Sometimes you find a book that talks to you as you read it, you relate to it and understand every sentiment in it. The history, the location, the plots and the characters all sound familiar, taking you back in time, unleashing a flood of nostalgia. Every food mentioned will hit that memory recall button, and the tastes and the aromas associated with it, along with memories and people will come rushing to the forefront of your thoughts and makes those old images somehow warmer and more vivid.
I have a lot in common with the author Lathika George, especially when it comes to cooking styles, family ties and the memories associated with Kerala. So naturally for me, every illustration– (by Latha George Pottenkulam, brought back a vividly painted, live and animated image from the beautiful rural village, where I grew up, before moving base to Mumbai.)Maybe, that is the reason why I just couldn’t put this book down. I read it from cover to cover skipping only the recipe preparations part, hastily marking the favourites with tiny post-its, not wanting to miss any of the beautifully narrated tales. Every narration and note is an insight into the independent, self-sufficient Suriani lifestyle in Kerala.
A very personal experience
Although The Suriani Kitchen starts off with introductions to the local history, traditions and lifestyle and food of Syrian Catholics, what makes it a great read are the beautiful narrations shared by the author, throughout the book. Some are fond recollections from the childhood, while others are stories, experiences and activities that she grew up, listening to. Most are informative and others reminiscent of happy times.
The recipes are easy to understand, even for a non-Malayali, and they come with smart serving suggestions and helpful notes from the author, to help you along. Almost every must-have dish that you need to sample in Kerala, is in there. The creative and versatile rice preparations, the lesser known vegetarian delights (that will make any vegetarian consider moving to Kerala, if I may say so) the well-known sea and river fish delicacies, and the simple yet addictive meat and egg dishes- they are all here and if you love to cook and eat, this book will keep you busy and burping happily with every recipe recreation.
A dish for every palate in Palaharams
The Suriani Kitchen also hold open the doors for you to discover the wide world of snacks or palaharams, which can give the Maharashtrian faraals or Gujarati naastas a run for their money. Artfully made from local and perennial ingredients like rice flour, coconuts and plantains, these dishes are so simple to make provided you have the right tools for it. The accompaniments for all the main courses and pickles section are provided separately and wisely, as most of them are versatile enough to be mixed and matched.
The desserts cover a blend of traditional and modern techniques and menus. But as any Malayali would tell you, the variety of desserts is limited, in typical Kerala cuisine. Different types of payasams or kheers are the most common desserts that one will find. But, Palaharams served at breakfast and tea-time has plenty of options for the foodie with a sweet tooth, more than make up for the lack of desserts in this delectable cuisine. They come in all types: fried, sautéed and steamed but always, fresh and delicious.
No vegetarian will ever find themselves at a loss for ideas, as there are plenty of vegetarian delights that even a non vegetarian might immensely enjoy.
Kerala is indeed God’s own country when it comes to year round availability of fresh seafood, meats and produce. And the Suriani style of cooking has incorporated the local ingredients so well that nothing from nature ever goes to waste or stays unused. Dried Beef Fry, Dried Fish Saute and Vazhakka Ulathiyathu (Raw plantains, sautéed) cooked with its skin are beautiful examples of this ‘no-waste’, eat-seasonal policy, observed in most kitchens of Kerala, Suriani or not.
Pros and Cons
Full colour pictures are not many, but the sketches and illustrations, and the unique layout of pages, takes your mind off it. Technical chef jargon might be absent but it surely carries the unmistakable warmth, coming straight from the heart of someone who has experienced the same warmth from the past generations and herself has cooked countless delicious, wholesome meals for her family.
In a world where local cuisines are requiring life support from food aficionados and globalization mutating the stand-alone traditional recipes, this book comes nothing short of a treasure. The vast majority of the featured recipes don’t fail to appeal to the heart of a purist, who wants to stick to roots and tradition, food-wise.
As I mentioned earlier, this book has plenty of goodies for every kind of food-lover, from vegetarians to locavores to pescetarians. The Suriani Kitchen is one of those special books, that takes you through lives, times and places, somewhat akin to time travelling.
I give The Suriani Kitchen an enthusiastic 4 stars, and irrespective of what reason you buy it for, it is absolutely worth the price. Definitely a must buy![box]
Koon Ulathiyathu (Wild Mushroom Sauté )
(I tried this recipe to a T and found that though very simple, this recipe packs a melodious harmony of flavours, thanks mainly to the holy trinity of coconut oil, shallots and crushed peppercorns. It goes very well with anything, but I followed the author’s note and enjoyed it with a nice slice of toast.)
1 tsp coconut oil
½ cup sliced shallots
2 green chillies
6 curry leaves
2 cups whole wild mushrooms
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp crushed black peppercorns
- Heat the oil in a medium skillet, add the shallots and fry for 1-2 minutes, until light brown.
- Add the green chillies and curry leaves and fry for 1 minute.
- Add the mushrooms, salt and peppercorns, and cook until the juices evaporate, the mushrooms should be just cooked and coated with the spiced juices.