When passion and diligence combine, perfection becomes a natural boon…it is then that great works are created. “Grains, Greens and Grated coconuts” by our good friend Ammini Ramachandran, is one such boon to the world of cookbooks.
It is much more than a cookbook, its pages filled with knowledge of history, festivals and traditions, food ingredients and wisdom handed down through generations. It is a book replete with recipes that remain true to traditional home-style cooking, capturing tastes that satiate the palate and senses too.
It was but natural that we asked her for a tribute recipe for this blog. In her typical friendly and prompt manner, she emailed us this wonderful post which we are delighted to bring to you. Thank you Ammini for this lovely post, for digging out these black and white photographs (we simply love them!) and for your warm friendship – yet another boon of this virtual space.
AMMA’S ELLUKARI BY AMMINI RAMACHANDRAN
A TRIBUTE TO MY MOTHER-IN-LAW PADMAM VARMA
As a young bride I was in awe of my mother-in-law’s kitchen. Amma was a stickler for cleanliness and orderliness. Her kitchen was a spacious and spotlessly clean special place with wood-burning stoves and wooden racks filled with ceramic jars and pots made of copper, bronze, and soapstone.
Some of the dishes in Amma’s kitchen came from the same tradition I had grown up with; others used familiar ingredients but expressed them with an accent new to me. Amma passed away at a young age. The secret to the flavor of her food was not in any special ingredients she used, but it was in the loving way she prepared them for her family. Although she had a cook, often she used to make this curry just before we all sat down to eat, and it would always be the best among the many dishes served. This thick curry of green plantains with the distinct fragrance of black sesame seeds, toasted coconut, and curry leaves reminds me most vividly of her simple style of cooking. It is a mildly hot curry, with a hint of sourness and sweetness at the same time.
(From the family album – yes, that beautiful lady at the back is Ammini!)
Every time I prepare this dish in American kitchen my mind wanders off to a different place and time, to a kitchen filled with the fragrance of toasted sesame seeds and coconut and the aroma emanating from a wood burning stove. It is incredible that one specific dish can evoke so many memories. I am delighted to share her recipe with you all, through this blog hosted by my dear friends Jigyasa and Pratibha.
(Amma with her Sisters)
Sweet, sour, and mildly spiced, Ellukari symbolizes Madapilli cuisine at its best. The toasted coconut and sesame seeds impart a nutty flavor, while tamarind and jaggery contribute sweet and sour contrasts. Ellukari is traditionally prepared with either plantains as called for here, or suran, but even potatoes may be substituted in a pinch.
1 firm green (unripe) plantain, peeled and cubed
Salt to taste
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1½ teaspoons vegetable oil
1½ tablespoons urad dal
½ cup grated fresh coconut or dried coconut flakes
1½ tablespoons black or brown sesame seeds
5 dried red cayenne, serrano, or Thai chilies (less for a milder taste)
11/2 teaspoons tamarind pulp or 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
For seasoning and garnish:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
1 dried red cayenne, serrano, or Thai chili pepper, halved
¼ teaspoon asafetida powder
12 to 15 fresh curry leaves
2 tablespoons crushed jaggery
Place the plantain, salt, and turmeric in a heavy pot over medium heat, and add just enough water to cover it. Cook for six to eight minutes, or until plantain is fork tender.
Heat one and a half teaspoons of oil over medium heat in a heavy skillet. Add the urad dal, and keep stirring until it begins to turn light brown. Add the coconut, and stir until it starts to turn golden brown. Add the sesame seeds and red chilies, and stir for another two to three minutes more. (The sesame seeds will start popping.) Remove the pan from the heat, and let the mixture cool to room temperature. In a blender, grind the spice mix with just enough water to make a fairly smooth, thick puree. Stir the puree into the cooked plantain. Dissolve the tamarind concentrate in a cup of water, add it to the pot, and cook over medium-low heat for six to eight minutes, until the mixture is fairly thick.
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat, and add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start sputtering, add the halved red chili pepper, asafetida, and curry leaves to the oil. Remove the skillet, and pour the seasoning into the curry. Add the jaggery, and mix well. Cover and set aside for ten minutes, to allow the flavors to blend.
Tribute Recipe by AMMINI RAMACHANDRAN, Introduction by PRITYA