Ayurveda, India’s age old medical science, classifies food into sattvic (goodness), rajasic (passion) and tamasic (ignorance) modes. Foods in the mode of goodness or sattvik foods are said to be without meat, fish, eggs, alcohol, caffeine, onions and garlic.
The use of onions and garlic is especially prevalent in North Indian cooking, which has been heavily influenced by the Moghuls who ruled India between 1526 to 1761. This tradition gradually trickled down south.
But, even today traditional South Indian vegetarian cuisine is probably one of the most prominent foods that hardly uses onions and garlic and even to this day if you visit an orthodox South Indian household you will find many dishes prepared without them (also, if you visit any strict vegetarian Buddhist,Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese restaurants around the world, you are most likely to find any members of the allium family missing from the food). The iconic South Indian vegetarian classic cookbook Samaithu Paar or the English version “Cook And See”, published in the 1950‘s, considered the pioneer of starting the trend of publishing cookbooks in India and still known as a bible for young brides and for those who want to learn the nuances of South Indian vegetarian cuisine has a total of 350 dishes in it. It might surprise you that only 5% of these dishes have onions and garlic in them with the word optional mentioned in the brackets for those recipes which happen to use them. This corroborates the absence of onions and garlic from South Indian vegetarian cuisine.
We as a family, love sattvik meals and on a sunday afternoon, when I was lunching at “Dakshin” at the ITC Maratha, which happens to be a favourite with me and Ro for a long time now, the server brought in a succulent dish “manga curry” (a curry prepared with mangoes in season) specially sent by the chef for me to try, apart from our usual staples of Iyer’s trolley (consisting of a variety of miniature dosas), appam, vegetable stew, ennai kathrikai (a spicy eggplant curry) and biranji (vegetable biriyani). When the chef came in to have a word at the end of our meal, I thought that although I don’t do restaurant reviews here, I must share with you at times, the food I eat outside apart from the dishes that emerge from my kitchen. And also showcase talented chefs who create magic in their kitchens. And I thought what better place to start with than the Dakshin at the ITC Maratha, a hotel which Ro and I have been visiting right from its inception.
Chef Manu Nair, a very enthusiastic and talented young chef from Dakshin restaurant at the ITC Maratha created an exhaustive spread of sattvik South Indian meal specially for DivineTaste consisting of Alvemandi Podi, a spicy savoury dish from the Saraswat community of Karnataka made with colocasia or arbi served with a spicy chili chutney called Korivikaram Chutney from Andhra Pradesh, Kalan, a Keralan dish made with raw bananas and yam and cooked in a mild coconut gravy, Pumpkin Erissery, another exotic traditional Keralan dish, Olan made with black eyed peas and white gourd, something that I really relished, Tindli Bibo Upkari, a Saraswat Brahmin dish from Karnataka made with tendli or ring gourd (known to be a favourite of the cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar and also a dish which originates from his community), Tarkari Padartha, a vegetable dish in a mildly spiced tomato and cashew gravy, Menaskai, spicy sweet dish from Udupi in Karnataka, Manga Curry, a country style ripe mango and coconut curry, Parippu Kootan, a festive Dal from Kerala and tropical dry fruit payasam, a sweet dish from the temples of Tamil Nadu! Appams, steamed rice, podis or dry chutney powder and the signature Dakshin pappadams completed the menu.
Each and every dish was cooked to perfection and it was also a visual feast for the eyes. The colocasia chips were so delicious that I couldnt stop eating one after the other. The other favourites were olan which was such a simple curry and with hot rice was a great comfort food for me and the kerala style dal. The payasam made with mangoes and garnished with dry fruits was the perfect end to this grand meal.
It was truly a meal fit for a king! The ITC hotels place a lot of emphasis on food in their restaurants and great attention is given to the quality and consistency of food throughout their restaurants across many cities. And that is why you are likely to taste the same chutney or appam at Dakshin in ITC Windsor, Bangalore (known as Windsor Manor way back in the 80's which used to be my childhood favourite) like the Dakshin in Mumbai. Likewise for their famous dal bukhara which is supposed to taste the same at ITC Maurya in Delhi or Chola in Chennai.
Chef Manu who comes from a family of engineers and bankers, faced a lot of opposition from his family but still chose to follow his heart and become a chef! Post the extensive shoot when we were in conversation, Aishwarya from the hotel management pointed out that it is families who carry on the traditions of the many cuisines around the world and in most cases, one family member would have influenced a chef to don the apron and cook up a storm. In Chef Manu’s case, it was his grandmother's exceptional cooking that stirred up the emotions in him to follow his passion and he says that it is she who inspires him to this day.
The cuisine of the 4 South Indian states is so vast with a number of regional variations to each state. Chef Manu has presented these dishes to represent each state. The beauty of these dishes, unlike other hotel menus are that most of them are cooked and eaten at home and have a history and tradition attached to them.
In order to recreate the magic of many of these dishes at home, I’m including the recipes from Chef Manu’s kitchen at the ITC Maratha, Mumbai. You could also reserve a table (+91 28303030) to experience and savour many traditional south Indian delicacies from the menu at the Dakshin, ITC Maratha, Mumbai.
Recipes from Dakshin ITC, courtsey chef Manu
A spicy hot and savoury dish from the Sarawat Brahmin community in Karnataka. The trick to getting this right is to deep fry slowly on a very low flame, says chef Manu
500 gm (5 cups) colocassia (arbi)
50gms (1/4 cup) tamarind
salt – to taste
1 tsp turmeric
400 gm (4 cups) fine semolina or rava
1 tsp red chilly powder
oil – for frying
1) Wash the arbi, peel it and allow it to boil with salt, tamarind and turmeric powder.
2) Allow it to cool.
3) Marinate the boiled arbi with salt, lemon juice, red chilly paste.
4) Coat it with rawa (semolina) and press firmly to ensure that rawa is evenly coated.
5) Heat oil, add the semolina coated arbi and fry till well cooked and golden brown in
6) Toss again with gun powder or red chilly powder, toss and serve crispy hot.
A spicy chutney from Andhra. Try using salem chilies if you can lay your hands on some.
1 Kg (10 cups) Salem Chilies
500 gm (5 cups) Salt
500 gm (5 cups) Tamarind – 500gms (5 cups)
3 tbsp Ghee
50 gm (1/2 cup) red chilies
100 gm (1/2 cup) mustard
3 sprigs curry leaves
50 gm (1/2 cup) asafetida or hing
1) Soak tamarind pulp, red chilies (without the stem) and salt for 10-15 mins.
2) Grind the above mixture into a very coarse mix.
3) Place the mixture in a pickle jar/ bharani and allow it to rest for 3-4 days.
4) After 3-4 days, make a fine paste of the chilly
5) Heat oil add mustard, curry leaf, red chilies and hing and allow it to crackle.
6) Add the tempering into the paste and serve with steamed rice/ dosais.
This dish originating in Kerala, is one of the 18 compulsory dishes to be served during a traditional sadhya meal
150 gm (1/2 cup) black eyed beans or cow peas (van payaru)
300 gm (2 cups) white gourd (elavan), chopped into thin slices of about 3 cm by 3 cm
100 gm yellow pumpkin (mathan) (optional), chopped into thin slices of about 3 cm by 3cm
50 gm or about 5 chillies (slit)
400 gm (2 1/2 cups) coconut, grated
curry leaves, a few
80 gm (1/2 cup) oil
salt to taste
1)Lightly roast the beans and soak it in water for 8 hrs. Wash & strain well.
2) Extract thick milk and thin milk from the grated coconut.
3)In a pressure pan, add beans, both vegetables, chilies and thin coconut milk.
4) Pressure cook up to 1 whistle.
5) After opening the lid, add salt and thick Coconut milk
6) Simmer, ensurer that the coconut milk does not curdle
7) Add coconut oil and curry leaves. Serve hot with steam rice.
TINDLI BIBO UPKARI
This dish originating from the saraswat brahmin community of Karnataka is made with tindli or tendli or ring gourds is a great side dish in a meal
300 gm (3 cups) ring gourd or tendli
200 gm (2 cups) cashews
3 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard
2 to3 dry red chillies
1 sprig curry leaves
1/2 tsp asafetida
50 gm (1/2 Cup) grated coconut
1.Soak cashewnuts in warm water with little salt.
2.Cut the tindli into quarters; ensure that they are green and not red from inside.
3.Blanch the tindli and keep aside.
4.In a kadai, heat oil, add tempering and red chillies and allow to crackle.
5.Add curry leaf and asafetida and cook for a while.
6.Add the soaked cashewnuts and tindli and toss.
7.Add grated coconut and salt and mix.
Serve hot with steam rice and sambar.
A mixed vegetable dish from Mangalore, great as an accompaniment to rice or chapatis.
100 gm (1 cup) carrots
100 gm (1 cup) beans
100 gm (1 cup) peas
100 gm (1 cup) cauliflower
100 gm (1 cup) baby potatoes
salt to taste
400 gm (4 cup) tomato puree
400 gm (4 cup) cashew paste
2 tsp red chili powder or to taste
3 tbs ghee or oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 to 3 green chillies
2 sprigs curry leaves
3 tbs coriander powder
1 tsp red chilly powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1. Cut the vegetables into desired shapes (preferably small dices/ medallions)
2. Heat oil in a handi, add mustard, red chillies and curry leaf.
3. Once it starts to crackle, add the tomato puree and cashewnut paste.
4. Add some water, mix well and allow the gravy to cook.
5. Add the masala powders and allow to cook till the gravy starts to leave oil on the sides.
6. Once the gravy starts leaving water, add the cut vegetables.
7. Mix well and cook till the vegetables are well cooked.
8. Heat ghee in a pan, add the green chillies and fry it till golden brown.
9. Add the oil and green chillies on top of the gravy and keep it covered.
10.Remove from heat and serve hot with Veechu parathas or appams.
Served during a traditional sadhya, this festive dal is a great variation to the simple dal and adds zing to a meal.
450gms moong dal
Salt to taste
2 tbsp ghee
5 to 6 red chilies
2 tsp mustard
400 gm grated coconut
1 tsp cumin
5 to 6 green chilies
1. Boil the moong dal with turmeric and curry leaf, till well cooked and mushy
2. Grind grated coconut, cumin and green chilies into a fine paste.
3. Add the ground coconut paste into the dal and mix well and allow to simmer.
4. Heat ghee, add mustard red chilies and curry leaves. Once it begins to splatter, add the tadka into the dal.
5. Cover the gravy for 5-10 mins and serve hot with steamed rice.
MANGO DRY FRUIT PAYASAM
A specialty dessert from the temples of Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu. The dish ismade during the summer seasons using tropical fruits such as mangoes (or
even jack fruit).
250 Gms (2 cups) mango puree
80gms (3/4th cup) sugar
1 tsp cardamom powder
500ml (2 cups) milk
2 tsp rice flour
100 gm(1 cup) assorted nuts (pistachios, almonds, cashews, raisins)
1. Boil milk in a handi, add sugar, cardamom powder and rice flour to it and allow the milk to thicken and reduce.
2. Allow the mixture to cool.
3. Boil the above nuts and cut into fine pieces.
4. Add the nuts into the reduced milk.
5. Make mango pulp/ puree and mix the mango pulp into the reduced milk.
6. Allow the payasam to cool, serve in small bowls garnished with
chopped nut and raisins.