I had checked in and was waiting for my flight at Heathrow airport when the lockdown was declared in London. Obviously the flight got cancelled. What could I do? Although I work, and am based, in Kerala, I am a British citizen. I have worked and lived here for more than a decade, so this is not a foreign country.
I am staying with Malayali friends at South London’s Croydon, which has a considerable population from Kerala. Essentials of Kerala cooking are available here; I have been busy cooking and posting food on my social media. In fact, each meal I cook, which is almost everyday, I upload.
My specialty is Kerala cuisine and I have stuck to it even for my videos. I try to post different meals — from breakfast to dinner. Of the recipes I posted, the most popular was a simple chammanthi (chutney) made of green chilli, tamarind, coconut oil and salt. We have it with so many things, for example with boiled kappa (tapioca) and kanji (rice porridge). Then there is my neymeen Nirvana: king fish poached in coconut milk with spices and cooked in banana leaves.
Most of what I cook are our staples — puttu-kadala (black chana) or payar (green gram) curry, fish curry, mussel stir fry, kalan, vazhapoov (banana flower) thoran, pachadi, upma, dosa — rather than fancy foods. I devoted a week to upmas and used, besides semolina, alternative such as quinoa, wheat, and barley.
Green mango yogurt pickle
- Ingredients: 3 finely chopped green mangoes, 6 chopped green chillies; 50 ml coconut oil; 10 gm ustard seeds; 2 dry whole red chilliies; a few curry leaves; 1 gm Kashmiri chilli powder; 5 gm turmeric powder; 10 gm roasted fenugreek powder; 5 gm hing/ asafoetida powder; 5gm cumin powder; salt to taste; 300 gm thick curd
- Method: In a bowl mix the chopped mango, green chilli and spices together and keep aside. Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds, red chilli and curry leaves, add the mango mixture. Cook on a low flame, and sauté for 3-4 minutes, add a little water and mix well. Take it off the flame and let it cool down. In a bowl add the cooked mango pickle and curd and mix well. Check the seasoning and serve cold.
- Recipe by chef Suresh Pillai
I occasionally make salads too , nothing fancy, just simple ones with dressings that have salt, pepper, lemon and honey; also as a means to encourage healthy eating.
This is a good time, I feel, to eat and cook responsibly and sustainably. To make use of what is available in our backyards, like jackfruit, papaya, colcassia, plantain flower, yam, tapioca, and moringa. It is better than straining our already strained resources, and very nourishing too. Food shortage could be a real thing, as a result of the lockdown we need to re-examine the way we eat. We could think of incorporating wheat into our diet, and make one meal wheat-based since it is cheaper.
I have also been making use of this time to interact, via Instagram, with those who follow me. They have so many questions about food, cuisine, and cooking. I realised that there are some in the restaurant industry who don’t know basics like the cuts of meats, that each is different. I am making use of the time to educate and create awareness.
This is the first time in my 25-year career that I have faced such a situation. Though I feel stuck occasionally, I get to use my time to indulge in my hobby — cooking — in ways that are helpful to others who call with questions related to food or a recipe I have shared. Chefs don’t usually get so much time to rest. I am making the most of it.
In this series, India’s popular chefs and restauteurs share their lockdown cooking habits and recipes with us.