Monday, June 20, 2011

A secret rendezvous to rekindle a passion of Pandi Curry and memories of Coorg Cuisine

Pandi Curry!

“Get to Hill road and call me,” he had messaged. “And I will come and get you, you’ll never find this place alone.” 

It was a dark and stormy night...

Ummm.. perhaps that’s an exaggeration. It was merely ominously cloudy when I left home. But it seemed like the very gods were unhappy with my decision that day and every setback possible was being thrown my way. And yet, I had to go, no matter what! Ignoring the pangs of guilt squeezing my heart at the thought of leaving my children and husband I flagged down a rikshaw and sped off to my secret rendezvous at an unknown location in Bandra. The clouds let lose as I turned onto Hill rd. The winds rattling my rikshaw and, rain lashing me from the sides, every drop stinging me, the elements urging me to turn back. But there was no stopping now. I had crossed the final line and there was no turning back. I was... a... I almost shuddered at the mere thought...

...a “foodie” now! In every sense!

Just two words and I had gone from a controlled, academically passionate gastronome to a foodie. 

And the words were – Pandi Curry. I was headed to a secret rendezvous with a plateful of the addictive stuff organised by Megha of i2cook and her husband Pavan at an undisclosed location in Bandra! Pandi Curry is a dish belonging to the cuisine of Coorg. I had had a taste of it once and nothing was going to stop me from getting another taste of it this time!
And until the heavens let loose, I had been pleasantly lost in my memories of my trip to Coorg and that first taste of Pandi Carry.

Coorg was one of the first travel food junkets I was invited on as a food writer back in the November of 2006, hosted by Club Mahindra at their Kodagu Valley Resort. On the menu was a 3 day gourmet festival showcasing the prowess of their impressive team of chefs. I learnt many things on that trip; that red, black and green peppercorns all come from the same plant, that cardamom is the queen of spices, that South Indian food is a vast unexplored territory, but what I remember the most was the taste of Pandi Curry.

Just the thought of Coorg brings to mind unspoilt vistas of green paddy fields punctuated with banana and coconut palms, sprawling coffee and rubber plantations populated by aristocratic, smiling, beautiful people and a delicious cuisine that I can only describe as soul food! I remember acute disappointment on finding out that there was no Coorg cuisine on our menu at the resort! More so because being confined to the resort, there was little chance to get out to find authentic Coorg cuisine locally. Although finding a restaurant to try it at, would also have been a challenge too. 
Like all regional cuisines Coorg cuisine is not conveniently accessible at restaurants in the state. One has to work harder, travel further into the hidden kitchens of the area to find it. Thankfully much petitioning of the chefs and organizers later the local Chef organized Dakshin on a leaf, a meal that served up south Indian classics on a leaf and featured Pandhi Curry with Kadumbuttu.

Coorg is a small state situated in the mountainous Western region of Southern India inhabited by the 2500-year-old civilization of Coorgs (or Kodavas as as they are locally known) that have evolved from the intermarriage of the decendants of a peoples that originated from around the region of today's Oman & Yemen, Scythian Greeks that existed in the fifth century BC in and the local women whom they married. The Coorg community today comprise of Orthodox Hindus that are a proud martial race and belong to the Kshatriya community. But they are also non conformist choosing to follow their own traditions, they are the only community that never practices the Dowry system and the marriage ceremonies of the community are performed by their own elders as opposed to Brahmin priests. They also celebrate their own festivals such as; Puthri, "Thanksgiving Day" and Keil Poldu, the "Festival of Fire Arms".

The river Kaveri, that springs to life in the Brahmagiri hills of Kodagu, is worshiped as the reigning deity of Kodagu and is very important to the Kodavas. Considered the source of all life she is revered and annually feted on the ceremonial occasion of Kaveri Sankramana, in mid-October. This is the only day in the year when Kodavas forego meat, savouring instead a menu of red pumpkin and coconut curry, dosas, elle pajji (a coconut,  roasted sesame, tamarind, and green chilli chutney) and payasams made with khus-khus or kadale bele (bengal gram).
And Kodava or Coorg cuisine is truly a gastronome’s delight. An amalgamation of several cuisines that in essence holds true to its roots even today the cuisine of Coorg is built on fish from upland rivers, meats obtained from hunting and trapping wild animals such as deer, wild fowl and wild boar and supplemented by rarer vegetarian delights such as tender bamboo shoots, wild mushrooms, colocasia leaves and raw jackfruit. Flavoured with the juices of wild fruit that is boiled down into a tar like vinegar called Kachumpulli and seasoned with local spices and spice blends, Coorg cuisine is made up of simple dishes that leave you wanting more! 
Coorg cuisine is seasonal, the annual cycle of agriculture has been seamlessly integrated into the warrior traditions of the community. Six months of the year are dedicated to growing paddy and other crops of vegetable and fruit. During these months all weapons of the community are deposited in the prayer areas of the home.

Come early September, however and the Kodavas are done with transplanting paddy and the men ready themselves to guard their fields from wild boars and other foraging animals. This switch from agriculture to hunting is marked by celebrating the first festival of the year, Kael podu when weapons are pulled out of storage, cleaned, decorated and worshipped. Karana, the Kodava ancestor, is worshiped families come together to feast which centres around the Kodava classic, Pandhi curry or pork curry paired with Kadambuttu or steamed rice balls. With the advent of monsoon new shoots of bamboo that make an appearance are cooked into a fiery side dish eaten with the everyday staple, akki otti or rice roti. With the streams overflowing it is soon black crab season and these are roasted and cooked in pandhi curry masala and coconut. 

Select pics courtesy Sanat Tanna 

Megha of the blog l2cook. - our lovely hostess and cook!
Charring the Akki Roti for a smoky flavour.
The piece de resistance of the evening that had brought people over from around Mumbai!

Finally we got to EAT!

Freshly uprooted ginger
Cardamom - queen of spices.
Green peppercorns!
Traditional snacks in out room!
Kembu Curry
An everyday meal of the Kodavas would be fairly simple. Breakfasts would consist of akki rotis or ottis, puttus or dosai served accompaniments and lunch and dinner would be palin boiled rice with a curry and a side dish depending on the season, maybe a Kembu or Colocasia curry or a spicy, raw jackfruit palya, shredded and fried.

1 bunch collacassia leaves/arbi ka patta/ patra leaves
1/2 c chopped onion
1 tsp chopped ginger
1 tsp red chilly powder
Salt to taste
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp kachampuli or 2 ½ tsp thick tamarind extract

Heat oil in a pan and saute the collacassia leaves, onions and ginger. Add chilli powder, cumin powder and kachampuli or tamarind extract fry for another 5 mins. Serve hot. (optionally you can add fresh coconut and red chilli paste as well)

Pandhi Curry (Coorg Pork Curry) (Time 1 hour Serves 4)

½ kg pork (preferably with bones) cut into medium size pieces
½ tsp Kachampuli or 1 ½ tbsp thick tamarind pulp
1-2 tsp salt
1 tsp red chilli powder.
For Dry spice mix
1 tsp jeera
¼ tsp fenugreek
2 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp coriander

Roast all the spices on a medium flame until they are a very dark almost black in colour but not burnt. Cool and and grind together.

For wet spice mix
2 onions, sliced
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
6-8 Green chillies
1 Small bunch coriander leaves (keep a little for garnishing)

Grind everything together into a paste.

To make pork.
Place pork in a pressure cooker, adding both the masalas.and mixing well and set aside for ½ hour. Add turmeric, salt and chilli powder half cup water, cover and pressure cook till done. Uncover lid, add the Kachampuli or Tamarind syrup and cook for 2-3 minutes, until gravy thickens. Garnish with coriander leaves. And serve with Paputtu.

Coorg Koli Kari (Coorg Chicken Curry) (Time 1 hour Serves 4 )

1 kg chicken, cleaned washed and cut
2 onions sliced
½ coconut ground
1 tsp ground garlic
1 tsp jeera powder
1 tsp coriander powder
2 green chillies (to be ground with the coconut)
4-5 red chillies
2 tbsp lemon juice or 2 tbsp tamarind pulp
2 tbsp cooking oil
700 ml water

Place Chicken in a bowl, mix with salt and turmeric and set aside. Heat oil in a deep pan and add ground garlic and onions, ground coconut, jeera powder and coriander powder.
Add chicken and fry till the chicken is browned on all sides add water mix well, cover and cook till chicken is done. Uncover and cook till the gravy is slightly thickened.

Erachi Chops (MUTTON PEPPER FRY) (Serves 3 persons)

½ kg mutton chops washed and cleaned
3 onions sliced
1 tomato chopped
1 tbsp pepper powder
5 green chillies
1 tsp ground garlic
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp chilli powder (opitonal)
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp coriander powder
2 tbsp cooking oil
250 ml water
1 tbsp juice of lemon
2 tbsp chopped coriander Leaves

Wash, clean and mix the mutton with salt and turmeric. Cook the mutton and keep aside. Add ginger-garlic paste, sliced  onion, green chillies and tomatoes one after the other, stirring all the time. Fry Masala till golden brown. Add rest of the ingredients (except the lemon juice) and fry for 1-2 minutes then add mutton and stir fry for another 2 minutes.
Uncover and cook to dry out masala, which is done when the oil separates. Add lime juice, garnish with coriander leaves and serve.



Biny Anoop said...

wow Rushina....dat looks gorgeous...i am sure u had funfilled eveng...missing mumbai very much...

Kurush F Dalal said...

it was a truly superb meal ... with excellent company and conversation :)

Joy Manavath said...

great post rushina .. will try my hand at a few :-)

Miri said...

In the pandhi curry, if tamarind pulp is being used instead of kodumpuli or kachumpuli, then it will have to be simmered some more time for the raw taste to go away.

:Great recipes - thanks!