Indulge in the aroma of Malabar

Indulge in the aroma of Malabar

During monsoon, to prevent water contamination, drinking water is boiled with cumin and carom seeds.

CHENNAI: Kerala is a tropical paradise with its coast lined with coconut trees, lush green hills, and scenic backwaters. Each region has a different cuisine. A major cuisine is the Mappila cuisine. The Mappilas are Muslims, especially from the northern parts of Kerala, including Kozhikode, Kasargod, Kannur, Wayanad, and Mallapuram. Their cuisine dates back to the 4th century when Arab traders travelled to the Port of Muziri along the Malabar coast in search of spices. Muziri was a great centre of trade and the Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Arabs flocked to the place.

The name Mappila is considered to be a variant of Maha Pillai, which translates to an honoured person. This name was used to address the children of Arab traders. Hence, the Mappila/Moplah cuisine has multiple influences, beginning with the Arabs and then Europeans, and Vasco da Gama’s landing on the Malabar coast, charmed by the spices, especially pepper and cinnamon. The Arabs who came here were married into the local families and this resulted in the spread of Arab influences across the region in both traditions and food. Even the Malayalam spoken here has a distinct Arabic touch.

Mappila delicacies like biryani and aleesa have derived directly from the Arab world. The Mappila cuisine is predominantly non-vegetarian and has a lot of ghee and coconut milk. Even breakfast starts with a meat dish like mutton stew.

Most houses to this day have a wood-fired stove and traditional utensils. One such utensil is a puttu kutti, usually made of brass or copper. It has two parts — the lower part is placed over the stove and kutti that is placed over it has a few holes for letting out the steam.

Cheenachatti and chatti, made of clay, is another set of important utensils found in every household. Though they take a long time to heat up, they retain the heat for a long time and food cooked in these has an enhanced flavour.

Earthen or ceramic jars called bharani are used for storing and pickling. Chembu, appam chatti, heavy-bottomed, shallow vessels called uruli, uri (pot holders), masala petti (wooden box with partition), pathri kal, ladles with coconut shells, are some of the essential vessels found in every Moplah household.

Mappila cuisine relies heavily on whole spices, understanding their distinctive range, and using them skilfully to transform a simple dish into a unique one. Aniseed with its distinctive sweetness and aroma, provides a great base flavour when used right. Cloves with their warming and slightly sweet flavour are used very commonly in desserts. Cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cumin, caraway seeds, dry ginger, sesame, black cumin, pepper, star anise, and bay leaf are the other commonly used spices.

During monsoon, to prevent water contamination, drinking water is boiled with cumin and carom seeds.

Rice is the primary food grain and hence, most dishes are primarily made of rice. The perfect start to any day is vellayappam served with egg roast and vegetable stew. Puttu is another favourite, which can be relished with kadala curry or simply mixed with mashed banana, ghee, and jaggery, which makes it even more delicious.

Another unique rice-based dish is pathiri (rice chapati), which is soft and usually served with sprinkles of coconut milk and fish curry. There are different kinds of pathiri — stuffed pathiri, nei pathiri, thenga pathiri, etc. Ottipoli (thin crushed wheat crepes) served with egg curry or honey, rice kanji, and idiputtu are some of the other breakfast staples, which are mostly savoured with kattan chaya (black tea) and lunch with a glass of sulaimani tea (black tea with spices).

Lunch is usually rice, nei choru, biryani, served with side dishes like parippu curry, vegetables mulakitathu, and non-vegetarian fare like meen charu, chemmeen varattiyathu, etc. The Thalaserry biryani and aleesa need a special mention. In Thalaserry biryani, the rice and masala are cooked separately and then mixed. This is usually served with a green chammanthi that gives freshness and pappadam that gives a crunch. Aleesa is a porridge made of wheat, loads of meat, fried onion, masalas, and coconut, and is usually taken at the time of breaking the fast during festivals.

Snacks too are an important part of the cuisine. Moplahs are famous for their Iftar snacks like unnakaya, kozhi ada, mouval samosa, madakku, cutlets, and stuffed pathiris. Many of their desserts have eggs in it. Muttamala is their classic festive dessert served in every wedding. They are made with egg yolks and sugar syrup and literally translate to a garland of eggs. This dessert is believed to be inspired by the Portugese fos de avos and is served with kinnathappam.

Thalaserry Biryani

Jeeragasala rice: 500 g

Ghee: 2 tbsp, Clove: 3

Cardamom: 3, Cinnamon: 2

Bay leaf: 1, Mace: 1

For masala

Chicken: 500 gm, Onion: 3

Tomato: 3, Ginger: 2 inch

Garlic 1 whole

Green chilli: 4 to 6

Garam masala: as required

Turmeric: 1/4tsp

Chilli powder: 1/2tsp

Ghee: 3 tbsp, Oil: 3 tbsp

Curd: 50 gm, Mint: 1 bunch

Coriander: 1 bunch


Fried onion: 2

Cashews: 3 tbsp

Raisins: 15

Heat 750 ml of water and add salt, ghee, and whole spices. Once it boils, add the rice and cook 80 per cent till almost dry.

Fry the thinly-sliced onions and roast the cashews and raisins.

Heat ghee and oil and add a few whole spices. Add thinly sliced onions and fry till pink. Add the crushed ginger, garlic, and green chillies, followed by tomatoes. Sautè till mushy and add curd, chicken, spice powders, 3/4 of coriander, and mint leaves. Then add salt and cook till 90 per cent done. When done layer the masala with the cooked rice, top with the remaining herbs, fried onions, cashews, and raisins. Close with a tight-fitting lid and cook on the lowest flame in dum for 15 minutes. This can be done in the oven too.

Serve with raitha, chammanthi, date pickle, and pappadam.

The New Indian Express