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You think Coorg, and you think Coffee Country or Scotland of the East, or of their signature Pandhi (pork or wild boar) Curry. While this scenic district in Karnataka is famous for its coffee, vanilla and pepper, there’s also other local heroes like the Kanchi Kai or Kaipuli (bitter orange), Kakke soppu (Malabar spinach), Baimballe (bamboo shoot), bird eye chilli, among others.

During our Utsav—Thalis of India trail, we made our way to Shalini and Narendra Hebbar’s kitchen garden in Coorg, Green Dreams to try an organic and hence vegetarian Coorgi Thali—something we are told is unique from the norm, read non-vegetarian-focused cuisine. As we entered the farm, we were bowled over by the Hebbars kitchen garden. Here, we found all the above local heroes, and more, like jackfruit, turmeric, pepper, coffee, colocasia, ginger, bitter orange, and passion fruit—all grown organically and the lucky guests at the homestay dine on this organic produce. Plus, there’s a paddy field overlooking the homestay, where the rice comes from.

While the organic Coorgi thali was a pleasant surprise, it was the silent soldiers that made all the difference. One of Chef Kunal Kapur’s favourites was the Kanchi Kai or Kaipuli (bitter orange) chutney, “Usually chutneys are sweet or spicy or savoury, but this chutney was tangy and smoky—a rare combination.” Shalini Nebbar lets us in on the secret, “We pierce all sides of the citrus fruit with a fork and then roast it on a slow flame, very similar to brinjal before the bharta. This gives the chutney its earthy accent. You then remove the burnt peal and smash it in a bowl adding salt, and removing the pith and seeds. The chutney is then made in a frying pan by mixing the pulp with jeera, methi, onions, garlic, and tempered with mustard seeds. If you feel the chutney may be too tangy for you, you may add a hint of jaggery to balance the flavours.”

While Chef Kunal was impressed by the fresh passion fruit juice, another invigorating drink was the Dindmau, which again “was a burst of flavours,” says Kunal. Shalini describes the drink simply, “just like there’s tamarind water, this is raw wild-mango water. Mixed with bird eye chilli and some garlic that cuts the sourness of the local wild mango, this water has a cooling effect on the body. Plus, we locals feel that this green chilli has more health benefits as opposed of the byadgi mirchi.” Another lesser known dish from the Coorgi cuisine is the Kakke soppu (Malabar Spinach) Palya (dry vegetable). “This is a monsoon specialty as these greens require plenty of water to grow and it can be relished with akki roti,” explains Shalini.

The bamboo shoot is a bountiful produce from the forest that has found their way to kitchens around the Coorg region. The signature Baim Balle curry pairs beautifully with Kadambuttu, just like how these steamed rice balls pair with the signature Pandhi curry: “In this bamboo shoot and green moong dal curry, the tender portion of the shoot is used. Prior to cooking, be careful to soak the tender bamboo shoots in water for 1 to 2 days to cut out their toxins. The shoots are rinsed thoroughly, the old water discarded.”

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Here’s the recipe:
Ingredients:

  • ½ kg bamboo shoot, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon rock salt
  • 1 cup green gram/moong daal, soaked
  • 2-3 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon dhania seeds
  • ½ teaspoon jeera
  • 2 tablespoons urad daal
  • 2-3 byadgi mirch
  • 2-3 tablespoon grated coconut
  • 3-4 curry leaves
  • 2 teaspoons jaggery
  • ¼ teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1 cup tamarind, soaked

Preparation:

  1. In a deep vessel, boil the bamboo shoot in water. Add turmeric and rock salt to it.
  2. When the bamboo shoot is half-cooked, add the pre-soaked green gram moong daal. Cover the vessel so that they continue to cook.
  3. In the meantime, let’s get the masalas ready. Take some cooking oil in a frying pan. Add dhania seeds, then jeera, urad dal, byadgi mirchi (this gives taste and colour, and isn’t particularly spicy). Sauté well.
  4. Add the grated coconut. Light sauté the coconut, but don’t let them become brown. Finally, pour the soaked tamarind.
  5. Transfer this concoction from the pan into a mixer, and grind into a paste.
  6. Now turn your attention back to the bamboo shoot and daal that’s boiling. Remove the lid and add curry leaves to it, followed by the grinded masala paste.
  7. Add a bit of jaggery to balance the flavours in the curry.
  8. For the tadka, in a frying pan, take some oil, add mustard seeds, byadgi chilli and curry leaves. As soon as they begin to splutter, top off the curry in the deep vessel with this tadka and you’re good to go.

Photograph courtesy: Joyoti Mahanta

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