Friday, 18 October 2013


Cooking and Preserving Methods in Kerala Cuisine

Kerala cuisine is blessed with some fantastic cooking methods that have been carefully designed for the maximum utilization of natural resources. I have described our traditional cooking methods in terms of international cooking styles. Therefore, I may not use traditional wording, but the result is the same. Kerala cuisine has a great tradition of vegetarian cuisine related to Hinduism. Most of the vegetarian dishes are slow cooked and require boiling, stewing, or a combination of these methods.

With the influence of other non-Hindu communities in Kerala, some excellent non-vegetarian recipes came to exist./
The traders who came to Kerala for spices brought together their cooking traditions and cooking methods. Kerala cuisine also boasts traditional methods of preserving food ingredients by pickling and drying. Pickles are the first dish served on the banana leaf for “Sadhya.”

Some common cooking methods that still exist are described below.
Stewing is a method of cooking all the ingredients together in a liquid over low heat for a relatively long period. In Kerala cuisine, most of the curries are made in this style. The cooking period depends on numerous factors, such as cuts of meat, quality of the ingredients, cooking equipment, and method adopted. Vegetables like carrots, potatoes, green peas, and tomatoes are the main ingredients for a stew.

In Kerala, most of the stewing curries are thickened naturally either by potato used in the stew or by reducing and then finishing with coconut milk. Meats such as beef, chicken, or lamb are suitable for slow cooking.

In a stew, the gravy usually covers the meat. One of the best ways is to sear the meat and vegetables before stewing. In Kerala cuisine, we have a prominent influence of Portuguese cooking, and some of the stewing methods have been adopted with few changes. Vegetable stew or ishtew is used as an accompaniment to chapatti and appam. Innovative chefs have tried preparing lamb and chicken in a similar style and had good success in those dishes.
Boiling food in water is an ancient and traditional method used in Kerala cooking. Boiling temperature is maintained above 99 °C, and you can see the vigorous motion of the liquid on the surface. It is a very harsh technique of cooking. It is best to cook meat and root vegetables by boiling because of their hard texture. Rice and potatoes are suitable for boiling. Rice is boiled first, dried, and then partially milled to remove its husk.

In Kerala almost all tea stalls have a traditional wood-burning boiler that is heated almost twenty-four hours a day. It has multiple uses, including steaming bananas, boiling eggs, and making tea.

In frying, oil is used as the cooking medium. The food is cooked quickly and gets a crispy texture. Adjusting the oil quantity results in several different frying methods, including panfrying, deep frying, sautéing, and stir-frying. Sautéing and stir-frying are similar and use only a small amount of oil for frying on a hot surface.

For panfrying, use only the required amount of oil to immerse one third to one half of each piece of food. Deep-frying is the method of totally immersing the food in the hot oil. Deep-fried oil can be used again until the oil colour changes or taste varies. Dishes used for deep-frying need a coating layer marinade for giving a crispy coating.

Steaming is a cooking method using steam produced by boiling water. The food is not put directly into the boiling water, but is kept separate from the water using a perforated plate and is cooked by contact with the steam. With this method, the food gets a moist texture and retains more nutrients than with boiling. In Kerala, there is a special steamer pot. There is a wide variety of steamed food in Kerala, mainly breakfast foods, including idli, idiyappam, and kozhukatta.

Pickling is a process of preserving food in brine or an acidic medium. Brine is a solution of salt water. A common test of brine quality involves dropping a clean, washed, raw; egg when it floats, the proportion of salt to water is ideal. The food preserved using this method is called pickle. Pickling enhances the flavours by concentrating them. Pickling promotes osmosis, the process of moving water molecules through a permeable membrane to a higher concentrated solution, thereby equalizing both sides.

Kerala has a large variety of pickles, including raw mango, lemon, garlic, tomato, and chilli. There are non-vegetarian pickles as well. The main fish used for pickling is tuna. Prawns are also good for pickling. The fruits, vegetables, and fish are mixed with ingredients such as salt, spices, and mustard oil, and are set to mature. Pickled foods will last for up to a year or more.


Drying is the oldest method of preserving food and usually uses natural sunlight. The process removes all moisture from the food. Many foods are preserved by drying and can be stored for later use. In Kerala, fishes such as tuna, mackerel, and sardine are salted and dried. This is done mostly by the fishing community when they have a stock of fish left after the day’s sale. The fish is soaked in salt water for a couple of days and is dried in the sun. The fish can be later soaked and made into curry or powdered to make chutneys. Dried mango is also very common in Kerala. Sliced raw mango is soaked in brine for two days and then strained and dried under the sun or in hot areas in the kitchen.

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