Lush palms, backwaters that snake eternally, and beautiful people – Kerala has got to be one of the most exquisite places I’ve ever been to, and just writing about it now fills me with a deep longing to return.
Growing up in Bombay, I had lots of Malayali friends. I ate like a glutton at their homes, gazed enviously at their long, luxuriant tresses, and listened wistfully when they told me about the time they spent back in their beautiful native land over the summer vacation. But it was only a couple of years ago, on a business trip and after moving to the United States, that I first visited this beautiful, vibrant land.
It took my breath away. It was all I had heard of and so much more. In the city of Cochin I discovered the rich history and throbbing heart of this state, as well as some of the most wonderful food I had eaten in a long time. The appams, the aviyals and the curries were to die for.
Walking around the market in Cochin packed chock-a-block with stores selling everything from books and jewelry to souvenirs and artifacts, I gazed most longingly at the spice stores, their wooden shelves lined with jars and jars of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
I returned to the United States with a few precious bagfuls and each time I hold some in my hand, I dream of the time when I will go back for more.
The dish I am about to share with you today, a vegetable moilee, draws a lot of its richness and sweetness from another signature Kerala ingredient, coconut milk. I adapted it from one of my oldest and most favorite cookbooks: Modern Cookery for Teaching and the Trade, by Thangam Philip, one of India’s most legendary cookbook authors and the former principal of the Institute for Hotel Management in Bombay. This book, recommended to me by a friend years and years ago, is a bit like an Indian Joy of Cooking and one I often refer to when I need a recipe I can trust will turn out great.
A Mean Veggie Moilee
1 tbsp canola oil
1 red onion, sliced thin
2 tbsp ginger, grated
2 sprigs curry leaves
2 green chilies, slit
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 13.5 ounce can of coconut milk
3 cups of chopped mixed vegetables (I used carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes and green peas)
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 lemon or 2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onions, curry leaves, chilies, ginger and a pinch of salt and cook on medium-low heat until the onions turn translucent.
Add the turmeric and mixed vegetables except peas and about 2 tbsp of the coconut milk with 1 cup of water. Cover and cook about 10-15 minutes until the veggies are tender.
Add half of the remaining coconut milk, the peas, the lemon juice and tomatoes.
Let the moilee come to a slow boil.
Add the remaining coconut milk and turn off the heat.
Serve hot with rice. I cooked a Tamil rice dish, Puliodarai to go with the moilee. The sweetness of the moilee and the tang of the Puliodarai were perfect together. The moilee, however, would also be great with some plain boiled white rice.