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The beautiful south

Categories: News and previews

Monisha Bharadwaj gives us a preview of what’s in store for her debut demo with an insight to the myriad flavours of south Indian cuisine

Southern India consists of the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The south, being closer to the equator than the rest of India and a spice growing region, has spicier food than the north, as hot food cools the body down by making you perspire. Meals here are mainly rice based and eaten with soupy curries and lentil dishes.

In Tamil Nadu, a meal is made up of rice served in three different courses: first with sambhar, a thick lentil dish with fresh vegetables, then with rasam, a thinner version of the sambhar, and finally with yoghurt to cool the palate. Black pepper, red chillies, cumin, turmeric, coriander, fenugreek and mustard seeds are used in cooking with vegetables such as plantains, yams, gourds and greens. Chettinad, a region in this state, has delicious meat and chicken curries flavoured with aromatic spice blends.

Kerala’s many communities such as the Syrian Christians, Malabar Muslims, Jews from Kochi, and Hindus have created a great mix of cuisines. This is the state where Ayurveda or the holistic system of healing through food, yoga and meditation has been preserved for centuries. Coconut is an important crop and is used in some form (oil, milk or flesh, either grated, roasted or powdered) in almost every recipe. The backwaters also provide Kerala’s delicacy, a silvery-black plump fish called ‘karimeen’ or ‘pearlspot’, which is cooked with hot spices in a banana leaf to make karimeen pollichathu.

Comfort food
Karnataka has given India a classic restaurant style that made south Indian food popular all over the country. Udupi, a small temple town there, is famous for its vegetarian food including pancakes called ‘dosas’, rice cakes called ‘idlis’ and luscious chutneys. My mother comes from Karnataka and I grew up eating the delicious food of this state. Comfort food for me, even today after years of cooking many regional Indian cuisines, is rice with a coconut-based curry, tempered with curry leaves and turmeric.

Andhra Pradesh is a combination of Hindu and Muslim cookery. Before India became independent in 1947 and soon after became a democracy, the city of Hyderabad was ruled by the Nizam, a man reputed to be the wealthiest person in the world at the time. His kitchens produced some of the richest and tastiest fare and many of his favourite dishes have become trademark recipes of the region, such as the rich dessert ‘khubani ka meetha’, whereby stewed Indian apricots are served with nuts, cream and spices.

On my many trips to India each year, a visit to the spice shops is what I look forward to the most—from mild to hot chilli varieties, to cinnamon, pepper and cardamom, to more obscure spices such as blocks of pure asafoetida, stone flower and kapok or silk cotton tree buds. I relish smelling, seeing and even tasting some of these wonderfully aromatic spices. Back in London, I’m delighted that so many of these are available at Borough Market, along with fresh seasonal vegetables and fruit bursting with colour, good health and flavour.

Join Monisha for tips, tastings and recipes Thursday 6th September in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm