Kerala recipes and Kerala cooking is defined by the land (and the sea), and by a history which has in turn influenced the demography of the state. Kerala's coastline, the Malabar coast on the Arabian Sea is almost 370 miles long (600km) and this means two things. Firstly there is the obvious fact that there is a supply of fish and this features strongly in Kerala recipes, but its position has also meant that the area has been visited throughout history by Chinese, Greek, Roman and Middle Eastern explorers, traders and travellers.
It is likely that Kerala has been inhabited since neolithic times, although the first written records date from about 300 BC. Both Chinese and Romans had trade links with the area as early as the 1st century BC and there are accounts of Roman merchants trading gold for pepper in the ancient port of Malabar (Murziris). During the 1st millennium AD the area was colonized by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
In 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived at Kozhikode, which at the time was the primary trading port on the Malabar coast and a main city of Kerala. One of the principal motivations for the Europeans was to break the Arab monopoly of the spice trade which had been in place since before Islam was born. The Portuguese fairly quickly gained control of the pepper trade for the Europeans but this proved to be so lucrative that it was subsequently fought over and control passed from the Portuguese to the Dutch, then local control was re-established before the British arrived and India became part of the Empire.
One of the main effects of all this trading and colonization was to introduce a varied cultural population to the area. By comparison with the rest of India there are quite large Muslim and Christian populations, accounting for about 24% and 19% respectively, with Jews forming a substantial minority. (And, surprising to us Westerners, they all live in great harmony!)
The primary reason for the exceptional interest in this area is the sheer productiveness of the land and sea. As well as spices including pepper, cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg, the area produces rice, coconut, tea, coffee and cashew nuts to name but a few. And of course there's the sea; there are over 200 fishing villages along the coastline with over 1 million fishermen catching over ½ million tonnes of fish a year. Nearly half the population is financially dependent on agriculture.
Kerala is quite narrow east to west and the eastern part of the state is bounded by the Western Ghats (a mountain range thought to be about 150 million years old) and over 40 rivers flow from these to the sea. The area is one of the most bio-diverse in the world. The rivers are fed by the wet tropical climate, the southwest monsoon providing between 4 and 5 months of rain. This combined with an average daily temperature which rarely drops below 20°C makes the area a veritable hothouse.
So we have a culturally diverse state which grows virtually everything - sounds like a formula for a lot of Keralite recipes. It is an area which provides some wonderful vegetarian food as well as lots of meat recipes. Because of the presence of so many Muslims and Christians, pork and beef feature in the cuisine much more than in other parts of India. Unfortunately not much of this cuisine has made it to the west.
Kerala recipes are pretty spicy as with most southern states. The spices used are cinnamon and cloves, cardamom, ginger and turmeric, and of course cumin and coriander. They also make use of European imports such as garlic, tomatoes and bell peppers to a greater extent than most of India. Sauces with a slightly sour taste are very popular so tamarind and lime are used quite a bit
The staple for the area is, as with most of the south, rice. There is a breakfast dish puttu which is unique to Kerala, it is a dish of moistened rice and grated coconut. which is then steamed. Dosas, idlis and sambar are also popular together with a dish Idiyappam which are like steamed rice noodles.
Sambar is sort of vegetable broth made with lentils and tamarind, this is popular all over southern India including Kerala. Typical Keralite vegetable dishes are aviyal a mixture of vegetables with yoghurt (or milk curd) and coconut - typical vegetables would be yam or plantains and kaalan is a thicker version of this.
Non-vegetarian Kerala recipes are quite often stews using chicken, beef, lamb, or fish but they also fry beef, pork and fish - porichathu is a Kerala recipe where fish is fried with spices and rice flour. And of course there are numerous curries often using tomatoes.
A traditional banquet in Kerala is the Sadya, served during festivals. It is a vegetarian meal traditionally served on a banana leaf and consisting of rice, sambar, rasam, aviyal and many other dishes and usually followed by a sweet dish which is unusual for Kerala
I have not done too many Kerala recipes recently - I must put this right because the ones that I have done have been delicious. Will write them up cooked them again and checked them out.Kerala Chicken
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