Friday, 18 October 2013


Kerala cuisine ingredients

Spices, defined as strongly flavoured and aromatic substances obtained from plants in seed, leaf, bud, or flower form, form an integral part of Kerala cooking. In ancient times, spices were as precious as gold and diamonds. India produces many kinds of spices, and most quality spices come from Kerala.
Spices are considered good for our taste buds and health. The commonly used spices are cumin, green chilli, coriander, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, pepper, dried red chilli, curry leaf, coriander leaf, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, and asafoetida.

Pepper has been grown and used in Indian cuisine, and specifically in Kerala cuisine, since 2000 BC. Europeans and westerners came to India only due to the presence of pepper. Pepper is considered the black gold. India and Vietnam are the largest producers of pepper. Pepper mainly comes in two forms, black and white. Black is produced by lightly cooking the unripe pepper with the skin and then drying it. White is the seed of pepper with the skin removed.

Cardamom is the most easily recognizable sweet spice and is grown on the hillsides of Kerala. It is the world’s third-most-expensive spice by weight, outstripped in market value by only saffron and vanilla. Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic, resinous fragrance.
Black cardamom has a distinctly more smoky, though not bitter, aroma with a coolness some consider similar to mint. Green cardamom is one of the most expensive spices by weight, but little is needed to impart the flavour.Cardamom is best stored in pod form because once the seeds are exposed or ground, they quickly lose their flavour. Cardamom belongs to the ginger family Zingiberaceae.

Cinnamon is a very important spice in any Kerala meat preparation and the spice blend “garam masala,” which is different from the one used in north India.It’s obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the genus Cinnamomum that are cultivated on the hills of Kerala.
Cloves are grown in mountain areas of Kerala. They are used in cooking either completely or in a ground form, but as they are extremely strong, they are used sparingly. Cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae.
The clove tree is an evergreen that grows to a height ranging from 8–12 m, having large leaves and reddish brown flowers in numerous groups of terminal clusters.

The flower buds are at first pale in colour and gradually become green, after which they develop into a bright red when they are ready for collecting.

Fenugreek is the small, cube-shaped, yellow seeds of fenugreek plant. Both the seeds and plant are used for cooking.
Fenugreek when sautéed in oil produces an excellent fragrance that is common to Indian curries. In Kerala cuisine, fenugreek seeds are more often used than the plants.
Most Kerala fish dishes are enriched with the flavour of fenugreek seeds, which masks the unpleasant fishy smell.

Mustard Seeds
Widely used for the preparation of dishes in Kerala, mustard seeds are the small, round seeds of various mustard plants. The seeds are usually about 1 or 2 mm in diameter. There are three main varieties of mustard. Mustard seeds grow well in temperate regions. Mustard is considered to be a rich source of oil and protein. Seeds are available as whole seeds, split seeds, or powder and paste. It’s ideal to store mustard seeds in a clean and dry container or jar, because they form clumps when wet. Mustard is used in the tempering of spices. The procedure of heating oil, dropping in mustard seeds, and cooking them until they pop gives many dishes a distinctive flavor. However, mustard is really a preservative, and the seeds are used for pickling in most Kerala households.

There is rarely any Kerala food without chillies in it. Chillies are fruits of the capsicum species. They are cultivated mainly in tropical and subtropical countries.India is the largest producer and exporter of chillies. Ripe chillies, which are red in colour, are picked from the plant and dried in the sun.

Fresh, unripe chilies come in various shades of green, and they are better for flavor. Both red and green chilies come from the same plant, it is just that the peppers change colour as they ripen, and they have a strong aroma. Chilies are available fresh, dried, powdered, and flaked.

Curry Leaf
Curry leaf comes from a beautiful tree called the curry tree, which grows well in tropical climates and is native to India. Curry leaf is present in almost each dish in Kerala. As the tree is widely grown, the leaves are inexpensive. Curry leaves are available fresh and dried. They are dropped into hot oil that is then poured on top of many dishes to add flavor. While they add their lingering aroma to a dish, they are normally not eaten by people.

The tamarind tree is an evergreen, long-lived, medium-growth, bushy tree. Its fruit is called the tamarind pod.It has a crescent shape and is brown with a thin, brittle shell.
It contains a fleshy pulp. When it is mature, the flesh is coloured brown or reddish brown. Within this pulp, there is a seed, which is dark brown in colour. The pulp is used as flavoring for its sweet, sour taste and is said to be high in acid, sugar, vitamin B, and calcium. It is available as a pressed fibrous slab or concentrated paste. Tamarind extract is used in some dishes, especially in fish curries, to give a sweet-and-sour flavor to the curry. Tamarind slabs and paste store well and will last for up to a year.

Kokum is native to India and is endemic to the western coastal regions of south India. The kokum tree is of tropical evergreen origin. It is a sour fruit that resembles tamarind. Kokum is deep purple in colour when ripe and has large seeds. The fruits are pickled when ripe. The rind is then removed and soaked repeatedly in the juice of the pulp and then dried under the sun. The rind is used as the flavoring for food. It has a sweet-and-sour taste and gives a purple colour to the food.

Tapioca is the fully grown root of the tapioca plant. The name is derived from the cassava or yuca plant. It is often used to thicken soups and sweeten the flavour of the food.Kerala is one of the few states in India that use tapioca as a staple food. Tapioca is gluten-free and almost completely protein-free.
In Kerala, tapioca is the best combination meal along with a spicy fish curry. I have provided the recipe in the last chapter.

Kerala Banana
The two most famous Kerala banana varieties are plantain (large, yellow banana) and red banana.
Red is a variety of banana with reddish-purple skin and is smaller than other bananas. In comparison to other bananas, the red banana is sweeter and softer. The redder the fruit, the more taste. It is also higher in vitamin C. Red bananas are eaten in the same way as yellow bananas, and they are available year-round.Plantain is used in many forms in Kerala cuisine.

The famous Kerala chip is made from plantain. Numerous sweets and savories are also made from plantain. Raw plantain is good for making crisps.

Banana Flower and Stem
The flower is taken only after the banana has grown to its full volume and is often used in Kerala cooking as a source for the main vegetarian dish enriched with high nutritional value. The banana stem, which is white, is the innermost part. It looks similar to palm heart and is treated the same as the banana flower. Both will oxidize faster if not kept in water after cutting.

Brown Rice
Also called part-milled rice, brown rice is a whole, natural grain. It is more nutritious than white rice. This rice is now more expensive because of its low supply and difficulty of storage. Brown rice has a shelf life of approximately six to seven months.

In Kerala rice is a staple, and most families use brown rice.

Colacasia (Chembu)
Colacasia is a tuber of which both leaves and root are used for cooking. The plant is called “elephant ears” due to its large size.Colacasia is an integral part of sambar, the very famous Kerala dish that is necessary in all vegetarian feasts. Colacasia has a high starch content and a sticky nature. It is good for sautéing or stir-frying with an addition of grated coconut.

Yam (Chena)
Another tuber, the yam is very common in Kerala; its stem and root are used for cooking. Unlike colacasia, the root is hard and requires long cooking. Yam is best for stewing. It can also be used for stir-frying, but pre-cooking is advised.

The name Kerala originated from “kera,” or coconut tree, and coconut is termed as “nalikeram.” Kerala cooking is not complete without coconut.
Coconut is used mainly in three forms: grated coconut, coconut milk, and coconut oil.

Kerala dishes will not be authentic if you do not use coconut oil in cooking, according to studies made by the coconut board of the Indian government.

Asafetida is extracted from the root of perennial plant, which is native to Afghanistan and imported to India .The plant is a species of ferula and looks similar to fennel. Asafetida is mainly sold in two forms: solid cake and powdered. In olden days, Kerala households used solid asafetida diluted in lukewarm water. The raw flavor of asafetida is unpleasant, but heating it with oil or ghee (clarified butter) gives it a very appetizing flavor.

Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit and is grown extensively in the tropical climate region. Archaeological surveys in India have found jackfruit cultivation as far back as three thousand to six thousand years. In Kerala cuisine, jackfruit is used in both its raw and ripened forms. Varieties are distinguished according to the characteristics of the fruit’s flesh.

Drumstick is taken from the drumstick tree. It is an exceptionally nutritious vegetable tree with a variety of potential uses. Drumstick is the most commonly used vegetable in Kerala. It is a main ingredient in curries and side dishes like sambar, theeyal, and thoran.Drumstick and its leaves are widely available in Kerala and there is at least one tree in almost every house in Kerala.Drumstick is helpful in increasing breast milk in the breastfeeding months. It is also believed to have great aphrodisiac properties.

Toddy is an alcoholic beverage taken from the sap of the coconut tree or palm tree. It is a traditional beverage of Kerala with a long history. Toddy is collected in a mud pot from the unbloomed flower pod of the coconut or palm tree. The pot is taken in the morning or evening, where morning is sweet and evening tends to be more alcoholic since it is allowed to ferment.

Toddy was traditionally used to ferment rice to make appam (hoppers). Now yeast is used instead.
Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is extracted from dried coconuts and is commonly used in cooking. It gives flavour to the dishes. Coconut oil has a smoking point of 138 °C.
Coconut oil has a fairly long shelf life of about two years because of its natural saturated fat content.

Mustard Oil
Mustard oil is extracted from mustard seeds. The oil can be extracted from black, brown, and white mustards. In Kerala, mustard oil often used for pickling.The oil is heated before cooking to reduce the strong smell and taste. Mustard seeds have high levels of omega-3.  Mustard oil is also used for Ayurveda massages to improve blood circulation.
Gingelly Oil

Gingelly oil is also known as sesame oil. It is an edible vegetable oil extracted from sesame seeds and is used in some Kerala dishes such as dosa and idli.This oil is perfect for deep-frying and can be used for stir-frying meats and vegetables. Hindus use gingelly oil to light oil lamps for God. Gingelly oil is a source of vitamins.

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