Kerala's GSBs are vegetarians. And a new book chronicles their food history

Updated: Apr 26, 2020, 08:26 IST | Amruta K | Mumbai

A Goud Saraswat Brahmin from Kerala wants to preserve the community's rich culinary legacy for the next generation

In the 16th century, Brahmins from the Konkan region began making their way further south, seeking refuge from religious persecution and forced conversions at the hands of the Portuguese. As this community, part of a larger denomination called the Goud Saraswat Brahmins, assimilated into the local culture of their new homes, their cuisine too, came to be influenced by the geographical realities.

Prabha Kamath, 79, a food blogger and author of Prabha's Kitchen —A Treasure Trove of Konkani Cuisine Part 1 (Notion Press) available on Amazon Kindle (R350), wants to preserve the unique culinary traditions of the GSB community in Kerala. "What makes our cuisine different from that of the Saraswat community in Goa, Mangaluru and other regions, is that it is vegetarian," she explains. "We also use coconut generously in all our recipes. After all, Kerala is known as the land of coconuts."

But, garam masala, a beloved condiment across India, has no place in Kamath's kitchen. Neither do onions and garlic. "We only use regular herbs and spices like coriander, cumin seeds and chillies."

Prabha Kamath
Prabha Kamath

Born in Coimbatore and having grown up in Ernakulam, Kamath has led a peripatetic life—her husband's job also necessitated constant relocation. Her fondness for cooking, especially the treasure trove of Konkani delicacies from her hometown, continued to keep her connected to her roots. Years after their three children were settled, her husband, V Balakrishna Kamath, suggested that she document her recipes. "Prabha has always been an excellent cook and homemaker. She could easily whip up a delicious meal for a large gathering of guests by herself. I thought she should share her culinary talent with our community and protect an integral part of our culture from fading away," he says.

It was what prompted her to start the blog, Prabha's Kitchen in 2010. With her husband as editor, she began regularly writing and uploading recipes. Today, the blog has over 300 recipes, including a rich collection of breakfast items, curries, chutneys and desserts, all dug out from her own memory and from the kitchens of other Konkani women across Kerala.

The book, which contains many recipes from the blog, is the first of the two volumes to be published. Kamath felt the need to write a book because of her distrust of the digital space, where information is as easily lost, as it is found. "The few good books that existed on Kerala cuisine were written in Malayalam, which the younger generation, cannot read. I want our cuisine to be accessible to the young, who might be curious about our roots."

Cabbage undi

Cabbage undi

Ingredients
1 cup raw rice
2 cups boiled rice
1/2 cup coconut
5 red chillies
¼ tsp asafoetida
¼ tsp hing
A small piece of tamarind
Salt to taste
2 cups cabbage (cut into very small pieces)

Method
Soak both the rice varieties together for six hours. Grind all the ingredients, except the cabbage, to a fine paste.
Add the chopped cabbage. Smear the idli moulds with oil and pour the batter in each mould.
Steam for 10 minutes in the pressure cooker (without weight). Serve with coconut oil or any kind of chutney.

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