This is the final menu that we have put together with Malabar catering for tomorrow's take-out dinner. Zim actually did most of the menu-planning, tinkering quite a bit to get the wet/dry, hot/not hot balances just right. So, if the meal doesn't turn out right, you know whose b--t to kick ;). Honestly, I think that it has come out beautifully. It may not be a typical menu in the sense that there are so many "showcase" items that just would not appear together in one meal, but we thought that this is excusable for such a project since we want to sample from as broad a range as possible.
I am providing a few short notes/annotations below. These should not be considered an exact description of what the final dishes will be like. I have not tasted most of these preparations and don't know how Malabar will be approaching these classic items. I did a little bit of searching for recipes but recipes do not tell us everything as there are several important food traditions in Kerala (the Christian tradition, which is what we will be sampling from mostly on this menu; the Muslim tradition, the "recipes" and foodways of the Nairs, the Thiyals, the Nampoothiris...), each with its important variants on these "regional" dishes.
Still, I thought that it might be useful to provide a few notes, not so much to "predict" a preparation as much as to set it in a context. In short, the notes represent what I think the final outcome will be. If you sort of follow the logic, the concept behind the dish, the list of ingredients that I sketch out, then you can find yourself as surprised at any deviation from the expectation. Sometimes, such deviations provide a more striking clue to the origin/essence of a dish than any standardized recipe/account. I hope that these notes might also serve as a guide/springboard in recognizing any such revelations.
Those of you who have RSVPed should have received by now (from MikeG) an email with his address, the pick-up time (for the to-go group), the cost per person and so on. I think that he also forwarded some wine-match suggestions that I wrote out early a few mornings ago while still blurry-eyed and half-awake. I hope that it doesn't sound like nonsense (it's unedited). If there are specific questions about these wine suggestions, feel free to email me directly.
For the to-go group: there will be a few "very wet" curries and such, so please be careful while transporting the bag. I am not sure yet how they will be packing all these, but I got the impression that each double serving (1 order = 2 servings) of each dish will go into a 4 x 6? 5 x 7? black plastic to-go container. Well, we'll see.
*Chicken cutlets (i.e. croquettes)
*Uzhunnuvada (vada = a traditional "lentil" fritter, formed in the shape of a doughnut; these ones will be made of urad dhal)
*Palappam (rice "pancakes". These are an essential part of a Keralan meal. Stacks of these white fluffy pancakes are presented on the side to scoop up the diff dishes with. They are made from a batter of rice flour, coconut milk and yeast; this batter being soured/fermented overnight. They are traditionally made in a chatti; the wok-like curving sides of this pan forming the fat, soft center and lacy edges. The root word "appam" refers to a whole family of rice cakes/pancakes/noodles.)
*Plain rice (keep your fingers crossed. The caterer said that he might use the special Keralan "red" rice: actually not exactly red, but pinkish and white bec of the presence of red bran. He said that Westerners end up disliking this rice which is why he never uses it, but I insisted and he might change his mind yet.)
*Pappadum (crush some over your curries to add a dimension of crispy to the dish. For those eating at home or much later, I think that this can be re-crisped over an open flame or for a few seconds in the microwave. Zim?)
*Dry-fried spice-encrusted beef/Eracchi olathiyathu
I "stole" the fancy name from Madhur Jaffrey. This is the most famous of the "Syrian Christian" dishes, and probably the only widely-known Indian beef dish, beef being taboo to Hindus. Most of the Chicago Keralans, including the owners of Malabar, are from this Christian tradition. It is the dish that is always prepared for weddings and feasts.
Small chunks of beef are stir-fried in a spice & oil mixture, which might include ground coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, dried chilies, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and cardamom pods. Pre-fried hand-slivered coconut "chips" are added in. Separately, little mustard seeds are "popped" (as in the "tarka" technique) in hot oil and fried with fresh, whole curry leaves and ginger. This separate set of spices is also added to the beef and the whole "stew" is steamed slowly with minimal liquid (a little vinegar and water) and with the beef's own fat and juices.
The beef is cooked till it is tender and till the sauce is completely "dry". Some more mustard seed/curry leaves/cardamom pods are popped/fried separately (Maya Kaimal calls this the katuku-varakkal technique in the Saveur article) and folded in at the end creating a very dry dish "garnished" or studded with these whole spices. It is a lot of fun picking out the different spices/leaves as well as the darkly-flavored coconut chips and identifying them: just be careful not to bite too hastily into a spicy seed.
This is a dish that I think keeps beautifully. I have kept it unrefrigerated on my kitchen counter and have found it to be even more delicious on the second or third day.
More on the rest of the menu to follow.
*Country-style duck curry (Taharava kuutan)
*Fish moilee (Meen moilee)
*Green mango pachadi
*Long bean thoran
*Wedding-style erisseri made with plantains
*Cala channa (Black channa)
*Ginger chutney (Ingli poli)
Part 2 follows.