Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fish Curry - Meen Pattichathu

This is the traditional Kerala Red Fish Curry. As usual being young and foolish I didn’t know a good thing when I had it and used to fight with my Mom when she made it especially to go with Rice. Now my husband and I consider being able to make a decent fish curry of this genre to be one of our best culinary achievements! We had considerable help and a personal demo at our house from his Aunt in this regard. Deceptively simple to make once you master it, the authentic taste used to elude us for the longest time.

Fish – 1 ½ lbs. I use Salmon. Heard King fish is good too.

Ginger – 2” piece

Big Onion – ¼ or ½ as prefered

Kudam Puli (kokum?) – 3 or 4 pieces (Iguess this can also be substituted with the more common tamarind paste but have not tried that)

Kashmiri Chili powder – 4 tbsp

Chili powder – 1 tsp

Water – 2 ½ cups

Salt to taste

Cut the fish into pieces. Can keep the skin or remove it. I have tried both and aside from my son who does not want to see it at all it does not matter. When leaving the skin on you have to make sure that the skin is cleaned well as the grocery stores don’t always clean the scales as thoroughly as we’d like to use in curries. Some grocery stores will remove the skin for you if you request. This is what we usually do. Washing the fish with lemon juice will help keep the smell at bay. It is also good to wash your hands afterwards. Mix the fish pieces with 2 tbsp Kashmiri chili powder and salt and marinate from ½ hour to 2 hours or even overnight.

Grate the ginger and onion. Heat the Kudam Puli pieces in 2 ½ cups of water in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. Let it sit a little so the water acquires the sourness. This can be prepared early on while grating the ginger and onion.

Heat oil in a pan and sauté the grated ginger and onion. I add salt at this step as usual. Add the remaining chili powders and sauté till the aroma of the roasting powder rises up from the pan. Now add the puli pieces and water and mix well. Add fish to this mix, boil once. Cover and cook at low heat for 10-15 minutes. Remove the puli pieces depending on your taste. Optionally you can season with mustard and curry leaves by heating them in oil and adding to the curry in the end. This curry is like wine and gains more taste as it sits.Goes with plain Rice and any kind of Tapioca.

Additional Seasoning Tip:
Take 2 dry red chilies cut into a few pieces and a few grains of methi to add with the onion and curryleaves for a more flavored seasoning.

Book Corner:

Friday, January 25, 2008

Chicken Curry – From Shaheen of malluspice

I have tried some meat recipes from shaheen’s malluspice. Everything came out tasty and exact. I usually use our homemade ‘garam masala’ for all my meat dishes and so it was rather strange not to do it with this one. I was surprised to see how tasty the dish was without it!

I should say that I am very fortunate to have the most fragrant and complete garam masala that my mother-in-law herself made and gave to us. This is the real secret of most of the curries I make. I am not sure what spices she adds in to the usual cardamom, cloves and cinnamon but the resulting fragrance is one to die for in cooking! I will check with her and post it later on. She individually fried each ingredient and powdered them together. I consider it more an act of love of my mother-in-law for my husband and I for the amount of concentration and effort it took to make it. She used to cook very well but being plagued with all kinds of ailments has pretty much retired from cooking these days. Still anything she puts her hand to always come out well. The same dish can be made with different tastes when she deals with it. Most of the time I think my curries all look and taste the same… This is the difference between real talent and acquired talent.

The chicken curry recipe follows that in malluspice almost faithfully. But instead of using a paste I chopped ginger, garlic and green chilies together in the chopper. Also sautéd the tomatoes and onions before adding chicken. The yummy gravy with no coconut milk at all has made my beef loving husband to actually look forward to this chicken preparation.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Today’s recipe is that perennial item which so easily frustrates and delights Malayalee households no matter where. I distinctly remember the pleasure in my Mom’s face when the appam turns out well in the pan. i.e, The batter should give out bubbles to make a healthy number of holes when poured into the sizzling pan and should end up with a thin and fluffy texture. How many of those have I lifted out as soon as it comes off the pan straight to my mouth laced with sugar. Ours was a large household and the amount of appams Mom had to make were enough to get anyone frustrated when the product does not come out as expected. But of course she had more successes than failures and so it was a happy household.

My Mom used to make flat appams mostly, with the more common laced ‘Paalappam’ reserved for special occasions only. The flat appam can be made from the same batter although coconut milk is not used in it. Just water will do. After my marriage I realized that my husband had not heard of the flat appams at all and so what I put my heart into making is the ‘Paalappam’.

I also went on several journeys before settling in on a recipe that is bound to come out right almost all the time. One trick I learned from a friend’s Mom is if you make the appam as soon as it bubbles up, then the appam will come out looking good. If not, the batter might flatten up and the appam won’t turn out that well. But not to worry, the powers of appam are such that it can satisfy and please the palate just by being present. The addition of baking powder will fluff it up somewhat regardless of when you make it. Another tip is if you need to add water to the batter after it’s been set, it is better to add it in the form of warm milk.


Long Grain rice – 3 cups (Mahatma brand is good)

Coconut Milk – 1 can (400mL)

Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast – 1 packet (used as is without dissolving in water)

Sugar & salt – to taste

Cooked Rice – 2 heaped tbsp

Baking soda – 1/4 tsp


Soak the rice in hot water for 6 hours or more. I normally do this overnight. Wash the soaked rice again in warm water when ready to grind. This will help with fermentation in cold places according to my husband’s Aunt. Add to the blender and grind well with coconut milk, yeast, cooked rice and 4-5 spoons of sugar. I use the mixer/blender available in regular stores and have found that 4 minutes of grinding does the job well.

Remember not to add any salt at this stage. Check the mixture for consistency and if it is more watery then add regular rice flour and mix well. This addition of 2 or 3 heaped tbsp of regular rice flour helps to make the appam more porous too. But do this only if needed for proper consistency. If you don’t want to use as much coconut milk, then mix half can of coconut milk (200mL) with 2 cups of water or regular milk instead. This does not take away the taste and makes the appam lighter to eat. Set overnight in a warm place for 5-6 hours for the batter to ferment. Oven with the lights on is a logical place.

Add baking soda, salt and more sugar if needed and blend well. The batter should be fluffy and brimming. Heat the appachatti to medium heat. Pour the batter and gently turn the chatti around to form a lace of batter on the sides with the rest settling down into the middle. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes. The lace will brown more if you add more sugar.

It used to be a wrestle to get the appam off of the chatti. That itself was enough to get me off the appam bandwagon. But ever since my concerned mother-in-law sent us 2 non-stick chattis from India 8-9 years ago we have been very happy. I have 2 brands and find I rather like the NIRLEP brand best which cooks fast and the appam is better textured with the same batter being used in both chattis. Just like us kids I find that both my son and daughter take well to the appam and so it has acquired more of a permanent status in our household. I make it for dinner if on weekdays and for brunch if on weekends. Enjoy with Stew or Fish Moli.!

Book Corner

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Beginning

I’d been thinking about starting a food blog for a while now. Well, ever since I stumbled onto injimanga’s appam recipe and from there to the many such blogs that opened up a wonderful world of food blogging.. Let me put down the inspirations for when later I’ll be brave enough to open this blog for passers by. I went to ‘Mahanandi’ from ‘injimanga’ and then found ‘spicyana’, ‘saffron hut’, ‘my treasure my pleasure’, ‘malluspice , ‘live to eat’, just to name a few that I visit and have been inspired from. There are many more that I visit regularly and like very much.

Being the kind of cook that I am, I know I won’t be able to sustain a blog on food alone. I need props to keep it standing and so I thought why not add books to the blog to make it a combo. Books are my passion and I love everything about them. So this blog is a food blog sprinkled with news of books I read and want to read. I’ll keep the book part of it as links to a book blog which I hope will make it easier to maintain. It is also a sort of a journal for my children if ever they come to it.

The name 'cheenachatti' was arrived at after selecting and discarding many names one day while we were all traveling in the car. When we arrived at 'cheenachatti' my husband and I felt good about it at the same time after having unilaterally rejected and accepted many a name. It essentially means a cooking wok or pan. It is found in most Kerala households and as the name implies, has its roots from China and could have reached Kerala through the Spice Trade. More on the wok can be found here. Food=home=kitchen=Mom cooking=cheenachatti? Maybe....

Fish Moli

For my first recipe to authenticate this food blog I have chosen ‘Fish Molee’ with ‘Karimeen’ (Pearl Spot). It started when I spotted some frozen Karimeen in the Indian store when we were in the middle of a severe cough and cold bout at home and the palates had no desire for any kind of food. This was bought to tantalize the mind more than the taste buds. But the time finally came to free those Karimeen to fulfill their true destiny.

I found a suitable recipe from Mrs. KM Mathew’s cookbook ‘Naadan Paachakarama ‘. This book’s been a constant companion ever since I crossed the Atlantic (or was it the Pacific?) to do my Master’s and found I actually miss the food from Kerala. My compassionate sister sent it over to me through a friend with little notes on the side out of concern for me whom she knew not to be a fan of the kitchen in general. To be true to self I didn’t know how to follow most of the instructions but over time I found that I can trust Mrs, KMM and have even had the temerity to vary from her recipes with good results. Obviously I have more stories to tell but here is the recipe without any more ado:


Karimeen/Pearl Spot - 7 or 8 cleaned and deep scored

for fresh masala:
onion - 1 diced long
ginger - 2" piece diced long
garlic - 3 pods crushed and sliced short
green chili - 5 or 6 diced in a lengthwise slant
pepper powder - 1/4 tsp
curry leaves - 1 sprig

coconut milk - 1 can (13.5 oz, 400ml)
vinegar - 1 tbsp
turmeric - a pinch or two, can add more depending on your color preference
salt to taste
oil - 1 tbsp


Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion. Add salt at this stage. A wise tip from my Mother-in-law which helps the taste. Add rest of the fresh masala items in that order and saute well. The onion should slightly brown by the end. This gives a sort of appetizing color to the resulting gravy. Add turmeric here and mix well.

Take 3/4 can of the coconut milk and dilute with water to make about 2 1/2 cups.

Add this to the pan and let it boil once. Add vinegar, more salt if needed and mix well. Now add fish pieces and mix by moving the whole pan so as not to break the fish. I used whole fish but cutting it to large pieces will make the stirring easier. Let the whole mix boil once, cover and cook on low heat. Now add the remaining 1/4 th can of coconut milk as is. Stir gently to spread the latest coconut milk to the gravy and remove from heat.

This recipe only slightly differs from the Stew for Appam. So after I made the Molee I also made Appam to go with it and it was quite tasty like part of a wedding feast. Our benchmark is when my husband who is a good cook on his own right feels like saying “Hmm.. That was a sumptuous meal”:-) Appam recipe to follow soon.

Book Corner