LEGACY IN A COOKERY BOOK.
‘ENTE THARAVAD PACHAKAM’ by Aswathy Mathen.
Writing again for The Daily Brunch was like coming back home after a long, locked down break. The locked down due to the viral global invasion, took its toll. Like I often say in these testing times, ‘We are living in a viral-wartorn world ’. It’s good to be back, with another slice of history.
Culinary Kollam History.
I love these three words. As a home cook, I live the word culinary, Kollam my hometown, and of course history of food over the ages.
Kollam, Kerala in the early ‘70’s was like a slow boiling, dark halwa with bubbles forming and breaking like lava in a large Uruli (Large Kerala cooking wok in Metal Alloys) with a healthy cultural mix of Christian, Muslim and Hindu families and communes, though not very evident at that time to a school kid like me. Buzzing Muslim weddings and the Ramzan celebrations got me wondering why such sumptuous and tasty mutton biriyanis were not made at home. Come Christmas, Easter or any given Sunday, an invitation to a good Christian home was a foodie roller coaster. Cakes, puddings, cutlets, fishes both fried and curried staking their claim of ‘Main Dish’ along with fried, roasted or curried Mutton, Beef or chicken. It was obvious. Friends, neighbours, relatives or associates, for all the folks the crux of every celebration centered around food. That was the mainstay. The Fulcrum and the centerfold of the event, talked about for days after the fiesta was over.
A few weeks ago, during the lockdown, I scrolled into a FB posting of a Cookery Book “ENTE THARAVAD PACHAKAM” (My Family Cookery) a hard copy of which had been published in English, translated from the original Malayalam version. What got me buzzing was it was posted by Ashok Mathen, a friend of mine from Kollam and more importantly, the author was his mother ASWATHY MATHEN! I contacted him and a couple of days later I was flipping through a brand new copy of the book like a school kid unwrapping a box of spanking new audio cassettes of his favourite music.
The MATHEN family name brought on memories of cricket games and driving lessons in the huge open air Asramom Maidan, the Heritage Residency Guest House holding pride of place amidst acres of sprawling greenery on the banks of the Ashtamudi Lake. The expansive freshwater lake, the second largest in Kerala after the Vembanad in Kumarakom, was the reason the Boat Club of Kollam got its name.
Aswathy Mathen, born into the Kalloparambil family in 1930 at Kottayyam, schooled there and later graduated from the Women’s Christian College, Madras. All through her school and college years, she nutured a passion for cooking which got her honing her skills everytime she was home during the vacations from the boarding school and college.
A multi-talented bundle of energy, Aswathy Mathen came to Kollam after her marriage to C.M. Mathen.
In another avatar, Aswathy Mathen wrote the script for the historic hit Malayalam film “Manavatti”, produced by her husband and directed by none other than C.S. Sethumadhavan. The script for this film was written by her making her the first ever woman script writer in Malayalam films in an era were women only acted in films. This film threw up memorable tunes like ‘Ashtamudi Kayalile’ and ‘Idaya Kanyake’, a tune until some time ago Sri. K.J. Jesudas the acclaimed singer always started his live concert with.
This epic recipe book ‘Ente Tharavad Pachakam’ originally compiled and written in Malayalam at her ancestral home is a compilation of Aswathy Mathen’s 50 years of experience in varied cooking experiences, especially for her grandchildren. This English Edition, broadens the scope but retains the essence of the original and is dedicated to her by her children. It holds pride of place in my cookery book collection, especially because of the fact that she spent most of her years in Kollam, my hometown and therefore forms part of Kollam’s quaint legacy.
As I flipped through the pages to lock in on a dish which I planned to cook in my home kitchen in Bangalore, the name itself got me hooked. NAADAN ERACHI CURRY (Country Meat Curry). My choice of meat was obviously mutton. It was a no brainer. Back in the days, Kollam was a mutton town. It still is. That’s what I have come to conclude from discussions with food aficionados of Kerala.
Now that I had homed in on the dish to cook, I realized that my Amma’s birthday was in a couple of days. What better day to cook up a Kollam heritage dish from an epic cook book edited by her son!
When I informed him that I would start off with a traditional meat curry, his tip to me was “You’ll need to make the Kerala Garam Masala exactly as per her recipe and then cook up the meat curry as all meat curries would require this Garam Masala to be added in.”
I even shopped for Khus Khus which was a key ingredient in the Kerala Garam Masala mix.
Each of the 6 required whole spices were arranged as per the weight specified. Then they were roasted separately; First the cloves and cinnamon, followed by pepper corns and lastly the Perum Jeerakam (Fennel seeds) and cumin along with the Khus Khus.
A good grind in the blender and ‘The Kerala Garam Masala’ was done.
According to Aswathy Mathen’s tip: Cardamom is never used in a Kerala Garam Masala powder. Period. She is absolutely right.
I got to cooking the ‘Naadan Erachi Curry’ up. I stuck to the recipe’s every ingredient and technique of cooking.
The sliced shallots, the coconut milk extracted from freshly grated coconut, interplay of coconut oil and ghee, and the magic of the Kerala Garam Masala in combination with the rest of the spice powders gave the curry a wholesomeness that comes only with authentic ingredients and freshly roasted spices.
The final tempering and the roasted slices of coconut all added to the look and unique flavour of the Traditional Mutton Curry.
On tasting, it was pure delight. The mutton pieces slow cooked to perfection in a regular open vessel had absorbed all the flavours and the consistency of the curry was just as slurry as I had imagined.
To go with this classic ‘Naadan Mutton Curry’ I ventured to make a ‘Nei Choru’ (Ghee rice) which I had learned from my Kollam Friends’ culinary adventures in Bangalore.
So for my Amma’s 85th birthday lunch, there was Naadan Mutton Curry with Nei Choru. The mutton curry cooked the ‘Tharavad’ way and the simple Ghee rice became a great combo. It was almost like everyone was back on the banks of the Ashtamudi Lake in Kollam, Kerala.
Not only was it a lunch cooked by me for my Mom’s birthday, more importantly the main dish was created from a recipe in a book translated, edited by a son in the memory of his mother Aswathy Mathen’s culinary skills.
Monu Danesh Surendran works for a retail organization in Bangalore and heads it online and branding division. He is a foodie by passion and therefore tries his hand at stuff in his home kitchen. While not dabbling in cooking during his days off he likes his music and of course trying out food. He prefers home cooked cuisine though restaurant fare guarantees a good outing with friends.
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