Thirunelveli’s knowledge of kovai kai, in the ’60s, was limited to a story where two men appeared before a judge claiming that a parrot was theirs. The judge asked them to prove it and the parrot’s owner took some kovai kai from his pocket, which immediately attracted the parrot, convincing the judge that the parrot was his. We always believed that kovai kai was only for parrots and it was not available there in stores. For all I know it is still not available. When my father was transferred to Chennai, my mother spotted this in a store and came home and said, ‘They are selling kovai kai which only the parrots eat!’ We didn’t buy it because we didn’t know how to cook it. When my sister got married she found that her in-laws, who had been posted in Andhra Pradesh, cooked kovai kai at home. I had eaten that once in their house and started cooking it once I had my own establishment. I do not know if this is the exact recipe, but it is fairly close to what I enjoyed there.
Radish is available in Tamil Nadu all through the year. I have already posted a Beef and Radish Curry recipe. The radish thuvaram (or fry) is a recipe I have taken from my family cookbook. I recall my mother making it very often. At that time I wasn’t too fond of it because the radish was fibrous. Now we get tender radish, and I’m beginning to love it.
Pooris are usually served with the potato masala that is used in Masala Dosai. In my family, hailing from Thirunelveli, the potato masala we serve is completely different, and spicier, than the usual masala. We include tomatoes and chilli powder, which transforms the flavour. We serve this potato masala with chappatis too.
We usually cook our greens in India – we do not make salads with them. The south has a variety of greens: Amaranth, Drumstick, Agathi, Ponnanganni, and of course the Palak, which we call Pasalai Keerai. We use all these greens in Tamil Nadu to make poriyal (fry). I have chosen greens from the Amaranth family because they are easily available in all the stores or brought to your doorstep by street vendors. I used to be woken up at 5.30 in the morning by the clarion call ‘Keeraiiiii!’ from an enthusiastic vendor.
Keerai Chaarru means greens extract, but it is a misnomer as the juice of the greens is not extracted. It is a simple soup-like curry using very few ingredients – for an Indian recipe 🙂 This is an authentic Thirunelveli preparation. My students, friends, and acquaintances have not heard of this dish at all. Though it is a very simple recipe, one can go wrong in the consistency and sourness as I did when I made it first. I had watched my mother make it but somehow hadn’t registered the proportion of the ingredients. I have now standardised the recipe and get it right every time with this method.
A long time ago, perhaps in my first year of B.Sc, I had an essay by Winston Churchill on his school life where he mentioned his dislike for dumplings. This made me very curious to know what dumplings were and why they engender such hatred. I went through many British and Australian cookbooks and discovered that dumplings seemed inoffensive and harmless. I tried a few recipes and my family loved them – maybe in Churchill’s school days, British schools didn’t even add pepper to the dumplings! The popularity of dumplings at home made me create my own recipe for Dumplings in Chicken Stew.
Thuvaram is a kind of a fry or poriyal which is popular in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. There are 2 varieties of thuvaram: one uses the vegetable and very few seasonings; the other includes a small amount of red gram dhal and coconut ground with garlic and cumin seeds. Pudalankai (Podalankai/Podalangai) or snake gourd is suitable for the first type. Later on I’ll be posting the second variety also.