recalls that the first time he cooked, the dish was ‘heavenly’. “I remember making creamy curd rice, puliyogare and sambar rice. It turned out really well and the food was amazing. I drew all the inspiration from my mother and sister-in-law...they were amazing cooks,” he smiles.
He is a fan of the food prepared with simple ingredients. He says that his family couldn’t afford expensive food. His mother was the head chef at home and she used to make extraordinary dishes with just the ordinary ingredients. There have been times when they haven’t had dal or rice at home for over ten days. She is a master of the mystery box challenge.
Krishnamoorthy follows a similar path, he often loves giving his own twist to traditionally made food recipes, but he unassumingly says, “I am not a great chef. I don’t draw inspiration or follow any famous chefs either. I believe that every mother and grandmother are the greatest chefs on earth… they make delicious food, with love, every day!”
From cholam, ragi and pacha payir uthappam to saamal akki roti, thinai rava dosa and sukku coffee, Krishnamoorthy’s restaurant serves rural dishes prepared the traditional way. “These are dishes that even an eight-year-old can prepare at home. We use mud pots and traditional methods of cooking to enhance the flavour. This is how I cook at home as well,” he says.
At home, he makes dishes with red rice, niger seeds, groundnuts and black gingelly. “Every ingredient has a health benefit. At home, we make a lot of dishes with poha, specifically the red variant,” shares the chef who occasionally surfs through cookery shows and vernacular magazines in search of cooking recipes.
He adds that the youth is aware of what’s healthy and good for them. Everyone wants to go back to their roots. He mentions that he often gets asked about the benefits of ragi by young and pregnant mothers. “Ragi is good for both pregnant and lactating women. Healthy food never goes out of vogue and you can eat it without guilt,” he says.
Apart from spending time in the kitchen and looking after his restaurant, Krishnamoorthy is also planning to expand his business. “We already have an outlet in Bengaluru and IIT-M. We will soon open one in Anna Nagar,” he adds.
How to cook the perfect millet
● Soak the millet in water for 30-40 minutes, drain it.
● Take one cup of raw millets and two cups of water.
● Allow the water to boil and mix the millet.
● After two-three minutes, put it on low flame.
● Once the water is almost dry, close the vessel. Leave it for a minute and turn off the stove.
● Leave it for five to ten minutes.
● In a wide plate, spread the cooked millet and allow it to dry for a while.
● Once it cools down, the nutty, fragrant millet can be used to make any rice dish of your choice.
Varagu (Kodo Millet) Rice: 3 cups, Urad Dal:1 cup, Aval (soaked): 1 Cup, Fenugreek seeds (Methi ):1 tbsp, salt: 1 tsp, oil for greasing Idli tatte (for 3 tatte ):1.5 tsp
Method: Soak and grind Urad Dal and Kodo Millet and let it set separately for 4-5 hours. Methi seeds can be soaked along with the millet rice. Now mix the ground rice and dal into a batter.Add salt, mix well and set aside in a warm place for 7- 8 hours (or overnight) for fermenting (batter will be doubled in volume). Grease the idli tatte with 1/2 tsp oil and fill each tatte with 2 ladleful batter. Steam cook the tatte idlis on a medium heat (steamer or in a pressure cooker — without weight) for about 20-25 minutes or until done. Keep aside for cooling.
Best served with chutney / sambar / peanut chutney / idli chutney powder.