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blog swirl & savor

Savory and Exotic Cuisine of Southern India

Beth Ribblett

my niece Rika
A friend of mine remarked the other day that I must be too busy to cook lately since I've not been posting any recipes.  Ah not true I said, we've just been delving into my other favorite cuisine in the last few weeks, Indian.  I fell in love with Indian cooking when my niece Rika joined our family about 10 years ago. As much as I love Mediterranean style food, the exotic spices of India offer something refreshingly different. But, I'm not talking about your generic curries and tandoori dishes, because as things usually go for me, my love is with the cuisine of south.  The southern tip of India, in the province of Kerala as well as neighboring Goa and Tamil Nadu, is an interesting and unique culinary pocket shaped by climate, geography and religion.

The tropical coast of Kerala stretches along the Arabian Sea bringing an abundance of fish, shellfish, and coconuts while the fragrant curry leaves, mustard seeds and black pepper of the region distinctly flavor the cuisine.  Native cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric are also widely used and the combinations of spices, legumes and vegetables can be utterly intoxicating.  Vastly different from the more commonly known dishes from the north, the south offers a lighter, fresher alternative that is less oily and has no cream at all and unfortunately, a style of cuisine that most people know nothing about.

And Just as Lidia Bastianich's books are my go to reference for many of my Italian meals, Madhur Jaffery cookbooks are a must for anyone wanting to jump into Indian food.  In particular my favorite and most well worn is "Flavors of India" where she takes you on a journey through many regions of India, exploring the different cuisines and the influences that shape them.  The other book that I use is called "Curried Favors, Family Recipes from Southern India" by Maya Kaimal MacMillan.

The key to cooking these recipes is the spices.  We are fortunate to have access to a few markets that basically have everything needed to create an authentic south India meal.  The best for hard to find ingredients is the International Market in Metairie.  While a little funky and sometimes intimidating, it is THE source in area for spices, dhals (legumes), rice, curry leaves, tamarind, housewares and everything you would need to prepare any of the recipes in either book.

Aamti - Maharashtrian Lentils, one of our staples

To answer Mary's question, yes, both Kerry and I have been cooking a lot of Indian food lately, but it sometimes harder for me to write about because of the mysterious ingredients and cooking techniques that can be difficult to describe.  But I'm going to do my best, starting with a simple and delicious sambar, a spicy stew of legumes and vegetables that will knock your socks off if you take the time to get the right ingredients to make the spice mix.

Coconut and Green Chilli Prawns

Mulligatawny Soup
So if you are feeling adventurous, check out my recipe, Vegetable Sambar...another staple our house!

Vegetable Sambar