Suja Zachariah shares some traditional Syrian Christian recipes

Steamed rice flour dumplings resembling white grapes swimming in a pool of white concoction is pidi, a Syrian Christian specialty. And, the delicious combo that goes with it is kozhi varatharachathu (spiced chicken with broiled coconut). There is kappa bonda – tapioca cutlets stuffed with chammanthi (chutney), paani and pazham – banana slices doused in a heady syrup of toddy and sugar, and more.

These are just some of the traditional Syrian Christian recipes recreated by Suja Zachariah for the ongoing Achayan Festival at Karavalli, The Taj Gateway.

The housewife from Paroor, a Syrian Christian belt in Kollam, is all smiles when she gets talking about the regional cuisine, which she describes as a spicy fare.

“The food is cooked in coconut oil and we use only small red onions (not the big ones).” Zachariah owes her cooking skills to her mother-in-law.

“I learnt everything about cooking from her. Our tharavad is 200 years old and during perunaal, all the family come together and prepare the traditional recipes at home,” she adds.

One such special food is puliappam, prepared during festive occasions such as Christmas and Easter. A Jewish adaptation, it is prepared with rice flour, urad dhal and yeast and has a three-hour deadline to ferment. “After the midnight mass, we head straight to the kitchen to scoop the fermented layer and start baking it,” she adds. Small onions are fried in coconut oil, to which the layer is added and baked with heat from top and bottom.

As for the recipe, she goes by her 26 years of experience in cooking. “I don't refer to any cookbooks. It is cooking from the heart. I won't be able to give you the number of measurement cups or the gms of ingredients for any recipe, because we don't follow anything like that,” adds Zackariah.

In the vegetarian platter, the specialties from the region include pindi payar ularthu (banana stem and red beans cooked in spices), vazhapoo cutlets, kumbalanga pulissery (ash gourd cooked in butter milk) and chakka kuru kashvandi ularthu (jackfruit seeds and tender cashew cooked dry) and kada chakka mappas (bread fruit in coconut curry).

“We make vegetarian dishes based on vegetables available in our backyard.” Pickles made from fish, meat and mussels are popular too.

Zachariah says fish preparations are cooked in coconut milk to lend a special flavour. Karimeen pollichathu (pearl spot fish crisp fried and stewed in coconut) is one of them. And the masala that goes into the preparations is also home-made. Chillies, dhania and turmeric are dried and ground. So is the garam masala.

“All the preparations are cooked on low flame, another Syrian Christian specialty,” she adds.

The festival is on till February 28, a-la-carte menu for lunch and dinner. For reservations, call: 66604545