We learn to make the most use out of what lies in abundance in nature around us…and do it most beautifully! If we begin to track the regional food habits and match it against the local nature’s produce there is, we wouldn’t be surprised. And that’s how we’ve all come to adapt with each other…The plant kingdom with their micro environment and adapting to grow best…and all in the animal kingdom adapting to thrive as best with those plants or each other and keeping up the balance in the region. Yes, it really is all about the right balance and the symmetry.
You see how we adopt what is harvested most in our areas into our foods? Everywhere throughout the coastline, we have the countries, states and towns thriving on seafood, or whatever edible the sea provides. The lands that sees the harshest of climates, where vegetation is difficult and rare, depend more on hunting and meat-eating.
Kerala, a beautiful south Indian state better known as “God’s own country”, reaps more than it’s share of coconuts. Kerala literally means “a Land of coconuts” in Malayalam, their local language. It probably cultivates more coconut than what the state can consume or could export out. Nature’s blessed abundance! But, in Kerala, they know how to make the most of it. They consider the coconut tree, a “Kalpa Vriksham” which essentially signifies each part of the tree being consumed or used in some way or the other and benefit people. There are a hundred non-food uses of it that we know for the leaves, the husks, the shells or the fruit.
And then there are these innumerable culinary uses. In Kerala, coconut is symbolically used in almost everything. In curries, in vegetables, with meat, in drinks, in rice, in seafood dishes, in chutneys, and in everything. And consumed in many forms…coconut cooking oils, coconut milk, shredded coconut, desiccated coconut, or sliced pieces. My college years in south India were gastronomic heaven given the fact that I’d spent 6 years right on the Konkan-Malabar coast, near Kerala. I fed myself amply with the elaborate Sadhyas (traditional Kerala meal served on banana leaf)…with appams, idiyappams, sweetened coconut milk, parippus, rasams, assorted podis, Kerala parottas, thorans, avials, pachadis, pickles, spiced buttermilk…and the most loved and comforting mutton stew!
I then had begun working in the Healthcare Industry in Bangalore. In point of fact, a small restaurant near our home in Bangalore downtown, served traditional Kerala cuisine, and made one of the best mutton stews I’ve ever had. This place had an elderly cook from Kerala, who’d cook and stir some amazing old-fashioned Maliyali delicacies in the kitchen and serve guests just like she would serve her children. She cooked with lotsa love. She always wore a warm smile and spoke with a heavy Maliyali accent. And her wrinkled face radiated this unending glow…the glow of being seasoned, of being wiser, blended with the light of serenity that she manifested. Her curly pepper and salt hairs would be oiled and tied neatly into a long twisted braid. Her printed or woven white sarees with the pallu-end pulled around and tucked in the waist. It never occurred to me to ask her name, and she never said, but we routinely met. We owed our acquaintance to the aromatic Mutton stew she made. Having seen me come over at her’s for the stew and obliging to my request for the recipe, she shared stories on how the dish is traditionally made and how she had adapted a slightly quicker method so she could serve and feed her many guests at the restaurant and escape the more elaborate painstaking way of doing the stew. Although she insisted, that the flavors and taste weren’t compromised.
I have been using her recipe since ever and we have relished it much each time. Best cooked in coconut oil, the Kerala-style mutton stew is a creamy goat-meat curry with stewed in vegetables and bursting with aromatic spices and flavorful comfort. And being half a day away from Onam and the festive few days of celebration in Kerala, there wouldn’t have been a better occasion to post this recipe. Don’t be at all overwhelmed with the number of ingredients you see — it is all about sourcing them and mixing them to cook…and it is all worth the effort. Every bit, I promise.
Enjoy your days…be blessed…and be ever thankful for all we have!
- 1 lb or 1/2 kg goat meat (bone-in meat, medium cut)
- 1 can coconut milk (14 oz or 400 ml)
- 1 inch fresh ginger root, grated
- 2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 medium potato, cubed
- Handful of French beans, trimmed and halved/quartered
- 6 to 8 baby carrots or 1/2 of a medium carrot, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 2 inch cinnamon sticks
- 1 star anise
- 2 Bayleaves (tejpatta)
- 1 black cardamom
- 2 green cardamoms
- 5 cloves
- 1/2 tsp peppercorn kernels, crushed in mortar and pestle
- 1 dry red chilly
- 2 Indian hot green chillies, slit into halves (**optional. Ignore if you prefer less heat)
- About 10 fresh curry leaves
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder (**Optional. I usually don’t add them)
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp fennel powder (saunf powder)
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 2 tbsp cooking grade coconut oil
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 tbsp cornflour or all purpose flour (maida)
- Clean and rinse the meat. Pressure cook the meat with 2 cups (about 500 ml) water, all of the grated ginger, 1 tsp salt, and the bay leaves. Pressure cook till the meat is tender and done.
- In a cooking pot over medium heat, melt/add the coconut oil. Add the curry leaves and whole spices (cinnamon, star anise, cardamoms, dry red chilly, cloves, crushed peppercorns).
- As soon as the spices begin to splutter, add sliced onions, chopped garlic and slit green chillies. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes till the onions are translucent and done.
- Add the vegetables (potato, carrot and beans) and fry for 1 minute.
- Pour in 1 can of coconut milk, and cook till the veggies are almost done.
- Add the cooked goat meat, the meat stock (remaining juices from the cooker), turmeric powder, garam masala, coriander powder and fennel powder. Adjust salt if needed. If the curry seems too thick, add 1 cup (about 250 ml) of water into the cooking pot, to dilute it a bit. Cook till all veggies and the meat are well done.
- Dissolve the cornflour or all purpose flour in about 1 tbsp of water, making sure the solution has no lumps. Add this solution to the cooking pot. Stir and simmer for another minute or two. The curry should’ve had slightly thickened and smoothed. Take off from stove when done.
- Serve warm and enjoy with steaming rice, Kerala parottas, appams, idiyappams, plain dosas, or a toasted and buttered bread.