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 …”
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.
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.
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.
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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.