In the earlier posts, I attempted to capture some sights and stories of South Asians in Toronto.
Well, it’s time to direct the rickshaw towards some culinary delights. A highlight Toronto’s multicultural identity is that the city offers its patrons a whole variety of ethnic food to choose from. Some are wildly popular, others remains hidden gems. If I asked you to cough up the names of some Indian dishes, you are more than likely to answer: butter chicken, naan, chicken tikka or palak paneer.
Since the Canadian palate appears to have fallen in love with the mild flavours of the ubiquitous butter chicken and its perfect dance partner, naan, most restaurateurs are wary of introducing anything else on their menu. If it works, why fix it, right?
Here’s the thing; Indian cuisine, much like the country itself is vast and varied. Each region has its own distinct culinary style. Many of the dishes will tantalize the taste buds and send you to food nirvana.
Yes, it’s great, butter chicken and the samosas have nudged their way right into the mainstream fare, but these are not the prototypes of India’s mind-boggling gastronomy. Allow me to introduce you to some less-known, nevertheless great mouthwatering dishes.
Nestling amidst swaying coconut trees and lush greenery, is Kerala. A coastal region in the Southern region of India characterized by groves of mango, jackfruit and coconut trees, punctuated with rubber, coffee and tea plantations, cashew nut trees and orchards redolent with spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and pepper.
Often referred to as God’s Own Country, Kerala definitely lives up to its moniker. What’s unique about Kerala’s cuisine is that unlike the calorie-laden richness of butter chicken, food hailing from this region is light (as it’s steamed or cooked with minimal oil). The dishes sport rich flavours tempered usually by a paste of coconut, ginger, green jalapeno, black pepper, nutmeg, cardamom and other spices.
Fish, fowl and vegetables are an integral part of Kerala’s cuisine. At the time of festivals, weddings and other occasions, food is served and eaten on a banana leaf.
Here’s a recipe for Kerala chicken. You can substitute the fresh powdered spices with (Eastern brand Chicken masala) readily available in any Kerala store in the GTA.
KERALA CHICKEN CURRY
You will need:
Chicken – 2 lbs. bite-sized pieces
Onions – 1 large chopped
Tomatoes – two large diced
Ginger/ garlic paste – 1½ teaspoon
Oil (Canola/vegetable) – 3 tablespoon
Coconut (grated) – 1/3 cup
Red chilly powder— 1 teaspoon
Fennell seeds — ½ teaspoon
Cumin seeds — ½ teaspoon
Peppercorn— ½ teaspoon
Cloves — 4 nos.
Cinnamon— 1-inch stick
Cardamom — 3 nos.
Lemon juice — one lime/lemon
Yoghurt— 3 tablespoons
Marinate chicken pieces in lemon juice, yoghurt and salt. Refrigerate for a couple of hours
Dry roast on low flame and powder: Fennel seed, cumin, cloves, peppercorn, cardamom and cinnamon
1. Heat oil in a non-stick or heavy-bottomed pan. Toss and saute the onions.
2. Add ginger, and garlic paste. Cook until onions turn golden brown.
3. Add diced tomatoes till it softens and has a sauce-like consistency. Add salt, red chilly powder and Eastern chicken masala. Turn the heat to minimum.
3. Toss in coconut (grated either fresh or frozen) and about 1 ½ tablespoon of powdered spice mix. Add very little water and make a paste.
4. Add coconut and spice paste to the simmering sauce. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add half-a-cup water.
5. Now add in the chicken pieces. Cover and cook in medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Check to ensure chicken is fully cooked. Sprinkle remaining dry spice mix. Cover and let the flavours sit.
Enjoy it with steamed white rice or tortillas