The Importance Of Coconuts In Keralan Cooking
The cuisine of Kerala is characterised by its use of coconuts. Kerala translates to mean ‘land of coconuts’ and coconut trees grow in abundance across the state. The locals take their coconuts very seriously here.
It is used daily in every kitchen in Kerala and many families have coconut trees growing in their gardens. The coconut palm is often referred to as the ‘tree of life’ because coconuts can be used in so many ways: as food, drink, utensils, instruments, fuel, medicinal purposes –the list goes on. Coconuts are used to create a range of home-cooked dishes served at breakfast, lunch, dinner – in fact any time of the day.
Keralan’s like to start the day with dishes containing coconut. One of those is puttu, the state’s traditional breakfast. The dish is made by steaming coarsely ground rice flour and grated coconut in a puttukutti (a cylindrical steamer). The resulting tube-like dish is served with kadala (chickpea) curry, plantain, mango or jackfruit. In different states it is enjoyed with varying accompaniments: in Tamil Nadu it is served with sweetened coconut milk or a mix of grated coconut and jiggery;in Sri Lanka, pittu is served with tripe or fish curry, coconut milk and a sambol;back in Kerala, it is simply enjoyed with a sweet black coffee. Coconut is also used to create a breakfast chutney served with dosa or sambar.
Next up is lunch – and coconuts make an appearance again. Kerala’s long coastline means that fish and seafood make frequent appearances in the cuisine. Keralan fish curry is a particular favourite, with fish and coconut the stars of the dish. The coconut is blended with spices including ginger, coriander, turmeric, tamarind and curry leaves to create a paste in which to cook the fish. Coconut oil is used to cook the curryand can also be drizzled over the top of the dish before serving for an extra depth of flavour. This curry is served in a meenchatti (a traditional clay pot) alongside rice and is devoured by families across the state every lunchtime.
Bondas are popular snacks across India, but in Kerala they are served with a slight difference. The traditional bonda is a potato (or other vegetable) dipped in gram flour batterand deep fried. In Keralan cuisine, the potato is often swapped for tapioca or a hard-boiled egg (muttabonda) and dipped in a spicy batter before frying – a traditional Indian classic with a cheeky Keralan twist.
And let’s not forget pudding. Ahugely popular dessert in Kerala is payasam–essentially a rice pudding which is flavoured with cardamom, raisins, saffron and pistachio nuts. The dish is sweetened with coconut milk in Kerala rather than sugar (as is the way in other parts of the country). As well as being enjoyed in many homes, payasam is also offered to the Gods in South Indian Hindu temples during ceremonies and rituals.
If you are nuts about coconuts then you are no doubt a big fan of southern Indian curries. Make your way to one of London’s fine-dining Indian restaurants to get your next coconut fix – whatever time of day.