V. Mangalam, who is 82 years old, still likes to cook the way they did in her youth with traditional grains and utensils. She has even run a Chettinad restaurant in Coimbatore for five years

V. Mangalam is 82 years old. She is an expert at Chettinad cuisine. She has won prizes at several cooking contests. Most of her dishes retain the authentic flavour of Chettinad cuisine. Her puttu preparation, made with varieties of grains and millets, won her the first prize in a cookery contest conducted by Rotary Club. She received the prize from Mallika Badrinath. She won the third prize for The Hindu Cookery Contest conducted in 2010, for her kofta prepared with baby jackfruit, cashew nuts and dates. She also ran a restaurant “Alagu Achi Unavagam” for five years in Ramnagar. She regularly contributes recipes for magazines such as Mangayar Malar and Dinamalar. She will shortly publish her cookery book on Chettinad cuisine called Podivagaikalum keeraivagaikalum.

I began cooking at the age of 13, after I got married. My sister-in-law taught me to cook. I used to help her out in the kitchen, filling water and grinding chillies. But watching her, I developed a passion for cooking too. As I helped her in the kitchen I learnt a lot. And, it took me just six months to cook full-fledged meals for the entire family.

We had no servants in the house to help us out with the cooking. Two of us had to cook every day for at least 20 members in the family. These were not simple meals. We had to cook at least three to four varieties of curries.

There was no gas stove or induction cooker then. We used to cook on fire woods. The flavour of the smoke added an extra taste to the food. And even after the wood was taken out, the surface would retain heat for at least the next two hours. It was much more economical.

Heady fish curry

The vegetables in the markets were fresher. No pesticides were used to grow them. But have you seen the onions now? They get black marks so fast! Earlier that was never the case. Even the fish we bought would be freshly caught. They would have such a strong smell that even the neighbours, four houses away, would be able to smell our curry!

All the dishes were cooked in mud pots. I still do not cook rice in the pressure cooker. It sticks to the bottom. The rice when cooked in those mud pots, takes the flavour of the pot. I prefer that taste. I have a couple of antique vessels in my house. One such vessel is a sothu palagai, a heart shaped wooden ladle, to drain the water from the rice.

I mainly cook Chettinad dishes. My favourites are vellai paniyaram with chilli chutney, vendakkai puli kuzhambu (ladies finger, prepared in tamarind gravy), palakkai pirattal (baby jackfruit masala). When I cook I forget all my pains and worries. It gives me so much pleasure. I have taken part in a lot of cookery contests. I do not like it when people give me special preference.

They should taste what I have made and then if they like it, they should appreciate. It gives me great joy when they do that. I was running a stall for a cookery exhibition organised by Siruthuli. I had made Kummayam, a sweet dish made of rice, urud dal and yellow moong , mixed with jaggery and ghee. A customer, who had it, liked it so much that he said I deserved a gold bangle. I felt very happy that day.

Appreciation is very important for a chef. When I go to a restaurant and have something good, I make it a point to congratulate the chef. I love eating out. The roast in Annapoorna is one of my favourites. When I was young, there were very few restaurants. However, I remember a few old ladies, who used to sit all day on the roads, making hot appams, puttus, idlis, and serve them with coconut chutneys. Those days, with 25 paise, you could buy four idlis.

I grind my own idli and dosai podis and do not buy them from the markets. I make varieties of podis out of garlic, pulses, pudhina, curry leaves and sesame seeds. I like making new dishes out of traditional grains or millets. I recently made pudding out of red rice.

I learnt to make pudhina juice from my grandchild, Kalpana. But I don’t prefer pizza and burgers. I have seen youngsters, who eat them and then go for walking to lose weight. Why take so much trouble? You eat what I make and you don’t have to go to any gym.

RECIPE FOR VEGETABLE OMELETTE

Ingredients

Yellow moong (paasi paruppu) - one cup

Bengal gram (kadalai paruppu) - 1/4 cup

Green chillies- (4)

Finely cut small onion- 150 gm

Fennel seeds (sombu) - 2 tsp

Turmeric powder- 1/4 tsp

Curry Leaves- cut into small pieces

Salt- as per requirement

Oil

Method

1. Soak yellow moong and Bengal gram

2. Grind the yellow moong, Bengal gram and fennel, and add salt.

3. Add finely cut chillies, onion, turmeric powder and curry leaves.

4. Pour the batter on the frying pan like omelette and serve.