Saturday, June 16, 2007

Something different about puttu, the versatile Kerala food.

There are quite a few excellent sites, like Meera's Blog, that deal with Kerala cuisine. Therefore, unless I write something different about puttu you are not going to read it.

Puttu is definitely one of the most versatile food items. Though generally considered a breakfast dish, it can be eaten at any time, lunch, dinner or even tea. Puttu goes well with almost everything – pappadam, preserves (hot or sweet), honey and syrups, fried eggs, egg roast or curry, any vegetable, meat or fish curry, ripe bananas fresh or boiled, and what else have you?

Without claiming any expertise on the subject, one thing that I know from experience in a home where puttu was a regular item, is that instead of mixing the rice powder with water, using coconut water for the purpose improves the taste considerably. And the ideal would be coconut that is between tender and fully mature.

When the myth (?) about coconut containing cholesterol gained currency, many people gave up puttu. The famous Kerala cardiologist, Dr. George M. Eraly (DM, Vellore) has an answer to that - substitute grated coconut with chopped up onion. If you like it hot, mix a bit of thinly round cut green chilies with the onion.

Now here is a bit of local history. In one of our (Parayil) houses a boy called Lonan (name changed) joined the kitchen staff at the age of eight. His mother was working there and his job was to help her in making puttu. To be more precise, he specialized in pushing out the done puttu without breaking, using the baton-like ‘puttu kol’. In course of time he came to be known as ‘Puttu Lonan’.

He did the same job, day after day, for sixty years before leaving for his heavenly abode – certainly God would not have abandoned him to hell after all those decades spent in the smoke and heat of the kitchen. He was a contented man, doing what he knew best to do, and in the process, provided well for his family.

There is more serious history, which I’ve not been able to counter check. I read some time ago that puttu was invented and introduced as regulation breakfast for the Travancore Army that was deployed at River Periyar to stop the advance of Hyder Ali of Mysore in the 18c. The military puttu was made using the upper half of coconut shells as molds, the steam escaping through the eye on top.

So far, I haven’t seen anything about ‘patriotic puttu’ on the cookery sites, My wife Annie used to make it sometimes. Instead of rice powder, rava/sooji (semolina) is used for this version, with diced green capsicums and carrots (can also add beans etc.) mixed in. It is one way of getting some vegetables inside hardcore non-vegs! Serve it for breakfast on Independence Day and Republic Day. The Indian colors on the puttu would provide a patriotic look.

Also see:A power-pack for breakfast.

Kerala kitchen – some implements of the past

Kerala food: Peechappam, a forgotten item?

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