South Indian Spice

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Chettinad Kitchen: Food and Flavours from South India by Alamelu Vairavan, book reviewChettinad food is known for its spicy hot flavours, that can bring tears to the eyes of those unused to encounters with chillis. In the last few decades it has been making its presence felt in five star hotels and offering foodies an alternative to the traditional South Indian vegetarian cuisine. Alamelu Vairavan’s third book makes few concessions for Western readers like offering mild spice variants, even though she herself is based in Wisconsin. In this book she has listed 170 recipes, clustered under different headings to make the book easy to navigate.

Each recipe has a detailed list of ingredients including the traditional sambar – there are nine varieties to choose from – six different rasams, including prawn and chicken, chutneys and tamarind rice, though the recipes in this book are primarily non vegetarian, since that is what Chettinad food is famous for. Among the usual are a few not so usual recipes like pineapple rasam and kavanarisi – which is a sweet dish had at breakfast that’s made with black rice, sugar, cardamom and fresh coconut. And there’s a recipe for the complex meen kulambu, a fish curry with the tart tanginess of tamarind paste.

The book’s cover is quite a stopper, the basic ingredients of Chettinad food, rice, stubs of ginger, curry leaves and a coconut half placed on a grinding stone against the pink and gold peacock embossed border of a kanjeevaram sari, the kind South Indian women wear on special occasions. This immediately flags a world of traditional flavours that have been handed down through the generations. And the book lives up to that promise with simply written instructions and precise measurements in a step by step format that is fairly easy to follow, even for amateur cooks. However, Chettinad food purists may quirk a disapproving eyebrow at the inclusion of ingredients like mushrooms, zucchini , and capsicum.

If you’re looking for quaint anecdotes or interesting footnotes, this may not be your type of cookbook, though there are some nice food shots and the pages have been bordered with attractive designs with useful tips in boxes. However, if you’re interesting in experimenting with some serious Chettinad cooking, you will be glad to pick up a copy.

Chettinad Kitchen: Food and Flavours from South India by Alamelu Vairavan

Published by Westland, India

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Chettinad Kitchen: Food and Flavours from South India
by Alamelu Vairavan

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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