After reading Lathika George’s first book, we know a great deal about her large Syrian Christian family. You’re treated to action, intrigue and secrets— one of George’s beautiful aunts died young of a broken heart (and a fatal disease). Her cousin Thommachen shot off one of his fingers while hunting ducks in Kumarakom, Kerala.
Her grandmother, draped only with a thin sheet, had medicated mud baths every Tuesday in the courtyard of their large estate home in Kerala. George’s husband’s ageing uncle and aunt, who lived in an idyllic estate in Injathotti with their adopted, mentally challenged son, worried about who would care for him after their death. Probably the most brilliant one is about Missy, a talented Anglo-Indian travelling cook who conducted cooking classes for the women of prominent Syrian Christian homes. This devout Christian woman was given a room in convents in all the villages she travelled to, till the nuns discovered her secret.
The Suriani Kitchen: Lathika George, Westland, 240 pages, Rs450.
But The Suriani Kitchen is no juicy tell-all best-seller; it’s a cookbook that beautifully chronicles every recipe and kitchen trick of a culinarily rich Syrian Christian household. George is a Mumbai-born Syrian Christian who moved to Kerala in her teens, and that’s where she currently lives, working as a landscaper for hill-station gardens.
In the vein of modern cookbooks, George has managed to make this read like a family album as well. Interspersed with Fish Roe Sauté, Curried Chickpeas and Beef and Tapioca are old Malayalam folk tales, the history of Syrian Christians and George’s recollections of holidays, incidents and meals in Kerala. Where is the best toddy shop in the state? You’ll find it off Highway 47 on the road to Alleppey.
There are lovely stories of ritual baths, paeans to coconuts and a story about Kerala Kalpam, an ancient Sanskrit manuscript on agriculture which outlines the ideal way to tend to the fields—only men with a calm and orderly disposition should do so. Bulls should be enticed with song instead of being prodded by sticks and while sowing seeds, a song should be on the lips and in the hearts of farmers.
George’s recipes, thankfully, don’t seem this demanding. Though the non-vegetarian ones dealing with beef, pork, poultry and seafood are all lip-smacking, the sections for the vegetarian recipes and accompaniments are a delight. Fresh Cashew Sauté, Wild Mushroom Sauté, Spiced Cooked Buttermilk, Jar Soup and Dried Shrimp Chutney all look simple enough for amateurs to try.
As expected, there’s a lot of coconut and coconut oil. But George gives you her blessing to use vegetable oil if desired, though she does insinuate that you’re missing out on the real flavour of Kerala by doing so.
The Suriani Kitchen, with its beautiful, grainy black and white and colour pictures, offers a well-written, personal and often touching insight into Kerala and its cuisine—which make it deserve the title of God’s Own Country.
Duck Roast (Tharavu Roast)
Mouthful: Serve the roast with fried potatoes.
2kg duck, cut into 12-15 pieces
3 tbsp sliced fresh ginger
12 garlic cloves, sliced
6 green chillies, chopped
12 curry leaves
3 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp crushed black peppercorn
2 tbsp salt
12 cups water
K cup oil
4 large onions, sliced
6 cardamom pods
5 whole cloves
2 (1-inch) cinnamon sticks
Warm these ingredients slightly in a small, dry skillet and then grind to a powder.
Put the duck in a heavy- bottomed wide pot with the spice powder and all the other ingredients except the oil and onions. Partially cover and cook for 20-30 minutes over low heat.
When the duck is tender and the gravy has been reduced to 2 cups, remove from heat. Remove the duck from the pan and reserve the gravy.
Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the sliced onions for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown; remove them and set aside. In the same oil, fry the duck pieces in batches for 4-5 minutes, until they brown. Remove the pieces and set aside.
When the duck has been fried, pour the gravy into the oil and cook for 2 minutes or until it has thickened. Add the duck and the fried onions, stir and cook for 5 minutes, until the meat is coated with the gravy. Serve with sliced fried potatoes.