Easter is approaching, and all those who have given up eating meat, fish, and poultry will be anxious to get back on the wagon! This simple mutton fry is my grandmother’s signature dish. She used to use ghee and gingelly oil together to cook the meat. I last enjoyed her cooking 65 years ago and recently standardised this dish from a recipe my mother had noted, so it’s a trip down memory lane for me.
In Tamil Nadu, especially in Thirunelveli, vegetables are added to extend meat preparations. This is a recipe, a mild curry, which is used repeatedly in my family. My mother had written it down giving suggestions for the type of vegetables which can be used. She had mentioned, apart from peas and cabbage, French beans, snake gourd, radish, and even cluster beans. Apart from peas and cabbage the rest are not very popular with my children 🙂 I therefore tweaked the recipe to accommodate their preferences and changed the procedure to suit the modern Indian kitchen, such as including pressure cooking.
January and February are the months when the markets in Tamil Nadu receive the freshest of the so-called English Vegetables. As a child I used to look forward to these months when we used to have peas and cauliflower very often in the menus. The peas are luscious and the cauliflower is so creamy white and crisp. In Palayamkottai (my hometown) Rich Peas Pulav and Muttai Cauliflower used to be prepared every week. My mother had a collection of recipes using these vegetables. One of the favourites was meat cooked along with peas, cauliflower, and, of course, potatoes that are always combined with meat.
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 🙂
Pirattal in Tamil means stirring or turning. My mother called this recipe sadha meaning plain/ordinary/simple. It does live up to its name as only the coconut and ginger-garlic paste need grinding. She used only garlic, but I have substituted it with ginger-garlic paste to spice it up. This pirattal is so easy to prepare that even cooking noobs can try it 🙂
In Tamil cooking vinegar is hardly ever used. It may find its way into a few pickles, but even that is very rare. That is why this recipe is honoured with kaadi (vinegar) in the title. My uncle was in the Indian Air Force, and posted in the North during his service. He used to bring his family in summer to visit the relatives in Thirunelveli, and on the way, they used to make a halt in Chennai and stay a few days with us. In those days, the most convenient train was the Janata Express, which though called express, always came a day late. Therefore, for this journey, my aunt used to make chappatis and this vinegar fry which would keep easily for 2 days without refrigeration.
Happy Easter everyone! Here is a special meatball curry to help you break your Lenten fast (if you’ve been fasting). This is such an ancient recipe it might as well have come from the Biblical age. I have never seen my mother or my aunt prepare this. I discovered it during an archaeological dig into an old family recipe book with a pencilled inscription saying ‘Aatha’ which would indicate that it is from my great grandmother who was from Thanjavur. Any history beyond that is shrouded in the mists of time 🙂