Sunday, March 30, 2014

Pan-Fried Plantains with Cardamom

Produce stand - JA_edited-1

A few years ago, my Aunt Regina returned from India with a weathered notebook. A curly script on the cover identifies it as “Mrs. Chachyamma Peter Cooking Book.” Inside, the lettering is clear and controlled, and the evenly spaced sentences flow straight across the aged, unlined paper. The passages ebb and flow between English and Malayalam, which I hope to have deciphered. A few entries bring the two together into a Mala-English of sorts. 


My maternal grandmother, who everyone refers to as Mummi, started keeping the journal on January 1, 1937. Her earliest entries focused on childrearing and nutrition. “Teach the children dental hygiene at the earliest possible age.” “Bananas contain calcium, iron, phosphorous, magnesium and copper in abundance.”
Later, she fills a page with her Grandma’s beauty hints, which includes tips for a good complexion. “Take the skin of an orange and grind it to a smooth paste with a little milk or cream. Then rub it thoroughly on your face…”


But it’s the carefully printed recipes, peppered throughout the book, that draw me in. Mummi has instructions for American Breakfast Biscuits, Creamy Pudding Sauce, and Pineapple Punch. She documents steps for making Toffee Everton, Sponge Cake, and Sweet Potato Surprise. And, more importantly, she offers detailed instructions for some of my favorite Malayalee dishes, including Muton Cutlets and Uppu Mavu (spicy semolina). “Place the ghee in a kadai on the fire and when it gets firmly heated add the black gram dhal and fry until light brown then pour in the mustard …”

Pan-fried Plantains with Cardamom - Cover2

Mummi died five years before I was born. Over the years, I’ve sought to understand the lean, wavy-haired woman whose name I bear. Fortunately, the recipe-filled notebook provides me with that much needed connection. 


Serves 4

In Kerala, plantains are used in both sweet and savory dishes. The unripe, green-skinned fruit is thinly sliced for bananas chips or whittled into small chunks for stir-fries. Ripe plantains are steamed for a sweet mid-day snack or dipped in batter and deep-fried. This recipe for Pan-Fried Plantains with Cardamom is a dish my maternal grandmother, Mummi, used to make. For the best flavor (and texture), use plantains that are soft but not mushy. Their skins should be yellow with patches of black. When gently squeezed, their flesh should give just a little more than a ripe banana. 


2 pounds ripe plantains
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cardamom pods or ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter


Wash the plantains. Slice off the ends and cut them in half widthwise. 

Using the tip of a knife, slit the skin lengthwise without piercing the flesh. Carefully pull back the skin, beginning at the slit, and then remove the skin. 

Cut the plantains into three long pieces lengthwise.

Crush the cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle. Remove the papery husks and powder the seeds. In a small bowl, mix the ground cardamom and sugar. 

Melt the butter on a large skillet over medium-low heat. Layer the plantains on the skillet, placing the thickest pieces in the center. 

Cook the plantains until they begin to brown, about 3 to 5 minutes on each side. 

Sprinkle the plantains with a layer of the sugar mixture and cook for 1 minute. 

Flip and continue to cook until the sugar melts and forms a thin crust. Sprinkle the other side of the plantains with the remaining sugar. Cook for a minute and flip. When the sugar has browned on both sides, remove from heat. 

Serve immediately.
Advance purchase required!
Book your Chicago Food Tour today!
buy tickets at zerve
or call Zerve at (800) 979-3370

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chapathi (Whole Wheat Flatbread)



Serves 4

Although rice takes center stage in Kerala, many meals include chapati (whole wheat flatbread). The unleavened bread is traditionally made with a low-gluten flour called atta. I use whole wheat flour, which is easier to find. Serve it with Spicy Fried Beef or Chicken Stew. Or pair it with Potato Masala. The combination is simply divine!



2½ cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup water
Unsalted butter or ghee (optional)


Combine 2 cups of flour and salt in a large bowl. Slowly add the oil and blend it into the flour with your fingers.

Gradually mix the water with the flour to form a shaggy dough. Knead the dough until it is smooth. 

Cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll each piece into a ball.

Lightly dust a cutting board and rolling pin with a portion of the remaining flour. 

Pat each ball into a 2-inch disk. Roll each ball into a flatten circle of dough that is ¼ of an inch thick. 

Heat a skillet on medium heat. Place a chapathi on the skillet. Flip when it begins to bubble on top. 

Cook until bubbles form on the second side. 

Continue to flip until the flatbread is completely cooked. 

Remove chapati from the skillet. Coat both sides of the bread with a thin layer of butter or ghee. 

Repeat with the rest of the dough. 

Advance purchase required!
Book your Chicago Food Tour today!
buy tickets at zerve
or call Zerve at (800) 979-3370