It feels like I finally found my calling (in what to blog I mean). After doing my share (however miniscule) of the usual blog staples – red velvet cake, vanilla cupcake, eggless chocolate cakeand pasta in pesto sauce (hard to find a blog that doesn’t have these recipes) I discovered that I am deeply interested in Tamil cuisine. I mean truly interested, interested enough to study about it.
I can see myself sitting beside the Kezhavi (old lady) in her little village house making the Kari Kuzhambu nodding appreciatively, tasting a little and exclaiming “Hmmm.. Unbelievable, divine”. Like in those cooking shows where David Rocco drives to a dusty little village with kids running behind his car, and an old lady shows him how to make Kanji (gruel) while the celebrity chef makes a stylized salad of shallots and green chillies drizzled with vinegar to go with the Kanji. No, I don’t want to be on a show (not that anybody is asking). But I would really want the old lady to smile and share her Kari Kuzhambu recipe with me. I unashamedly ask for recipes wherever I go – waiters, marriage caterers, our canteen cook, long lost friends, moms and aayas of long lost friends, maid servant and complete strangers. But not everybody smiles and makes Kanji for me. They do for David Rocco.
The old ladies used to smile for Chef Jacob too. I have a very high regard for him especially because of his efforts to research traditional Tamil food. His specialty restaurant on Khader Nawaz Khan road served wonderful Kongunadu specials but I didn’t have a chance to eat there while it was still open. The restaurant closed soon after his demise. I bought one of his cookbooks recently. This Pallipalayam chicken is from his cookbook.
Pallipalayam is a small town near Erode known more for this chicken fry than anything else. The recipe is amazingly simple. Just 3 ingredients – chicken, whole dry red chillies and garlic. I am obviously excluding salt, turmeric, oil and coriander leaves as otherwise it won’t be 3-ingredients. But the fact is – it’s minimal yet tasty. I loved it that the chicken was not rubbery or stringy even though I’d cooked it for nearly half an hour. It takes time for the chicken to soak up the chilli juices. So be patient and don’t add water or red chilli powder. I made this Pallipalayam Chicken as part of my grand TamilNadu meal last month. I am on a quest for traditional Tamil recipes. If you know of a Kezhavi who’ll smile and make Kanji for me, let me know.
Now, this is not to say I won’t be baking my kids’ birthday cakes. They’re done for life. They’ll suffer the blogger’s-child syndrome of never having a decent professionally made birthday cake (until they can afford their own). But my true calling is Tamil cuisine – Kari Kuzhambu, Kasi Halwa, Vengaya Vathal, Vadu Mangai pickle, Ambur Biryani, Pallipalayam chicken..
Whole dry red chillies – 10-15 (adjust as per taste) broken in half
Coriander leaves – a handful chopped for garnishing
1. Clean chicken, rinse well, cut into bite sized pieces and set aside.
2. To a wok, add oil and heat. When hot, add the whole dry red chillies and garlic and fry for a minute or till the garlic turns golden.
3. Add the chicken pieces, turmeric powder and salt and mix well. Cover and cook on low heat till the chicken is tender and is coated with the chilli juices. This can take about 20-30 minutes. Open and mix it up from time to time to avoid the chicken sticking to the pan. Don’t add water in between. If necessary drizzle in a little oil or add a very tiny splash of water.
4. Once done, remove from fire. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Serve hot with steamed rice.