Thavalai Adai

“Sarkarai mazhai vandhudha, annikki dhaaaan…  (the day it rained sugar)” she trails off. We’re lying on the quilt sharing a pillow. “Ammamma Ammamma, apparam yenna?” “Sonaana, apparam.. “ She dozes off mid-story, I shake her awake, she continues from where she left off, dozes off next line, I nudge her, prompt her. We continue till the story is over, till she is asleep. I then run away to my mother. She adjusts her 8 kallu besari nosepin and smooths her hair every now and then. I imitate her. She laughs. She makes me do it for my Appa, Babu and Athai. Ammamma sits on the thinnai talking to my athai while I plait her long hair into a mess. She packs Arisi upma for my tiffen and tops it with lots of sugar. She makes a huge deksa of vegetable bath for my birthday party. Guests ask to take home leftovers. She makes Adhirasams like Adhirasams were always meant to be. The breeze is nice and cool. Athai, Babu (my chithappa/uncle) are sitting on the thinnai (bench type settee) talking. Amma is folding clothes. I am balance-walking on the walls of the little fountain in the dhalam (courtyard). The aroma of crisping dal wafts over the evening air from deep inside the kitchen to the dhalam. Shortly Ammama brings a plate of piping hot Thavalai Adai – small round oothappam sized adais, golden brown and crisp outside, soft inside. She ladles the batter into a greased kadai, drizzles oil all around it, covers the kadai, waits forever, doesn’t check in between, opens and flips the thavalai adai, the bottom is golden brown and crisp, drizzles some more oil, covers and waits again for the other side to brown, flips it on to a plate, adjusts her besari and smooths her hair and pours in another ladle of batter. She goes on one at a time, each one cooked to golden brown perfection while we eat. I recount how Hasini wakes me up when I doze off mid-story just like “Sakkarai Mazhai” times, as she lies on the hospital bed, drifting in and out. She listens, tries to adjust her besari, the IV drip pulls at her wrist, remembers after a moment, smiles, her eyes well up. Everything I cook reminds me of her. She was the starting point. I did not realize until now, until she was gone. Prep time:...

Pallipalayam Chicken

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...
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