The oottupura beckons
A seasoned Keralite consultant chef's new weekly dining experience is inspired by Malabari flavours from her grandmother's kitchen
Marina Balakrishnan's childhood memories are flecked with aromas of molten jaggery, powdered cardamom and fresh coconut milk as her grandmother cooked the moong dal pradhaman (a variety of payasam) at their Thalassery home. "She would roast the moong dal in batches, some only sautéed while others cooked till brown. This added diverse textures to the dal," says the certified plant-based chef, who will recreate this dessert for her new, weekly dining experience titled Oottupura (Malayalam: eating house), launching this Sunday.
Featuring a set menu of 10 home-style, vegetarian dishes (without onion-garlic) from the Malabar region, the meal is available on pre-order basis (limited to 10 people) with pick-up from her Juhu residence. "The oottupura symbolises community since it's a gathering of people sharing delicious food. In the times of social distancing, my endeavour is to recreate the warmth of a Malayali dining experience in one's own home," she says.
This edition of the seasonal menu, changing as per availability of produce, includes pumpkin erissery; stir-fried long beans; cucumber pachadi with a hint of mustard; inji puli laced with tamarind, ginger and jaggery, and sambaram or spiced buttermilk — all served with Kerala's native adatt matta rice.
"The focus is on using fresh and carefully sourced ingredients," says Balakrishnan, 56, who does the prep and cooking herself to control hygiene standards. This includes extracting fresh coconut milk, setting the curd from organic cow's milk and hand-pounding spice powders. Pantry staples such as peppercorn, jaggery, cardamom and Malabar tamarind have been sourced from Kerala "to maintain the integrity of flavours and food properties," she adds.
The food is prepared in traditional brass and soapstone cookware using family recipes passed down via generations. "For example, in the technique of making inji puli in a kalchatti, I tie its mouth with banana leaf, which helps the inji puli brew for a bit and lends it an aroma," she says. Ayurveda principles are part of her cooking too; like, avoiding raw green chillies in the buttermilk because they "cause imbalance to the pitta dosha governing digestion."
Packed in non-plastic containers, the meals will be accompanied by a clean banana leaf and tags for dishes that can be reheated. "Food has the energy to heal. I hope this experience offers nourishment for the body and soul in these times," she signs off.
Log on to @thatthalasserygirl on Instagram (pre-orders open on Friday)
Cost Rs 750
Moong dal pradhaman
Yield: 10-12 servings
Cooking time: 45 minutes
½ kg split moong dal
4 cups thin coconut milk
2 cups thick coconut milk
¾ kg jaggery (melted and strained)
2 tablespoons ghee
4-5 cardamom powdered
4-5 cups water
¼ cup coconut bits fried
Heat ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add moong dal and fry till it turns golden. Add water and cook until the dal is well done. Stir the jaggery syrup and cook on slow fire till it reduces by half. Add thin coconut milk. Keep stirring, bring it to a boil and reduce it in volume. When reduced by half, add thick coconut milk and cook on slow fire for two minutes. Add cardamom powder and fried coconut bits. Note: The payasam should be of creamy consistency.
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