|The Shiva Temple in the village of Kalakkad|
Note to self: repeat Note to self: When traveling within Rural India, Its waaay better to drive than take the train!!
This is what happens when you base yourself in the US of A & miss out on whats been happening back in the home country. They have great national highways that get you from point A to point B in great time with decent enough gas station rest rooms en route. Still accustomed to the old ways of traveling by train, we went on to book tickets on the Nellai express (yeah yeah AC 1 the highest class possible on the train, still). Kids loved it, didn't mind the griminess too much and the berths made for a great monkey bar substitute to climb up and down. but its hard for grown ups to get reused to something one has merrily gotten unused to!
So here we were on a hot & dry late August morning , at Tirunelveli Junction picked up by a pre-arranged car (an air conditioned Toyota SUV) & driver, extremely friendly & knowledgeable about the region. Incidentally the name 'Tirunelveli' is transalated from the native Tamil (or Tamizh to those preferring the pure phonetic pronunciation) as 'sacred paddy field fence' (HAD to be a food reference right??). The original settlements probably date back to 1500 BCE, judging from the references to the town in sacred texts and bronze age excavations of burial sites in the area.
The trip was a treasure trove in terms of the local food. In addition to rice,one of the main produce in this town is toddy palm & related sweetening products, (YES, this is the same tree that produces palm wine & hooch! and NO, I did not imbibe any.) and a whole bunch of spices at the resort town of Courtallam.
Toddy palm root: Yep. this is edible and actually quite tasty. the texture of Jicama & flavor of fresh sugar cane, minus the sweetness. The vendor slices it thin & serves it with a sprinkle of Sugar & lime.
Toddy Palm fruit: Jello growing on a tree!
Palm sugar is used as a remedy for cough, just suck on a piece of this to calm down an irritated throat & ask the Ricola & Halls to take a hike. It really works & its 100% natural!
Inji morabba (cubes) & chill karupatti (pyramid)
For those with a tolerance for spicier stuff, there is the 'Inji morabba' or ginger candy, made simply with Ginger extract (with teensy pieces of ginger fiber inside!) & sugar. Spicy as anything, it makes for a great substitute as a sugar cube in a cup of coffee!
Any guesses? here's a hint:
Yep, Nutmeg: The raw fruit is the size of a large plum, texture & tartness of raw mango with that unique nutmeg aroma permeating the entire flesh. It was simply a delight to see large quantities of this spice casually being laid out to dry in the sun. The taste of fresh mace is unforgettable.
The fruit can be cut up and made into a relish with mustard & chilli powder.
1 cup diced raw green mango
1/2 a whole nutmeg powdered
1 tsp Red Cayenne pepper powder,
Salt to taste (~ 1 -1.5 tsp)
1 tablespoon fresh crushed mustard seeds.
2 tablespoons Sesame oil.
Combine the diced nutmeg (or mango & nutmeg powder), the Cayenne, Salt & crushed mustard seeds & toss to combine. Heat the sesame oil till smoking hot and pour over the seasoned fruit. Mix well and allow to rest for 2-3 hours so that the flavors may combine. Serve with South Indian Yogurt rice.
Spicy (check) .... & here is a sweet Panfusine recipe to complete this post.
Rice crepes stuffed with spiced poached pears (stuffed aapams)
For the poached pears, you need.
- 3 anjou or concord pears
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 star anise pods
- 4 cardamom pods (intact seeds only)
- 1/2 cup water
- Peel the pears & remove the stringy central core & the seeds. Quarter & then slice into 1/4 inch thick pieces.
- In a saucepan, combine the brown sugar, water, star anise & cardamom seeds & heat to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture has reached a boil, Add the pears, lower the heat to a simmer & gently cook the pears till soft but not mushy. set aside to cool.
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 1/3 - 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- stick of cold butter to grease the pan
- 2 cups water
- Wash & soak the Basmati rice in adequate quantity of warm water for about 3 hrs till its softened.
- Transfer the soaked basmati with as little water as possible to a blender jar & grind completely into a very smooth (& extremely thick) paste (it'll have the consistency of wet concrete). Add a cup of water to dilute the paste & give it a whirl in the blender to dislodge the thick rice paste. Transfer the batter into a container. lightly scraping out the sides of the jar.
- Add the second cup of water to the blender jar & completely wash out the remaining rice sticking to the sides, lid & blades of the jar. Transfer this liquid to a separate container & SAVE.
- Transfer this washed out rice liquid to a saucepan and bring to a boil. The liquid will take on a syrupy appearance, due to the starch swelling up (similar to what happens when you cook oats). Remove from the stove & strain this liquid into the batter. Stir to eliminate lumps. The consistency should be like that of crepe batter. (should have a yield of about 3 cups (~ 24 oz) of batter.
- Add the confectioners sugar (adjust to your personal level of sweetness), baking powder & the lemon zest and stir in.
- Heat a 6 inch nonstick skillet over the gas.
- Rub the melted butter over the surface of the skillet to season it. Wipe uniformly over the hot surface using a paper towel.
- Using a (1 oz) coffee scoop spoon, pour 2 scoops of the batter ( stir the batter well before using each time, the rice tends to sink to the bottom) into the skillet. Using the wrist, swirl the batter around the base & the sides of the skillet to coat evenly.
- Cover & cook over a medium heat for about 1-2 minutes till the edges begin to brown & leave the surface of the skillet & the batter in the center of the pan has set into a 'pillow'. Gently dislodge the crepe from the sides of the skillet & slide it onto a serving plate.
- Spoon the poached pears onto the center of the crepe, Drizzle with extra poaching liquid if desired. Fold over & serve warm.