The Quintessential Kerala Vegetable Stew

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What is comfort food to you? I can fairly say, to me, it is anything which has coconut milk as an ingredient. The flavours have become so ingrained to my senses, that anything which has coconut milk automatically reminds me of home and Kerala. And a vegetable stew is something made in homes across the length and breadth of the state. Besides the addition of an odd spice or a curry leaf here and there, I doubt it varies too much. Served with any kind of appams and bread, it makes its way to a breakfast table quite frequently.

Of late, I've been spending too much time at home. The excuse is I want time to think and clear my mind, which while true also leads to other consequences such as barely stepping out even for groceries. My excuse, it's too much effort in this heat to dress decently to go out and get groceries. I could always order them online you'd say, but then I'm a fan of the non digital and the touch and feel. Oh man! that probably made me sound like a chimpanzee in this tech age. But it is true, even though I know it's Danone yogurt I'm going to pick up and a bag of carrots are quite possibly the same everywhere, there is joy in going to the local grocery store and checking the product. Except not in this heat.

Last weekend, when I'd called my brother over for lunch, I made appams and beef curry. A beef curry which is so familiar to us, cos it's the one my mother made for us almost every Sunday back home. Normally I'm one for measuring out spices and powders and everything. This time, Jayashree looked at me in surprise when I started throwing in spices willy nilly. "Spoon! Spoon!' she kept saying and I kept ignoring her. It comes out right, no matter what I do. If there is one curry in the world I know I can twist and turn and still get right, it's that one. So I planned to make a veg version for you on this page, just so everyone could enjoy my favourite Sunday curry. Unfortunately, that is when I realised I dont have tomatoes in the house.

The good thing about this stew is that you barely need any fancy ingredients. It's all regular staple kitchen stuff. Onions, chills, ginger, garlic, whole spices, and veggies of your choice - potatoes, carrots & peas in this case. Sometimes we chuck the veggies and just add a couple of boiled eggs and then it becomes and egg curry. Any sturdy vegetable would do. You could make this a mutton stew by just adding mutton. There is one thing you need to make this stew a success though... and that is coconut milk. Freshly pressed coconut milk would be awesome. But who's got the time and energy for that these days and that too in tiny urban kitchens. I used a tetrapak this time. But I've also used those powdered versions and found it quite nice, though not exactly the flavours of fresh milk.


I have to tell you, when Jayashree saw me make this, she looked worried. It had no masalas, no tomato, what are you making was the unspoken question. Then she tasted it and said, ok, I'm making this at home for my kids. That's high praise indeed! :-)

Ingredients

2 tbsp coconut oil/refined oil
4 Cardamom pods whole
5 cloves
2 sticks cinnamon broken
2 onions thinly sliced
5 chillis sliced long
1 tbsp freshly ground ginger
1 tbsp freshly ground garlic
2 potatoes diced
3 carrots diced
1/2 cup peas
2 cups coconut milk/water
1/2 cup coconut cream (first press)
*1/2 tsp garam masala

Method

Heat oil in a wok (Malayalees use the wok quite a bit, we call it a 'Cheena chatti' or a Chinese pot)
Temper the whole spices to release their flavours.
Add sliced onions & chillis and gently sweat till the onions turn translucent.
Add ginger, garlic paste and cook till the raw flavour goes off.
Add in potatoes, carrots, peas and other veggies and stir to completely coat with the spices and other flavours.
Pour in water/coconut milk, cover and cook till the veggies are just done.
Add coconut cream and gently simmer for 2 mins without bringing to a boil.
Sprinkle garam masala on top just before serving.

*I sprinkle garam masala just after cooking and turning off the flame. Then I keep the dish covered till it's time to serve and the steam emanates the aroma of the spices when I open up the dish.
**My mum advises adding a spot of vinegar to bring in the sour flavour. I did not use it this time. I never have actually. Mum also says, the potatoes have a sourness of its own, which it lends to the dish.

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