Food is such an integral part of our travels now that we’re mostly guided by our nose. Back in March, I wrote about the near-impossibility of finding good seafood in our coastal towns—seafood, specifically, that is treated as much with respect as with authority. Though mostly a lament for what-could-have-been, the article ended with a recent experience at a Kerala resort, which gave me hope that we were about to turn a corner. At Niraamaya, a Relaix and Chateaux property off Kovalam, Chef Prakash Nayak treated us to lunches and dinners that married the flavours of the sea with the produce of the coast, be it the lemongrass-fragranced Thai seafood curries or coconutty meen moilees.

The tragedy about food—and holidays, too—is that they are finite. And while we can look back at those photographs of brilliant Arabian Sea sunsets and bright flowers, there wasn’t a way we could realistically transport our tummies back to the seaside. So imagine my delight when a package landed at my desk and yielded A Taste of Kerala, a compilation of recipes “from the kitchens of Niraamaya".

Beautifully photographed (by Arun Suresh), designed and produced, this handy book opens with a section on Pickles and Soups, follows it up with Fish and Seafood, Poultry and Meat, Vegetarian, Sides (Bamboo Rice Biryani, Kappa, Puttu, Appam etc), Masalas and Chutneys and wraps up with Desserts and More (including an intriguing hibiscus granita). Barring a handful, the recipes are mostly classics—from cabbage thoran to tamarind rice and beef coconut fry to coconut-and-jaggery payasam—but they are elucidated in detail, with little sections on the Ayurvedic benefits of certain ingredients (Niraamaya has a well-regarded Ayurvedic spa), useful tips (did you know soaking squid in milk prior to cooking can help you avoid the dreaded rubberiness?), clear time-and head-counts for home-cooking, and chilli-heat-meters.

With the exception of the beetroot pickle, the opening section quite humdrum; the well-styled and well-shot photos accompanying each recipe, however, are a definite plus. Of the two featured soups, one is a simple lemon-ginger-coriander broth ready in seconds; the other is a crab meat rasam (that obligingly allows you to drop the crab if you want to make it vegetarian). The Fish and Seafood section is the bulkiest, with recipes ranging from Meen Moilee (yes! The very one I remembered from our December holiday!) to a Stuffed Squid Masala, which calls for all of 37 ingredients. (See below for the much simpler Squid Pepper recipe, which I tried out to very satisfactory results.) The Poultry and Meat emphasizes on free-range chicken, best illustrated by the Nadan Chicken Curry, which calls for the meat to be cooked slowly over 40 minutes, to coax out the recalcitrant tenderness.

As celebrated as Kerala’s meat and fish dishes are, I found the vegetarian chapter to be the most interesting, with the coconut milk and coconut cream-based Vendakkaya Mappas (braised okra) and the Ullitheeyal (whole shallots cooked in a tangy tamarind gravy) piquing the curiosity. Also of interest was the Banana Flower Thoran: As familiar as I am with the painstaking and elaborate Bengali mochar ghonto (a semi-dry banana flower dish), this 20-minute stir-fry is something I’ll definitely be coming back to.

Representative as the book is by way of basic recipes, I do wish there was a chapter on Kerala cooking essentials, be they pots and pans or pantry staples. Almost each recipe, for instance, calls for gingelly (roasted sesame) oil or coconut oil, and substituting a tasteless white oil like sunflower, which may be more common in urban kitchens, for instance, would definitely be doing the dish an injustice.

Serves 1

Ingredients

25ml coconut oil

1tbsp ginger julienned

1 tbsp garlic sliced

2 green chillies julienned

1 red onion sliced

6 curry leaves

Salt to taste

½ tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp red chilli powder

¼ tsp coriander powder

120 gm squid, cut into rings

½ tsp black pepper, coarsely crushed

Method

In a thick-bottom pan, heat coconut oil, then add ginger, green chill, garlic, sliced onions, curry leaves and fry well till onions start to brown. Next, add salt, turmeric powder, red chilli powder and coriander powder. Finally add squid and cook over high heat for a few seconds. Add the crushed black peppercorns, check the seasoning and take it off the fire.

A Taste of Kerala: From the Kitchens of Niraamaya. 2,000. Available on Amazon.in.

This weekly series, which appears on Tuesdays, looks at what’s new with food and drink, and how we are interacting with it.

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