Christmas is the special time of year when people suddenly remember you and drop in hoping for a tasty bite or two 🙂 Carol singers may also pop by to delight you with their enthusiasm if not their talent 😀 This Kari Vadai is my grandmother’s recipe, which I used to enjoy in my Thirunelveli days; it is easy to make and a delight to consume – a guaranteed guest pleaser! It can be served as a snack or as an accompaniment to the Christmas feast along with onion rings and lemon wedges.
When I was a child, my father would bring home plum cake with royal icing, chocolate cake with butter cream icing, assorted cakes, and many more treats on Christmas Eve. I used to look forward to Christmas all through the year just for this. When I got married in 1969, I received a baking oven as a wedding gift which kickstarted my love affair with baking. I used to make an elaborate Christmas Fruit Cake where we would start chopping the fruits 4 days in advance to soak in rum. After several decades, I stopped making this because it was very tedious, rum became difficult to get because of government regulations, and my son does not touch fruit cakes 🙂 When a friend enquired about fruit cakes on Facebook, I decided to come up with an easy-to-make, no-fuss Christmas Fruit Loaf that would still match the flavour of the traditional fruit cake.
Kandhar Appam is a festive sweet preparation. Though many claim that it originated in Chettinad, it is very popular in Thirunelveli district also. It is usually prepared during Deepavalli, the festival of light and sound that is enjoyed by anyone with a sweet tooth 🙂 Though the homemade sweets have been replaced by the commercial North Indian sweets oozing ghee, kandhar appam is still the reigning Tamil sweet during the festive season.
In the food science laboratory of Women’s Christian College, I was taught and used to teach what is known as College Fudge, which is a traditional method of making cocoa fudge. It involved using candy thermometers to judge the stage of the sugar syrup and the cooling of the fudge. After removing from heat, the fudge would be cooled to 40° C and then beaten – a long and cumbersome process, and very difficult to judge the endpoint. Most of the time, it ended in a semi-solid or crumbling fudge. Though I had gained experience in making fudge myself, most students invariably made some error or the other when my back was turned 🙂 After I retired I had more time to experiment, and I arrived at this method, which does not need a thermometer to judge the stage or cooling, and I also ironed out many of the small errors that are likely to crop up when making fudge.
The vegetarians of Thirunelveli prepare this Ennai Kai Kuzhambu as a speciality dish. The name Ennai Kai is derived from Ennai Kathirikai because the same masala is used. The flavour is very grand and delicious compared to Vendhaya Kuzhambu. It is served only with white rice, though the name may suggest being served with biriyani (biriyani goes better with Khatte Baingan or Sweet and Sour Brinjal Masala). I usually serve this with keerai kootu or Urullaikkizhangu Pittu.
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.
I have a habit of copying interesting recipes which are different from my family’s traditional dishes. This recipe comes from Your Food and You written and published by Mrs. H. K. Philip (maybe in the 1940s), who was a well known social worker. Her recipes used traditional and comparative units of measure and random procedures, which I had to standardise through repeated experiments. I was impressed by the recipe because it was very simple compared to dishes typically made here, combines potatoes with meatballs and does not use coconut.