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The Pondicherry Kitchen – A Review, A Recipe for Puducherry (Pondicherry) Sambhar & A Giveaway

Posted Jan 19 2013 12:00am

I
have often thought that if I were to win the lottery and lots of money, one thing I would do would be to tour the world. It is extremely unlikely that I would win anyway, since I don’t buy lottery tickets.

There are however, a few places on my “must-see eventually” and they definitely don’t need me to win the lottery. One of them is Pondicherry (now known as Puducherry) which lies on the other side of the Indian peninsula from where I live. From here it is about 800km (a little over 500miles) to Pondicherry, which is closer to Chennai and a 2 1/2 hour drive from there.



Pondicherry, on the Indian East Coast, is one of the states of India and a former French colony, and often referred to as the “French Riviera of the East”! It is also home to the world famous Aurobindo Ashram .
So it is not surprising that the cuisine of Pondicherry, like everything else there, is heavily influenced by the French way of life. It is a unique and vibrant fusion of Tamil and French cooking that has also borrowed from Indian, Portuguese and Malaysian cooking. In Pondicherrian cuisine, many typically French dishes have been adapted to suit tastebuds used to spicier Indian food yet with minimal use of spices.
Not only have I never visited Pondicherry, the cuisine is also something that I am not familiar with. So it was with interest that I thumbed through the pages of the copy of “ The Pondicherry Kitchen – Traditional recipes form the Indo-French territory ” by Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis, that Westland sent me.



 
I just realised how much connected to Tamil cuisine this style of cooking is when I recognised a lot of dishes that we make at home, though the recipes are a bit different! I can also see the Portuguese influence in the Dodol and the Assad.
The Pondicherry Kitchen was originally written in French as “French Cuisine Traditionnelle de Pondichery” and recently published in an English version. The author spent several years collecting old recipes and culinary secrets from in and around Pondicherry, many of them transmitted orally through generations and put them together in the book. The cookbook starts with a brief introduction and is divided into various chapters mostly based on ingredients like Rice, Egg, Chicken, Turkey, Lamb, Seafood, etc  and Snacks, Rasam and Cakes & Sweetmeats. Most of the recipes in this book are non-vegetarian naturally, but a number of them are vegetarian. It is interesting to note that the use of coconut is minimal in this cuisine unlike in other South Indian cooking.
Some of the recipes in this book include Cottamali Kiraiy Cutney (Coriander Chutney), Takaali Pajam Chutney (Tomato Chutney), Vadavam Tovayal, Mimosa Muthaiy (Oeufs Mimosa), Erral Urundaiy Curry (Curry de Boulettes de Crevettes), Athu Kary Roll (Lamb Papillote), Pachaiy Patani Curry (Mouton aux Petits Pois), Ragou (Ragoût), Chow Chow Sauce Planche (Chow Chow Sauce Blanche) and Maraval Kujangu Cake (Tapioca Cake).




 One thing I really liked about this book is the Recipe Index where each chapter has been listed with the recipes in it and the pages they are on, but I wish this had been put at the beginning of the book rather than pushed to the back of the book. The recipes all have a brief introduction and both traditional names and their English versions are given. Almost all of them are simple to cook and require ingredients that are commonly used in Indian cooking. Almost every regional Indian cuisine has its own particular mix of spices and Pondicherry cuisine is no different. The author starts the book with a chapter on Spices & Condiments which details these “masalas”, the different kinds of “Kootu Thool”, Vadavam and Vassanaiy Thool.




  On the flip side, the book has rather lack-lustre photographs of some of the dishes which take away from the recipes, and they are all clumped together in two lots in the middle of the book. A couple of the recipes I tried out also seemed to be on the spicier side, which is probably the way those dishes are meant to be. So I would suggest a bit of caution, and ask you to use your judgement while adding chillies especially if you are not used to very spicy food.


  This is a book worth having in your cookbook collection if you are interested in exploring the lesser known regional Indian cuisines. It is also a cookbook that would appeal to a plate that is adventurous or one looking for more global influenced Indian style of cooking.
 
About the Author
Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis holds Masters degrees in French and English, and a PhD in sociolinguistics, and she teaches languages at the Lycée Français of Pondicherry. The French government has honoured her with the distinction of Chevalier des Palmes Academiques. She has written 2 cookbooks in French and hopes to translate the second one also to English. She and her husband, Dr Bernard A. Louis, live in Pondicherry. After going through the vegetarian recipes in The Pondicherry Kitchen, it seemed that many of them were variations of dishes that I normally cook at home. I was tempted to try out a couple of the sweet recipes (and I will later) but ultimately settled for a savoury recipe, the Puducherry (Pondicherry) Sambhar.
What struck me as different about this recipe from the Sambhar we usually make , apart from the lack of coconut, is the use of garlic, cumin seeds and fresh coriander leaves. I have to say it works very well just like the other unusual Sambhar I now often make. I just went a little easy on the garlic and a bit on the red chillies for my sambhar.
Puducherry (Pondicherry) Sambhar (Reproduced with permission from Westland )  
Ingredients: 
1 cup toor/ tuvar dal (split gram lentils) 2 cups water 1 tsp turmeric powder 1 +1 tbsp oil 1 tsp mustard seeds 1 tsp urad dal 6 dry red chillies, broken into 2 (seeds discarded) 1/2 tsp asafoetida 2 big aubergines (or any vegetable of your choice), cut into big pieces 1 big tomato, cut into pieces 1/2 tsp jaggery, optional 6 curry leaves 2 big onions (or 50gm shallots) finely chopped Salt to taste 1/2 tbsp tamarind pulp 6 garlic cloves, crushed coarsely 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds, powdered coarsely 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns, powdered coarsely 1 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
 
Method: 
In a pressure cooker, add the toor dal, turmeric powder and 1 tbsp oil. Pressure cook for 3 whistles, switch off the flame and let the pressure drop. Set aside. Strain the water out and keep it aside. Set the dal aside.In a pan heat 1 tbsp oil, add the mustard seeds and the urad dal and let them splutter. Add the dry red chillies, asafoetida, vegetable of choice, tomato, jaggery if using, curry leaves, onions, salt and the water in which the dal was cooked. Cover the pan and cook till the vegetables are done. Add the tamarind pulp, cooked dal, crushed garlic, cumin and peppercorns and the coriander leaves. Cover the pan for 10 minutes, stir and adjust seasoning. Serve piping hot with rice and ghee and vegetables. This recipe serves 6.  


I am giving away the review copy the Pondicherry Kitchen by Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis to one randomly chosen lucky reader of this blog. If you would like to try your luck at winning this book, please leave a comment at this post telling me why you would think this cookbook might have a place on your bookshelf and in your kitchen. Please also leave your mail-id or a link to yourself that I can find easily in case you happen to be the lucky winner. If I have to search and dig around to find you, I will choose an alternate winner for the book. This giveaway is open only to readers in India. If you live outside India you're welcome to participate so long as you have a shipping address within India.
 

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