Black and beautiful

Rummage through your grandmother’s storeroom and see if you can unearth her old kalchattis

Published - May 02, 2017 04:18 pm IST

Each size and shape is meant for a specific dish

Each size and shape is meant for a specific dish

Omana amma would walk in mid morning with a day’s worth of betel leaf and a beautiful smile. She would settle down to leisurely exchange of the day’s news with my mother. Half an hour later, she would chop vegetables and build a small fire in the two wood stoves in the kitchen annexe. In the next hour, delicious aromas would waft from the kalchattis (stone vessels) and manchattis (mud vessels) bubbling over small well-managed fires. All of us relished her delicious sambars, aviyal, theeyals and kaalan . When she stopped cooking for us, the kalchattis were relegated to the loft.

As my interest in traditional food increased, Omana amma’s cooking came to mind. A few years ago, I started rooting around my parents’ loft and found a few kalchattis that my mother had inherited from her grandmother. These were bequeathed to me and soI have a few old black kalchattis of varying sizes and shapes. Some are tall with a small circumference and used for making puli inji or rasam . Another is suitable for sambar, a third for aviyal and so on. The surfaces have a matt black patina — the black from the wood stove and years of use and the smooth finish from decades of soft scrubbing.

Kalchattis are cooking vessels carved out of soapstone, a naturally occurring soft stone. Thick walled and heavy, they ensure slow and even cooking. Since they are porous, heat and moisture circulate through the pot while cooking, thereby enhancing the flavours. Traditionally used on wood stoves, these can also be used on the modern gas stove. Kalchattis neutralise the pH balance of acidic food items and thus enhance their nutritional value. Kalchattis can be used to prepare gravies, but not for dry preparations or sautéing.

As the kalchatti ages, the cooking quality improves

As the kalchatti ages, the cooking quality improves

Let the food cook slowly. Turn off the flame 4-5 minutes before the food is fully cooked. It will continue to cook slowly in the heat retained inside the vessel. The time taken to heat the kalchatti is compensated when the slow cooking process continues even after the stove is switched off.

Food cooked in old kalchattis keep well for the next day as well without refrigeration. As the vessel ages, the cooking quality improves. Most important, the kalchatti has to be seasoned before you start cooking in it.

Even after seasoning, the kalchatti should be introduced gently and slowly into daily cooking. Use on a low flame and don’t let the water dry while cooking. Periodically oil it and leave overnight before washing it in the morning.

My kalchattis have become an integral part of the cooking routine. Sourcing organic, whole foods from farmers and preparing it in my grandmother’s kalchattis changes the tenor of the whole act of sourcing and cooking food.

Food is less of a commodity and more of a bond with the farmers; cooking has become less a chore and more an active connection to my grandmother. Search through your grandmother’s store of vessels to find kalchattis or order them online. They are usually available in temple fairs.

Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty is the Co-Founder of Bio Basics, a social venture retailing organic food, and a Consultant to the Save Our Rice Campaign. She can be reached at 9790516500

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