The Essential Kodava Cook Book is proof not only of a love for culinary traditions, but also of meticulous planning and vision.

We’ve grown up thinking of the Kodavas — earlier anglicised to Coorgs — as a small group in the upper reaches of Karnataka, who live off the land, are tall and handsome, huntin’, shootin’ types. Romantic lore is corroborated by fact: they are allowed to carry arms without a licence. So when a few weeks back I received a request to review a book on their cuisine, I was delighted to. First, because I’m curious. Second, because those who go after game and wild fruit and vegetables are bound to have interesting food. Apart from shikaris, I can’t think of anyone who speaks of wild boar as a special dish representative of their cuisine.

The two authors are impressive. C.B. Muthamma was the first woman career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service and P. Gangamma Bopanna the first woman lawyer from Coorg state. The book is proof of not only their love for their culinary traditions, but of meticulous planning and vision. It’s easy to love the food one’s grown up with; but to present it to outsiders in a simple, direct way is difficult.

The most interesting part of the book is the introduction. It gives a brief history of the people, the geographical boundaries, regional contiguity, and describes the plenitude of wild game in the forests, fish in the streams and rivers, and vegetables and wild berries and creepers in the fields and open country around the villages. There is an affectionate, almost nostalgically, written section on Kodava ceremonies

Festive feasting

Festive meals are described dispassionately, but the mere listing is evocative. “A large dinner on puththari (the harvest festival) is celebrated with pork curry and kadumbuttu. The following day, lunch is a huge affair with kadumbuttu, pork curry and pulau. In addition, there is also sweet potato or the seasonal puththari yam served with jiggery syrup, fresh grated coconut, ghee and powdered cardamom. Dessert on this festival includes thambuttu, a sweet made of ripe bananas, roasted parboiled rice flour and fenugreek powder, served with accompaniments of grated coconut, roasted sesame seed and ghee.”

There are helpful “Hints for Kodava Cuisine”, which list spices, how and in what order to use them; use of fats; and unusual ingredients like kaachambuli. I wish local as well as Latin names for some had been included: ‘There are other items now becoming rare, like a particular type of wild creeper, the leaves of which were crushed and juice made into a jelly.’ A name might have given the reader a clue. The pages on utensils used for cooking and storing food in a Kodava household are intelligently integrated with the crops, the seasons and thence the requirements. Some names are the same as in neighbouring Kerala.

A table defines measures with weight to volume and Imperial to metric equivalents. Recipes are organised as Rice, Meat and Poultry, Fish and Prawns, Vegetables, Chutneys and Pickles, and Desserts and Snacks. There are suggestions for substitutes and crisp, lucid instructions on how to cook.

Most dishes seem interesting, but there is a sameness to the flavours. I suppose that’s typical of most regions; this, for instance, relies on mustard seeds, garlic, onions and curry leaves in almost all recipes. Some are so simple, though, that one wonders why they were included

But there are several recipes worth trying. Sanna, steamed rice cakes, are delicious: sweetish, with a yeasty flavour, and crunchy with coconut. The pachchadi recipes, especially for cucumber or tomato, are easy to make and refreshing. There is a recipe for mutton curry which is different, and the end result is delicious...

Yerchi Kanni Curry (Mutton curry)

Serves 4-6

1kg mutton (cut into 1 1/2’ pieces)

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp coriander powder

3 tbsp oil

1 onion (chopped)

Salt to taste

1 tsp kaachambuli or 1 1/2tsp malt vinegar

Grind to fine paste

2 onions, 10 cloves garlic, 6 cloves, 4 sticks cinnamon (1” each), 1 green cardamom, peeled, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp poppy seeds (khus khus), 4 cups water

Grind to fine paste

1/2 fresh grated coconut, 2 green chillies, 1 bunch coriander leaves

Method: Mix mutton with turmeric and coriander powder and marinate for 10 minutes. Heat oil in a pan, add chopped onions and fry till light brown. Add ground onion masala and fry on low heat for 2 minutes. Add mutton and continue frying on low heat for about 10 minutes. Add water and quickly bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer till mutton is tender. There should be enough water to cook the mutton and have a good quantity of gravy.

Add ground coconut masala and salt and stir for 1-2 minutes. Add kaachambuli or vinegar, stir and remove immediately from heat.

Variation: Koli Kanni Kari (Chicken Curry) Substitute chicken for mutton.

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