At the heart of winter, when Chicago skies are still sullen, I like to reminisce about trips to the beach. Among those memories, one of my favorites is a family vacation we took to Kovalam, Kerala. I was ten at the time, and vexed to be spending so much of my summer vacation in India. Back in the Midwest, my friends were playing Jacks, biking with abandon, and plotting to win over all the cute boys.
By the time our family got to Kovalam, we’d spent hours shuffling between a tangle of relatives squeezed in the back of Ambassadors fitted with bony seats. We’d been stuffed with rice, charred by the sun, and pelted by thunderous monsoon rain. We were in need of respite.
What we came upon back in the eighties, was a mellow beach town that borders theArabian Sea. We kicked off our chappals (sandals), crossed the warm yellow-white sand, raised our skirts modestly, and frolicked in the low-tide.
In the evening, we dined on shrimp and other freshly caught seafood that so deftly defines Kerala cuisine. Afterwards, we fell into bed with our stomachs full.
Around 3 a.m., the electricity got cut. The fans stopped working, and we became a Smorgasbord for a hoard of mosquitoes making it impossible to sleep. With no end to the onslaught in sight, we got dressed and headed back out the beach just into time to catch the ghostly silhouettes of local fishermen heading out for their first catch.
KERALA FRIED SHRIMP
It took me a couple of years to realize that hot peppers are my mom’s secret weapon. They not only add heat to her culinary repertoire, they heighten the flavor of other ingredients, much like salt. Cayenne plays the starring role in my mom’s recipe for fried shrimp. For added flavor, puree the shallots and mix them into the marinade before coating the shrimp.
2½ teaspoons cayenne 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder ½ teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric 2 teaspoons water 1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined 2 large shallots roughly chopped (optional) 2 cups canola oil
In a small bowl, mix the cayenne, garlic powder, salt, and turmeric. Add the water and mix to form a thick paste.
Place the shrimp in a medium sized bowl. Rub it with the paste, thoroughly coating each piece. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Line a large plate with paper towels. Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat.
Place the shallots and several shrimp in the oil and lower the heat to medium. Cook until the shrimp become opaque, turning them in the oil to ensure even cooking.
Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and place them on the paper towels to cool.
Repeat until all the shrimp is cooked. Remove the shallots with the last batch of shrimp.
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Susan developed a passion for flavorful food as a child. Under her mother's wing, she learned to prepare everyday Kerala dishes.
In her twenties, Susan moved to Tokyo in search of adventure where she embraced Japanese culinary traditions. There she learned to value individual ingredients and tapped into the power of plating.
Once back in the U.S., Susan earned a Masters Degree in Public Policy. The hypnotic rhythms of the kitchen (mincing, chopping, mixing) drew her to Kendall College in 2005 where she trained as a chef. After a foray in the food industry, she started Cardamom Kitchen. Her mission is to promote all the benefits of home cooking. Susan leads cooking classes, and has taught at Whole Foods Market, the Fearless Food Kitchen, Gilda's Club, Common Threads, Swedish Covenant, farmer's markets and provides private instruction for children and adults. She also hosts a Culinary Tour of Devon Avenue, Chicago's Little India. Susan created and managed the "Kitchen Basics" column for Whole Foods Market.