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.
This dish is a family specialty. A Keerai Kadaiyal is usually made with mashed greens tempered with mustard, red chillies, and asafoetida fried in oil. I feel that it takes away the flavour of the greens compared to this recipe. The onion, garlic, and green chillies boiled with the greens not only bring out the flavour of the greens but also enhance the taste of the kadaiyal. It is always served with fish curries like Live Viraal Meen Kuzhambu, Ayirai Meen Kuzhambu, and Unripe Mango and Katla Curry.
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.
In Tamil Nadu, the gourd family is used in several dishes perhaps because of the high water content and easy availability in all seasons. Ridge gourd is used with dhal in vegetarian cooking. I obtained this recipe from a Burmese repatriate friend, who said this dish was prepared by Tamil people who had settled in Burma but is not native to Burmese cooking. I was amazed as I had never come across ridge gourd being used in non-vegetarian cooking. I lost no time in trying it out at home and was very pleased with the result.
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 first experienced the mesmerising taste of chicken and pineapple at the Atlantic Hotel’s Shenbagam Restaurant in 1977, but I didn’t have a recipe for it. I later acquired The Cook’s Color Treasury sometime in the 80s in which I discovered this recipe only recently. I immediately tried it out and loved the taste, but I would say it is not as good as the Atlantic version. I have simplified the procedure, used fresh cut pineapple instead of the canned variety, and included ginger-garlic paste and chicken stock. I have mentioned that wine is optional, as many Indians do not like the taste of wine in food because the fermented flavour it imparts is associated with spoilage in the Indian mind.
Doctors also can be good cooks 🙂 This recipe is from my ophthalmologist cousin Suriya, who specialises in low fat cooking. She served these cutlets when we had gone over for dinner, and we loved it. She was very happy to give the recipe. Her method used the entire chicken as she doesn’t get only the skinless, boneless breast. I have modified the recipe by using chicken breast and also cooked the chicken using my own recipe for chicken stock. In this way, I get the cooked chicken for the cutlet and the stock for other dishes.