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the festival of light and sound that is enjoyed by anyone with a sweet tooth 🙂 Though the homemade sweets have been replaced by the commercial North Indian sweets oozing ghee, kandhar appam is still the reigning Tamil sweet during the festive season.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.
This recipe is a family specialty that has been handed down from my great-grandmother. It was originally made with Karuppatti (Palm Jaggery), but my mother substituted the karuppatti with regular jaggery (made from sugarcane) as karuppatti has a lot of grit (jaggery also has some grit but it can be removed easily by straining). It is always had with the onion thuvaiyal which is hot, sour, and pungent as the sweetness of the dosai is contrasted with the thuvaiyal’s strong flavour.
Pakodas are favourite teatime snacks all over India. There are a variety of pakodas made in different states, but in Thirunelveli, especially in my family, whole wheat flour pakodas were made and served as a breakfast item. It is unique because it combines black gram dhal along with wheat flour to give a softer texture and improve the nutritive value.
I first heard of Latkes in the 90s, and I immediately wanted to make them as I was fascinated by the idea of potato pancakes. I was fortunate to come across the Cockney Cookbook a few years ago in a bookstore, and it had this recipe and an interesting description of accompaniments, so I grabbed it. I tried Latkes for breakfast recently and was it a great success – not a crumb was left behind! The book suggested waxy potatoes, but in India we are limited by whatever is available in the stores, which in my case were non-waxy potatoes. I have modified the recipe slightly by increasing the onion and pepper content to suit our palate. Though the book recommends serving Latkes as an accompaniment or appetiser, I used it as the main breakfast dish, and it can be even used in a packed lunch.
I found this dish in my mother’s recipe book, which she had copied from her grandmother’s. I do not know if this dish is actually made in Calcutta 🙂 My great-grandmother hailed from Thanjavur, and her family were closely related to Vedanayagam Sastriar who was a Samasthana Kavignar (court poet) during King Serfoji II’s reign. I assume this recipe would have come through the court’s cooks as she was unlikely to have come across a Calcutta dish through other channels. It is very easy to prepare. My great-grandmother made this dish with mutton, but I tried it with chicken and found it to be vastly superior to the mutton version. This can be served with Khamiri Roti or Pooris.
During the 80s, unsold books from Western countries used to be exported to India as waste paper and sold here as books at throwaway prices. I picked up The Cookie Cookbook by Evelyne Johnson in one such sale for just Rs. 6. It’s a tiny book, called a Dell Purse Book, and I forgot I had it until I discovered it amongst my books 30 years later. This book has a recipe called Mrs. Graham’s Honey Dough which disappointed me with its flavour and texture. A year later I tried the recipe again, modifying it to improve its taste and mouth feel. I increased the eggs and honey in the recipe, which improved both the flavour and appearance and imparted a cake-like texture to the cookies. These cookies have a very soft texture and can be served to the elderly who face difficulty in chewing, as well as to toddlers. Because they are soft, crumbs do not fly, reducing post-consumption cleanup time 🙂