The yam that is commonly available in the markets here in Chennai is Elephant Yam, cut into large chunks. Yam is sliced into thin pieces and made into chips in most households. My mother also used to make that, but I used to dislike it 🙂 It did teach me that yam could be diced and fried, and I developed my own, simple yam fry that is easy to make. I am sure there are several recipes with various spice combinations available, but mine uses the minimum of spices for a mild flavour.
Back in the day, a Christian wedding in Thirunelveli would last 3 days: the day before the ceremony, the day of the ceremony, and the day after the ceremony. Only vegetarian food was served on the first two days, with meat being reserved for the day after the ceremony. Guests sat on jamakkalams (Tamil Nadu cotton carpets) laid on the floor, and the vegetarian feast was served on a plantain leaf. Generally, the salt is always served first, and a tablespoon of this dhal is served after it. The other vegetables, pickles, appalams, etc., are served only after these two. When sambar is served for the rice, this dhal is again served in large quantities. The first tablespoon of dhal is served as a nod to its significance as an important source of protein in a vegetarian diet, and is therefore served immediately after salt even though its actual role in the meal comes later.
When my daughter’s doctor prescribed very bland food (for an Indian) as part of her treatment for a gastric condition, I looked around for a preparation that would be easy to digest and provide very good quality protein. I found that she was able to tolerate cauliflower, eggs, and cheese. I also love cauliflower and cheese and found recipes for the elaborate cauliflower au gratin, but I wanted something simpler. The Complete Australian Cookbook in my personal library gave me a recipe for cauliflower and cheese. I modified the recipe using some features from the au gratin and made the measurements of the ingredients easier. I also omitted the heating of the cheese with the white sauce because of the stringy texture it gives. Instead I sprinkled the cheese on top, and it not only gave a beautiful colour, but also a delicious aroma while baking.
This dish is a family specialty. A Keerai Kadaiyal is usually made with mashed greens tempered with mustard, red chillies, and asafoetida fried in oil. I feel that it takes away the flavour of the greens compared to this recipe. The onion, garlic, and green chillies boiled with the greens not only bring out the flavour of the greens but also enhance the taste of the kadaiyal. It is always served with fish curries like Live Viraal Meen Kuzhambu, Ayirai Meen Kuzhambu, and Unripe Mango and Katla Curry.
The tiny freshwater fish Ayirai is made only into a kuzhambu, or curry. It is the most delectable fish curry I have tasted. My grandmother used to prepare it especially for me when I visited Palayamkottai during summer vacations. Though my mother did not record this preparation, I have reconstructed the recipe from my evergreen – and ever hungry 🙂 – memory of this delicious treat. It was always served with Keerai Kadaiyal.