A Mouthful of Kerala

mouthful of Kerala

The cuisine of Kerala is linked in all its richness to the history, geography, demography and culture of the land. Because many of Kerala’s Hindus are vegetarian by religion (e.g., brahmins or namboodiris,Nairs etc.), and because Kerala has large minorities of Muslims and Christians that are predominantly non-vegetarian, Kerala cuisine has a multitude of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.

Kerala- The Land of Spices

The Kerala is known as the “land of Spices”. The land and the food are rich with coconut, though one can’t imagine Kerala food without an array of spices, chilies, curry leaf, mustard seed, tamarind and asafoetida. These people put to good use whatever the land offers and the result is a marvellous cuisine that is simple yet palate tickling. Traditionally, in Kerala food is served on a banana leaf and eaten by hand.

The essential part of the a Keralite’s daily diet is rice. It’s a staple in Kerala cuisine. Kerala is noted for its variety of pancakes and steamed rice cakes made from pounded rice. Breakfast, lunch or dinner has rice in some form or the other like Aappam, Puttu or Idi-appam.

Kerala’s long coastline and strong fishing industry has contributed to many fish-based delicacies, particularly among the Christian community. Fish is consumed in a variety of ways – it is preserved after being dried and salted or cooked in a delicious coconut gravy. Prawns, shrimps and crustaceans constitute some of the other famous delicacies.

For the Christians in Kerala , who can be seen in large concentration in areas like Kottayam and Pala dishes like ishtew (a derivation of the European stew), beef cutlets with sallas (a salad made of finely cut onions, green chilies and vinegar), chicken roast, olathan erachi (fried mutton, beef or pork), meen moilee (a yellow fish curry), meen mulligattathu (a fiery red fish curry), and peera pattichathu (a dry fish dish of grated coconut. Beef which is rarely cooked in other Indian states is a norm in Kerala amoung it’s non-vegetarians.

Kerala also has it’s own fermented beverages -the famous kallu or (toddy) and patta charayam (arrack). Arrack is extremely intoxicating and is usually consumed with spicy pickles and boiled eggs (patta and mutta).

‘Sadya’ – Kerala feast

Kerala is known for its traditional banquet or sadya, a vegetarian meal served on a banana leaf. It is a sumptuous spread of rice and more than 14 vegetable dishes, topped with `payasam’, a delicious sweet dessert cooked in milk. Sadya is an elaborate feast, which is a totally extravagant affair. Some of the dishes that form a part of this feast are-

Rice – White Plain Steamed rice is usually taken with dishes in Sadya
Avial an all time favourite, is a happy blend of vegetables, coconut paste and green chillies. Avial’s seasoning is a spoonful of fresh coconut oil and a sprinkling of raw curry leaves, stirred in immediately after the dish is taken off the stove.
Thorans are gravy-less dishes of finely chopped boiled vegetables. The mustard seeds used in thorans gives it a pleasantly assertive flavour, while the lightly fried grated coconut is used to top it off.
Sambar is a cross between a sauce and a broth. It contains smashed lentils, cooked vegetables and spices including the exotic and edible resin asafoetida. It usually includes drumstick, tomato, potato, onion etc mixed with turmeric powder, chilly powder, coriander seeds and many more spices.
Olen is also a very gravy dish made of ash gourd and drum beans where the predominant flavour is that of coconut milk and then several spices.
Rasam is a mixture of chilly and pepper corns powders boiled in diluted tamarind juice. Rasam is a tangy deviation from the symphony of tastes and is poured on a serving of rice or drunk after a meal as it’s said to be a good digestive.
Side dishes served along with the meal are popular Kerala snacks like banana chips, yam crisps, Tapioca chips deep-fried with chilly powder.
Pachadi – Malayalee Pachadi is a fairly thick sauce made of sugar, yoghurt, grated coconut, mustard seed and a wide spectrum range of spices including green and red chillies. A pleasing finish to the meal.
Paayasam – Paayasam is a thick fluid dish of brown molasses, coconut milk and spices, garnished with cashewnuts and raisins. There could be a succession of payasams, such as the lentil payasam and the jackfruit payasam, Bengal gram payasam and so on, though ‘Adapradhaman’, a rich payasam with thin rice wafers, is arguably the ultimate delicacy.

Kerala Seafood

Kerala’s long coastline and strong fishing industry has contributed to many fish-based delicacies, particularly among the Christian community. Seafood is very popular in Kerala and consumed with every meal. Fish is known as “meen” in malyalam.Various fish including sardines, mackerel, tuna, rays and shark are eaten, as are crabs,prawns, mussels and oysters. “Karimeen” or fried fish is a popular dish as is fish curry called “Fish Moilee.” “Meen vevichathu” or fish in fiery red chilly sauce is also another favourite item.


Meen Moilee (Fish in Coconut Milk Sauce)

500 grams skinless firm white fish slices
1″ cinnamon stick
2 green cardamom(s)
1 tablespoon(s) garlic slices
1 tablespoon(s) ginger juliennes
4 green chillies slit
1 medium onion(s) sliced
1 tomato(es) chopped
1 teaspoon(s) turmeric powder
1 cup(s) water
½ teaspoon(s) coarsely crushed black peppercorns
1 tablespoon(s) lime juice
2 sprig(s) curry leaves
2 cup(s) coconut milk
2 tablespoon(s) oil
salt to taste
fried tomato slices to garnish

1. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan till hot and fry the cinnamon and cardamoms briefly. Add the garlic, ginger, green chillies and onions. Saute for about 3 minute(s) or till the onions have turned pink.
2. Add the fish and rest of the ingredients except the coconut milk and mix gently. Cover and cook on very low level for another 10 minutes or till the fish is tender and cooked.
3. Reduce the heat to very low and add the coconut milk (do not use high heat as coconut milk tends to curdle). Mix gently and simmer for a minute or two.
4. Garnish with fried tomato slices.

– Typically, a big variety of fish with firm white flesh (e.g., sear fish in Kerala) is used for this recipe.
– Coconut milk is available off the shelf in Asian markets packed in tins or cartons. Can be extracted form a fresh coconut.

Chemmeen Theeyal (Prawns in fried coconut masala)


Prawns(Chemmeen) – 1 kg
Tamarind(Puli) – As reqd
Oil – 3 – 4 tbsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Small onions(Kunjulli) – 10 – 12 nos
Green chillies – 3 – 4 nos
Curry leaves – A few
Ginger – 2″ piece
(finely chopped)
Garlic pods – 2 nos
(finely chopped)
Coconut chips(Thenga kothu) – 1/2 cup

For masala:
Grated coconut – 1 cup
Small onions(Kunjulli) – 2 – 3 nos
Peppercorns(Kurumulaku) – 6 – 8 nos
Fenugreek seeds(Uluva) – 4 – 6 nos
Chilly powder – 1 heaped tsp
Coriander powder – 2 – 3 tsp
1)Cook prawns in water along with salt and turmeric powder.
2)When cooked, add tamarind diluted in around 1 cup of water.
3)Heat oil in a pan or a kadai.
4)Splutter mustard seeds.
5)Add small onions, green chillies, curry leaves, ginger and garlic and fry, till the onions turn light brown.
6)Add the above into the prawns.
7)Heat up a pan or a kadai.
8)Add coconut, small onions, pepper and fenugreek seeds and fry well.
9)When the coconut turns nice and brown, take the pan off the fire.
10)Add chilly powder, coriander powder and sauté in the heat of the pan.
11)Grind the above into a fine paste.
12)Add it to the simmering curry.
13)Let the curry simmer on a very low flame for around 30 mins, till the gravy thickens.
14)Shake or tilt the vessel now and then so that it doesn’t burn.
(Avoid stirring with a ladle as it may break the fish.)
15)Fry coconut pieces( 1*1 cm) in another pan.
16)Add the above fried coconut pieces into the curry.
-Serve with Plain Rice.

Kerala Rice Preparations

Appams (Rice Pancakes)

Appam is the soft pancake made from toddy fermented rice batter, with a soft spongy middle, which is laced with crispy edges. It is generally consumed with either vegetable or chicken or mutton stew, thoroughly mellowed with thick coconut milk and garnished with curry leaves.

Making the Batter
1. Soak 1 1/4 rice for 3 hrs, drain and add to a blender. Soak 1 tsp quick acting Yeast, 1/2 tsp sugar and 2 tbsp warm water, let it foam for 5 mins.
2. . Add yeast mixture to blender with raw soaked, drained rice, 1/2 cup of cooked rice and 1 tsp Cumin seeds along with 3/4 cup of water. Grind these to a very smooth paste.
3. Take out in a big bowl, add 1 1/2 cups coconut milk, 1 tsp salt. Mix well, cover and let it ferment for 6 hrs.

Frying Appams
You will need an appam chatti(appam pan)or a wok shaped pan so that the batter fills the center and when you swirl it in the dish it creates a thin outer coating which becomes crispy.

– Heat the Appam chattior wok, add a ladleful of batter, lift the pan, tilt and swirl the batter around to make a circle, put it back on the heat, cover and cook until done but still remains white. you can make the side crispy by letting it become light brown or soft by taking it off while its still white. No flipping necessary to cook the other side for this yummy pancake!!

Puttu (Steamed Rice Cakes)

Puttu is a popular breakfast dish. It is made from rice flour dough combined with shredded coconut steamed in a bamboo stick. It is served with banana or plain with sugar. Puttu is made from rice flour and steamed in long hollow bamboo or metal cylinders. Depending on the taste preference, Puttu can be had with steamed bananas and sugar or with a spicy curry made from gram or chickpeas.

Idi-appam (Steamed Rice Noodles)

Idi-appams are steamed rice noodles usually served with coconut milk but they may also accompany meat dishes.

Other Kerala Recipes

Avial (mixed vegetables with coconut)

Yam 150 gms
Ash gourd 150 gms
Raw bananas 2
Drumsticks 2
Potatoes 1
Shelled peas 1/2 cup
Sour curd 1 cup
Turmeric powder 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves Few
Coconut oil 1/4 cup
SaltTo taste
PASTE : Coconut1/2
Green chillies 6-7 nos.
Cummin seeds 1 tsp.

1. Grind together the coconut, green chillies and cummin seeds to make a fine paste, adding very little water.Mix the curd to the ground paste and keep aside.
2. Peel and chop all the vegetables into 3-inch lengths.
3. Cook the vegetables separately with very little water in a heavy-bottomed vessel.
4. Mix all the cooked vegetables together with salt and turmeric powder.
5. Add the paste and heat through, taking care to prevent curdling.
6. Add the 1/4 cup coconut oil and curry leaves and mix well. Do not heat.
7. Serve hot with rice.

Mutton Ishtu (Lamb Stew)

Ishtu/Mutton Stew is a very common style of cooking mutton in Kerala,especially as a combination for Appams and other rice preparations. Mutton stew is in fact a european recipe and the colonialism might have introduced this recipe to our mothers and grandmothers who Indianised it as ‘Mutton Ishtu’ with their Indian spices!This deceptively bland looking Mutton stew is but one of the most gorgeous mutton preparations in India.

500 gm cubed mutton (or lamb)
100 gm sliced onion
5 gm slit green chillies
10 gm ginger strips
1 tsp pepper corns
10 curry leaves
1 grated coconut
salt to taste
100 gm oil
1 cinnamon
4 cardamoms
4 cloves
150 gm cubed potatoes
50 gm diced carrots

– Boil mutton along with ginger. Set aside.
– Boil potatoes and carrots. Set aside.
– Extract coconut milk twice.Heat oil and saute the garam masala, onion, green chillies, ginger, curry patta, peppercorns.
– Add boiled mutton, potatoes and carrot along with second extract of coconut milk and cook.
– Stir first extract of coconut milk just before serving.
– Serve hot with Appams or Idiappams

Ada Payasam (pradhaman) (Rice, Jaggery & Coconut Milk Dessert)

There are several varieties of ‘payasams’. One is in which rice, wheat or vermicelli is boiled with milk and sweetened with sugar. It goes by the name of ‘pal payasam’. Another called Ada Payasam, is made of boiled rice or dal or wheat, to which is added jaggery and coconut milk. Both are flavoured with spices.

Ada (Rice) – 200 gms
Jaggery – 750 gms
Ghee (clarified butter) – 200 gms
Cardomom – 50 gms
Coconut – 3
Raisins – 10
Cashewnuts – 10

– Melt Jaggery and keep aside.
– Boil water and keep the rice in it till it is cooked soft.
– Strain after 10 minutes and keep aside.
– Mix the melted jaggery with the cooked rice and stir for ten minutes on a low fire.
– Take two extracts of the coconut milk and add the second extract to the above mixture.
– Boil this until it becomes thick. Take it off the fire and add the first extract of milk.
– Fry the cashew and raisins and ghee and garnish the payasam