At Christmas we see Christians thronging meat shops with money saved through the year for their annual Christmas feast. I once witnessed a family buying such a variety of meat at one go that I kept speaking about it for days, much to the amused exasperation of my family! Sausages are particularly popular during this season. They are usually only fried, but I wanted to try something different that people can serve when they celebrate with guests or family.
Advent rings the bell to start the Christmas baking season. These are ideal to serve guests or carolers who may drop in, since you can make around 50 cookies or more at one go with this recipe. They are also ideal to take with you when you go visiting. My daughter developed this recipe using cocoa powder instead of chocolate to arrive at these scrumptious dark chocolate cookies. They are also ideal for the Indian pocket as all chocolate is prohibitively expensive to use in cooking. The use of chocolate vermicelli in the recipe enhances the look and the taste.
With the monsoon still continuing, cooking with dried legumes becomes very useful. Those in Chennai are very familiar with dry peas sundal (pattani sundal) that is sold on the beach. Here you can use the same dry peas to make a curry and serve with chappati or bread. A steaming hot and fragrant curry will cheer people of all ages when it is raining heavily outside.
Markandam means thoracic cavity in Tamil. It consists of the ribs and the muscles on them. My grandmother used to prepare this breastbone curry whenever we were recovering from an illness. She believed that the minerals from the bones helped to build immunity. That is why it is called ‘Rasam’ meaning extract. Because it is rasam, the gravy is quite thin in spite of the coconut added to it. It is my favourite mutton preparation, and I used to pester my mother to make it even when we were not ill. Having piping hot markandam rasam with piping hot rice in winter is absolutely divine 🙂
We have a joke about Chennai rain: January-October – water scarcity; November & December – water scares city :). On some days we are unable to shop due to flooding. It is wise to stock different kinds of legumes to make curries when vegetables are not available. I created this Dry Butter Beans Curry as it is easy to prepare, can be served with chappati or rice, and has an interesting flavour.
In the early ’80s, I had a Mangalorean student called Sudha who then managed the WCC Canteen for some time, when she introduced this dish on the menu. I was fascinated by its unusual combination of ingredients and flavour that was unique to Tamil taste buds. This is her recipe, which I’ve modified to suit the modern Indian kitchen and shorten the cooking time.
You can do more with pumpkins than just carve them for Halloween. Why not make halwa instead? In India, pumpkin halwa (a very rich and heavy sweet) is usually prepared with white pumpkin. My mother’s recipe book also mentions preparing pumpkin halwa with white pumpkin. In Tamil Nadu, yellow pumpkin is also used to make halwa but is not as well known as white pumpkin halwa. I have used the same procedure my mother gave me, changing only the method of removing most of the moisture from the pumpkin.