Jayalakshmi Ramdas, fondly known as Jayam (Amma), was born and brought up in Palakkad – a lush green region consisting of over 150 villages surrounded by a vast expanse of paddy fields. The town derives its name from the words “Pala” (referring to Pala trees) and “Kadu” meaning forest, because the place was once a beautiful stretch of forests covered with the sweet scent of the Pala trees.

Known as the “Rice Bowl of Kerala”, Palakkad is one of the most fertile regions at the foothills of the expansive Western Ghats. However, what makes this region truly special is the traditional recipes that explode with exquisite flavours. The use of special spices and an emphasis on rice-based dishes with a plethora of chutney flavours leave a warm and flavourful symphony on your palate. The Palakkad cuisine is essentially vegetarian, and hence, makes extensive use of dals, coconut, rice and chilli. Traditionally, the cooking method is steam cooking with minimal use of oil; making this cuisine perfectly nutritious and healthy.

A meal in a Palakkad household usually consists of steamed rice with a Kootan, Poduthuval, curd, and pickle. On special occasions, an elaborate meal called Saddi is prepared – a meal consisting of various courses depending on the occasion and is typically served on a whole plantain leaf. The unique flavours of Palakkad cuisine create an ambrosial and flavourful explosion on your palate.

Palakkad cuisine is native and special. A majority of the home recipes remain secluded within the family and are passed on from generation to generation. Women were married at a young age in Amma’s childhood. With little exposure to the creative realms back then, the kitchen held a special place way to nurture and explore their creativity. In this recipe book, Amma has shared some well-kept secrets of a traditional Palakkad.

About Amma, Jayalakshmi Ramadasan

I was born in a large family with five brothers and four sisters in a village called Kalpathy Agraharam in Palakkad, Kerala. I have fond memories of the village that taught me so much about life. It was so beautiful, with temples, where we prayed and the river Bharathapuzha, where we bathed. It truly was a special place, which has now been declared as a heritage village by the Government of India.

My father, Mr KG Subramanian lyer, worked for the Indian railways and my mother, Mrs AV Meenakshiammal, was a homemaker. My childhood was very joyful. My nine other siblings and I always laughed, made fun of and fought with one another. As my father was never at home due to his job, it was my mother who raised my siblings and me. My mother was very strict with us, but she also inculcated us with good cultural values and taught us the joy of sharing. As we were ten siblings, sharing was one of the basics we were supposed to learn. I was the fifth child among the ten of us, so I had to look after my younger brothers and sisters.

I stepped up to help my mother in the kitchen from an early age, and that is how my passion for cooking developed. I used to prepare meals for my family every day, but I especially loved waking up early on festival days to prepare different kinds of Prasadams. My family and neighbours would love my food. I was extremely happy to see everyone’s face after having a satisfying meal. I would constantly experiment with various recipes to see how things turn out.

Seeing all this, my elder daughter, Pushpa, encouraged me to write this book. She wanted to create an easy way for everyone to recreate their favourite Palakkad dishes, regardless of which part of the world they now live in. As none of my family members live in Kalpathy Agraharam anymore (we have all moved out of Palakkad and now live in different parts of the globe) we would still like our children and grandchildren to be connected to their ancestors’ taste palette. This book is a way for us to preserve our favourite Palakkad dishes. We don’t want these recipes to be forgotten just because all of us have settled in big cities and first-world nations.

I moved away from Palakkad at the age of 20, in the year 1965, when I got married to my husband Mr KP Ramadasan. He was from the nearby village, Kudullur, but worked for HAL as an aeronautical engineer in Bangalore. After marriage, we moved to Bangalore, where we stayed for 35 years. We gave birth to two beautiful daughters, Pushpa and Priya, who went on to give birth to my four grandchildren, Kaavya, Rathin, Anya, and Zoya. I feel very happy to see my children and grandchildren well settled. I am very happy to see them growing. My cup is full. I have good faith in God almighty, and it is because of his blessings that I can achieve all these things. I hope this book is of value to my relatives, other people from Palakkad or pretty much anyone who would like to explore food from the Palakkad region.

Marthangalika Poricha Kuzhambu

It has been a ritual at my place that some kind of a flavourful thick gravy is a necessity whenever the meal is served. This dish fills the void of a curry when everyone is bored of the usual sambar. Bhindi adds to the freshness as well as to the consistency of the dish. It’s time to cook:

1/4 kg bhindi (lady’s finger)
50 gm green marthangallika
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 lime-sized tamarind
4-5 red chillies
2 tsp urad dal
2 tsp chana dal
1⁄2 tsp hing powder
1 cup grated coconut
1 cup pressure-cooked toor dal
11⁄2 tsp Mustard Seeds 3-4 curry leaves

1. Cut the bhindi into small pieces. Wash the green marthangallika.
2. Soak the tamarind in water. Then squeeze it with your hands. Take out the tamarind water in a heavy-bottomed vessel and put it on the gas stove burner.
3. Add the vegetables in the vessel.
4. Roast the red chillies, chana dal, urad dal in a little oil. Once done, grind all in a mixer grinder along with the hing powder and grated coconut.
5. When the vegetables are done, add in the toor dal.
6. Add the above-prepared coconut masala paste.
7. Finally, make mustard tadka. In a pan, add mustard seeds and curry leaves in 3-4 tsp of oil. When it starts crackling.
8. Add it to the vessel and serve hot.

The delicious sambar is now ready to be served. It goes well with your breakfast idlis or dosas, or can be used alongside any meal at your home. All the goodness of the curry is sure to make you feel content for such a delightful treat of flavours in the form of happy burps.

Potato Podimas

I believe most of us love a spicy potato roast as a side dish with any Indian main course. This potato podimas taste best when served with Sambar or other Kuzhambu or Rasam varieties. My recipe is quite convenient, because of its simple preparation. All you need are some boiled potatoes and hardly a couple of minutes to spice them up. Let’s make some Aloo Podimas:

3/4 kg potatoes
3-4 green chillies
11⁄2 tsp salt
11⁄2 tsp mustard seeds
11⁄2 tsp urad dal
Curry leaves

1. Boil the potatoes without taking off the skin in a pressure cooker.
2. Peel the skin off the potatoes once they get cooled down a bit.
3. Mash the potato coarsely, not to make a paste, but to have a thick consistency.
4. In a pan, pour 3-4 tsp oil and add mustard seeds and urad dal.
5. When mustard seeds and urad dal start to crackle, add
the green chilli and curry leaves in it.
6. It’s time to add the mashed potatoes in.
7. After you have added the mashed potatoes, it’s time to add some salt and mix it all together.

The perfect idea of a delicious side dish is ready for you. Dig into these tasty aloo podimas to experience the blast of flavours in your mouth. This would go wonderfully with onion sambar! Your children will surely love this lip-smacking potato dish!

Excerpted with permission from Palakkad Palate: 200 Traditional Recipes, Jayalakshmi Ramadasan, Invincible Publication.