Monsoon memoirs of a food writer

Discuss the monsoon food rituals of Kerala.
Medicinal porridges and healthy dishes are prepared with leafy vegetables and bran, which are the specialties of the season. In Kerala, the monsoon season is about cleansing and regeneration. According to Ayurveda, the wet, dark months of the monsoon are the perfect time for rejuvenation of the mind and body. A medicinal porridge called Marunnu kanji is taken either early in the morning on an empty stomach or at night as dinner, for a minimum of seven days. It is prepared with a special nutritious variety of rice called njavara (Oryza sativa Linn). t is cooked in cow and coconut milk along with spices and local herbs. It is garnished with jaggery and thinly sliced shallots sautéed in ghee.

Ammini Ramachandran

What tips must one keep in mind while preparing foods in the monsoon?
Boil drinking water with dry ginger, cumin seeds and cardamom, as they enhance digestion. In Kerala, during the monsoon, meat is prepared as soup with black pepper, cumin and ginger for easy digestion.

What monsoon foods did you enjoy as a child in Kerala?
My mother’s coconut rice opened the doors for me into the world of food writing and cooking. The distinct tastes of toasted coconut and tender rice melt into each other, and every grain of rice is flavoured by rich, fragrant ghee, fried dal, cashew nuts and curry leaves. When I came to the US, she always sent me a recipe along with her weekly letters. Homesick in the US, I found solace in recreating her recipes. These recipes had pinches and fistfuls as quantities. I had to depend on my memories of how they taste to prepare them.

What is your favourite monsoon comfort food?
Kanji, the simple, basic rice soup, a monsoon season staple, is one of my favourite comfort foods. Here, we enjoy it for supper on cold and snowy winter evenings. As the dollop of ghee melts and spreads over the hot kanji and the steam from it clouds my eyeglasses, I am transported, for an instant, to my tropical homeland.

Chutta Chammanthi
Ammini Ramachandran shares the recipe of toasted chutney, the perfect accompaniment to warm bowls of rice kanji during the monsoons

1½ tbsp coconut or vegetable oil
1½ tsp urad dal
4 dried red cayenne, serrano, or Thai chilli peppers
¼ tsp asafoetida (optional)
1 cup freshly grated coconut
½ tsp tamarind concentrate
12 fresh curry leaves
Salt to taste

>> Heat oil in a small pan over medium heat, and add the urad dal and chilli peppers. Pan-fry until the dal turns golden brown. Stir in the asafoetida powder, and remove the pan from the stove
>> Cool to room temperature
>> In a skillet, heat half tbsp oil, and toast the coconut flakes in it until they turn golden brown
>> Remove from stove, and stir in the toasted dal and chilli peppers. Cool to room temperature Puree the mix along with salt, tamarind concentrate, and half a cup of water
>> Transfer the chutney into a serving bowl
>> Heat the remaining oil, fry the fresh curry leaves for a minute, and add them to the chutney. This chutney stays fresh for a week in the refrigerator 

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