A brief sojourn to the south of the nation several weeks ago was the cause for an immense sense of relaxation and contentment, something that had been missing from our lives for quite a few years now. It was the first long vacation I'd taken in quite a while and I thoroughly soaked up this feeling of liberation from the daily routine I'd felt I'd gotten stuck in. A lot had happened in the past couple of years and I felt my family deserved this outing. I drank in the new sites and sounds thirstily.
Kerala was one such destination. We visited this place just before the peak tourist period, and by sheer luck we escaped the incessant downpour caused by a passing cyclone. It was almost as if we had this beautiful place just to ourselves. We enjoyed backwater rides, an unexpected but wholly pleasant jungle trek, a clean and calm beach, lovely hill station, and a visit to the world's highest tea factory (I shall never forget that hair-raising jeep ride through dense fog all the way down the hill in the deepening dusk; our skilled young driver was a superb navigator.).
The cuisine was familiar since I make most of the South Indian dishes at home. I didn't particularly relish the steamed and sweetened banana. And of course, there isn't much variety during lunch and dinner time if you are a vegetarian. Nonetheless, the restaurants were clean enough, and (surprise! surprise!) North Indian food was excellently cooked. The special Kerala parotta was particularly delicious though made of maida of course (Kerala is a rice eating state; in one of the restaurants we watched opened mouthed at the large white mounds the people kept ploughing through during lunch; diabetes isn't present in their dictionary apparently); still we cautiously enjoyed it. I missed out on the kadala curry; I've made a mental note of sampling it the next time round.
One of the constants in the breakfast buffet was of course the coconut chutneys. There was the plain green chilli coconut chutney which is our almost regular fare at home. There was also a nice spicy and tangy chutney made from tomatoes and coconut to complement the bland green chilli chutney. It was a lovely combination, with idlis and dosas.
I make this tangy chutney at home every now and then to vary the taste at my own table. I conjured up my own recipe but have managed to match the taste closely enough. Here's how I did it:
I chopped up two large ripe tomatoes and set them aside. In my seasoning pan, I heated a drop of oil and roasted about three Kashmiri red chillis and half a teaspoon of coriander seeds. I set this aside. I grated about half a cup of coconut and roasted this too till it turned a golden red color. I set this aside too. In the same hot pan, I stirred the chopped tomatoes till they were cooked soft. I let all these ingredients cool. I then blended it all in my chutney jar along with half a cup of walnut kernels, a piece of soaked tamarind and requisite salt.
Adding the walnut kernels is, of course, optional. A handful of nuts daily forms part of a balanced nutritional meal. In the hurly burly of daily life, it is often easy to forget having these small but very essential items and so I've found little ways of including them. Also, coconut is a nutritional food, but must be eaten in moderation when fat metabolism is a bit impaired such as in diabetics. Since coconut meat is a regular in our food, I see immense benefit in replacing portions of it with nuts. While peanuts (a favorite coconut substitute) give off strong flavors and completely alter taste, I've found that walnuts and almonds in small amounts do not necessarily affect the taste of the dish and therefore I happily add nuts to dishes like chutneys.
Once the chutney has been ground (adding a bit of water if necessary to ensure desired consistency), splutter some mustard seeds in a bit of hot oil along with a few curry leaves and season the chutney. Serve with dosas, idlis or just as an accompaniment to rice and/or breads.