I was first exposed to Malayali food during my undergraduate days in Delhi. I lived in the college hostel and although our mess food was significantly better than most other hostels I would later eat in, I was always ready for meals at my dayski friends’ homes. One of my closest friends since college, let’s call her A, happens to be a Syrian Christian. And luckily, her mother decided to move to Delhi while we were still in college. That’s when I forayed into a cuisine so completely different from mine.
Until I moved to Delhi, all I had eaten was regular North Indian food with Punjabi and Rajasthani influences. Of course, it was delicious, as most home-cooked and mom-cooked food is. But it was quite unlike the much milder and more delicate vegetarian food I experienced at A’s home. I was a vegetarian then, so I could never eat the fish cutlets or other non-vegetarian food that I now miss in retrospect. I still get so excited remembering the kinds of appams and the potato stew we ate for breakfast. It was the first time I saw fresh coconut being used as commonly as, say, we used onions at home. They also cooked a kadhi–like dish, but without any gram flour or fritters in it. Then, there was the tadka (tempering). It was clearly not the cumin-onion-tomato-coriander-turmeric-red chilli-garam masala combo I had seen my mom use. It had mustard seeds and curry leaves instead. I remember my nani using these ingredients in her Rajasthani-style cooking, but as we all know Rajasthani food is anything but mild! Combined with fiery hot chillis and asafoetida, curry leaves and mustard seeds seem so different from what they do with plain coconut. They also ate a different kind of rice. It had fat, pink-ish grains unlike the slender, white basmati we ate at home. It was parboiled and much healthier than polished rice. This was 11 years back.
Memory is a strange thing. Mine seems to remember taste, smell, color and shape quite vividly, but it’s terrible with names and numbers. So, as expected, I recall noticing that A’s cook chopped the beans, carrots and cabbage really fine when she made poriyal. It was also then that I first saw orange carrots as opposed to the reddish-pink ones our local subziwalla used to get at home. I seriously hope there are other people in this world who ponder over such moments in their lives…you know, the carrots-changing-color-moments..ha ha!
Years later when I started cooking, I tried making many of those dishes on my own, relying solely on the recollections. Green beans with fresh coconut, brinjal fry and that fake-kadhi were surprisingly easy to recreate. But through all these trips down memory lane, one dish that never crossed my mind was pineapple pachadi i.e. until now. On my recent trip to India, I splurged on buying a bagful of cookbooks. One of them is ‘The Suriani Kitchen‘ by Lathika George. It’s a lovely book that combines food memoirs with traditional recipes from a Syrian Christian family. While I was browsing through it and making a mental note of what all I had eaten at A’s home, I saw it right there on page 66! Amazingly, just reading about it brought back the taste as if I had just eaten it yesterday. Apparently, happy memories are made of pineapple pachadi ! Who knew? I had to eat it again!
For some reason, I almost never eat pineapples. Once in a while, I do make an upside-down cake with it. I am also not too fond of pineapple juice. All this is to say that this fruit only makes guest appearances in my life. So, for the very first time I bought a whole pineapple and it was surprisingly much easier to peel than I had imagined. The pineapple pachadi turned out to be delicious! It was mild, creamy, sweet and tangy with a slight hint of bitterness from the crushed mustard seeds. I am so glad to have befriended this long-lost acquaintance. Here’s the recipe:
- 1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 2 shallots, sliced (I used red onion)
- 2 whole dry red chillies
- 3-4 fresh curry leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
- 1 small green chilli
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- Grind the ingredients for coconut paste finely. You can add a little water to make the grinding easier.
- In a small pan, cook the pineapple with water and salt till most of the water has evaporated.
- Mix in the coconut paste and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Turn off the flame and put the pan aside for a few minutes.
- Once the pan has cooled down, mix in the yogurt. Adding yogurt while the flame is still on will curdle the gravy and you won’t get a smooth curry.
- Next, we make the tempering. In a small skillet, heat the oil and add mustard seeds.
- Once they pop, add the onion slices and lightly brown them.
- Then add the red chillies and curry leaves. Take the skillet off heat as soon as the chillies change color.
- Combine the tempering with the pineapple mixture.
You can eat this curry with plain steamed rice. Reheating is not a good idea, since it’ll curdle the gravy. If you have leftovers in the fridge, just bring them to room temperature before eating with hot rice.
P.S. I bought a cilantro plant last weekend from our neighborhood farmers’ market! My first-ever-herb-plant! For that matter, my first-ever-any-sort-of-food-plant! Let’s hope it doesn’t die on me. Here it is on the fire escape…
…and a random shot of the fruits and vegetables from the same shopping trip.