Chicken for the soul in the month of Karkkadakam

‘Kozhimarunnu’ tastes best with piping hot rice   | Photo Credit: Joyal Johnson

Karkkadakam, the last month of the Malayalam calendar (July-August), is associated with wellness treatments, Karkkadaka kanji (medicated gruel) and dishes prepared with shoots and leaves. But kozhimarunnu or marunnu kozhi, tender chicken cooked in a mix of medicinal herbs and spices, which is consumed during this period in many homes in North Kerala, is not all that familiar.

“Although there is no reference about kozhimarunnu in Ayurveda, it is an age-old dish cooked in families for generations, especially in northern districts of Kerala,” says Dr Neethu Thudisseri, an Ayurveda doctor from Parappanangadi in Malappuram district.

She adds: “Ayurveda considers body immunity to be low and digestive activity weakened in Karkkadakam because of climatic conditions. The herbs used in kozhimarunnu help in digestion. The chicken is meant to nourish the body and it has less fat when compared to other meats. However, those with lifestyle diseases and children should avoid it.”

Herbal mix

Some of the medicinal herbs that are used in ‘kozhimarunnu’

Some of the medicinal herbs that are used in ‘kozhimarunnu’   | Photo Credit: Mini George

The medicinal ingredients vary from region to region, with some 30-40 items in the list. Common ones include pepper, dry ginger, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, carom seeds, idampiri valampiri (Indian screw tree), vizhalari (false black pepper) and valmulaku (tail pepper). Kurunthotti (Bala), thippali (long pepper), fennel, different types of cumin, cardamom, sesame, fenugreek, asafoetida, nutmeg, star anise, black musli, amukkaram or ashwagandha, pomegranate peel, nagapoo (cobra’s saffron) and vayambu (sweet flag) are also added in some regions.

The mix of items is available as packets shops selling Ayurveda medicines. The mix has to be dry-roasted and powdered. These days, powdered mixes are available as well. “Our kozhimarunnu packet has 32 ingredients. The number of people buying it has come down over the years. If I used to sell 5,000 packets some eight years ago, it has come down to 1,000 now. Still, the tradition hasn’t gone out of fashion,” says JS James, who runs Sanjeevani Vaidyasala at Alathur in Palakkad district.

There are certain dos and don’ts while preparing the dish. Nadan kozhi or home-bred chicken, that too only hens less than six months old should be used. Black fowl or karimkozhi is considered the ideal, says Dr Mini George, an Ayurveda practitioner. At her clinic, Veleeparambil Ayur Home, at Palluruthy in Kochi, the dish is prepared as per order during Karkkadakam.

Tender chicken is cooked without water or in coconut milk for ‘kozhimarunnu’

Tender chicken is cooked without water or in coconut milk for ‘kozhimarunnu’   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The cooking method has its regional differences. Joyal Johnson, an IT professional hailing from Malayattoor in Ernakulam district, says that at his maternal ancestral home, the chicken, marinated in turmeric and crushed garlic, is cooked without adding water. However, Deepak Jose, an education consultant from Angamaly, points out that they cook the chicken in coconut milk with turmeric, shallots and garlic.

While some people use coconut oil, ghee and sesame oil, a few others prefer to skip one of them. Dr Mini uses sesame oil and ghee in her preparation. Also, she cooks the chicken with kurunthotti and turmeric before it is mixed with sautéed onions, garlic and the medicine mix.

The final dish should be dry and resemble roasted chicken. No salt is used in any variation of the dish. Rock salt is permitted.

Occasion to celebrate

Joyal and Deepak add that preparing kozhimarunnu is like a celebration in their families. “Usually, members of six to seven families gather at my 93-year-old grandmother’s house. The medicine mix is always bought from a shop in our area. The quantity of the mix depends on the quantity of chicken we are cooking. It is an annual get-together we all look forward, just like other festivals,” says Joyal.

‘Kozhimarunnu’ or ‘Marunnukozhi’ has tender chicken cooked in medicinal herbs

‘Kozhimarunnu’ or ‘Marunnukozhi’ has tender chicken cooked in medicinal herbs   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Thrissur-native Dr Mini remembers how she used to look forward to the kozhimarunnu. “It is nostalgic for me. That is why even though I don’t get the herbs in Kochi, I buy it from a market in Chalakkudy (Thrissur district). We usually have it for dinner with hot rice. The only other side dish would be uppumanga (salted mangoes in brine),” she says.

Kozhimarunnu is also given to women post delivery.

They say that it is better to cook the dish in a clay pot or iron wok. Although some prescribe having it for a week, opinion is divided because the preparation has to be heated every time before consuming it. Having the oily meal for several days may not be good for all, say the experts.

There are a few like Manjula Jyothiprakash, a homecook and blogger from Palakkad, who prepares her own version of kozhimarunnu every year with easily available ingredients such as coriander, cumin, pepper and shallots. “I learnt it from my husband’s relative. We also make a gruel with the bark of idinjil (hill mango) during the month, which can give you relief from back pain and joint pain,” Manjusha says.

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2021 8:42:14 AM |

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