When I think Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu community (CKP), I remember my school days, swapping my idli-chutney lunch for my friend Sapna’s paranthas and pickles, marveling how every vegetable could be made into a delicious pickle that always got me drooling in anticipation even before the recess bell rang. My college years were punctuated by visits to my friend Deepti’s home to study together, and relish the delicious meals her dad cooked for us. I shamelessly took advantage of an open invitation, just to inhale the fragrant smoke from their kitchen. These two friends gave me my first introduction to a delicious and unique cuisine of the CKP community of India.
An introduction to the Kayastha community
Kayastha roughly translates to ‘created from the body or kaya of Brahma‘. The CKPs are believed to be the descendants of Chitragupta, the book keeper to Lord Yama– the Hindu God of Death. True to their mythological ancestral traits, most of the CKPs are highly educated, and end up in professions dealing with numbers. Kayastha roots can be found everywhere in India from Kashmir in the North to Tamil Nadu in the South, and Bihar in the East to the Bengal in the West.
Preeta Mathur, author of The Courtly Cuisine: Kayastha Kitchens Through India, is no stranger to me. I remember cutting out her recipes from my mom’s Vanitha Magazines and filing them away to try out later. After trying many of her creations successfully, it was quite a pleasant surprise for me to come across her book years later, dedicated to a cuisine that I am in awe of.
About the Contents
Kayastha Kitchens through India is an elegant and beautiful book. The note by the author and the introduction to Kayasthas by Viresh S Mathur are enlightening and concise. The photography by Sanjay Ramchandran is a fine example of food photography.
The recipes are classified into Appetizers, Chicken, Lamb, Fish & Seafood, Vegetables & Lentils, Rice, Bread & Accompaniments, and Desserts for the reader’s convenience. The Glossary of Food Terms & Processes is very helpful, as is the Index of all the recipes in the book, both towards the end of the book.
All the recipes feature their original names, their English meanings, a detailed ingredient list and method of preparation, with a beautiful image of the final product, and smaller images of the preparation stages, all in high quality and with good aesthetics. The recipes are contained in the same fold, so while trying out a recipe, you don’t have to turn pages to read the rest of it. This attention to detail is what I look for in a cookbook, and this one surpasses all expectations.
I particularly loved the tiny footnotes that tells readers something about that dish, be it an introduction, a variation or a substitution.
The recipes vary from rare and unique like Suroori Raan– Leg of Lamb in Rum based gravy to Chuki Sabut Mattar that is tenderly sautéed whole green pea pods, in a mix of tangy and hot spices, to Chaari– a conveniently formulated recipe with just 4 ingredients, to cook the meats that were procured by hunting. Various influences of local cuisines can be seen in the recipes like Kache tel ki Machli that is distinctly related to Bengali cuisine, or the Bombay Fish Curry, which uses coconut milk for its gravy, inspired by the Maharashtrian cooking style or Thenga Fish curry adapted into the Kayastha cuisine from the South.
The recipes I tried turned out as expected, impressing me with their simplicity and a subtle complexity in the harmony of flavours. The Dhungare (smoked) recipes that are included in the book are worth trying out, especially the Dhungare Kathal Biryani, and also Murgh Palak, both old favourites of mine. The simpler preparations of Ambatvaran and Urad Dal are so easy to make and yet flavourful, and definitely worth a mention. In the book, Ambatvaran is misspelt as Amabtvaram, the only spelling mistake I found in the recipe and the Index as well, though a very glaring one at that!
I wish there were more pickle recipes in there (though the author has clearly mentioned she couldn’t add them due to lack of space) as the CKPs know their pickles well. Apart from that and the glaring typo, I am very happy with the book.
The wide variety of recipes the author has managed to carefully pick and curate has made this book a treasure to own. There are more non vegetarian recipes as compared to vegetarian recipes, so it might not be a cost-effective buy for a pure vegetarian. But if you ever dream of writing your own cookbook, buy this book and use it as a blueprint, because it doesn’t get any better than this.
I unreservedly recommend this book and give it five stars.
Hari Mirch Pamplet (Pomfret cooked with green chillies)
- 1 pomfret, large, cleaned, washed, cut into 4-6 pieces
- Oil for frying
- 2 tbsp oil for cooking
- 4-5 green cardamoms
- 4-5 cloves
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 8 green chillies, ground to a paste
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Heat the oil in a wok, deep fry the fish pieces on medium till crisp.
- Remove with a slotted spoon and drain the excess oil on an absorbent paper towel.
- Heat 2 tbsp oil and sauté the green cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon stick. Add the turmeric powder and the green chili paste.
- Add the salt and stir fry till the oil separates. Add the fried fish and cook covered for 7-8 minutes.
- Squeeze the lemon juice over the fish before serving.