Model and photographer Prasanna Pandarinathan wished to preserve her mother’s love for cooking even after she was gone.
She compiled her mother Nirmala’s recipes into a cookbook Ammi — An Expression Of Love.
“My cookbook is not a purely functional read. It’s got tonnes of family history and stories that are so dear to my heart,” she says.
An excerpt from Ammi, along with two recipes sure to please South Indian food enthusiasts.
This is my mother’s story.
Food holds a history for everyone, for my mom it began in the melting pot of culture and cuisines — colonial Singapore.
She was raised here in a mix of Indian, Malaysian, Chinese, Indonesian and European cultures.
Born into a Tamil business family and the eldest of seven siblings, her childhood was spent in Singapore, and post boarding school, in Bangalore.
At the age of 19, due to our grandfather’s ailing health it was decided to get our mother married.
She met our father in Madras for whom it was love at first sight.
They were married after a short courtship and she found herself in London where our father was completing his master’s in engineering at the Imperial College in London.
Suddenly alone in a new country and an absolute novice in the kitchen, with time on her hands and the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school close enough, she made her debut in the culinary art with continental cuisine.
The French soups and freshly baked bread brought warmth to the cold English days and it was here that Mom’s love affair with the traditional French cuisine and its techniques began.
Her newly learned art was experimented upon our dad, aunt and uncle.
The regular calls to her talented family cooks in Singapore ensured she picked up the little secrets of spicy Chettinad, Singaporean, Malay delicacies.
Fuelled by her new passion, she soon found herself putting together a potpourri of simple and ingenious dishes for the family, displaying an inborn talent that even the cook came to rely on.
The saga of expressing love through cooking continued throughout her life and we, her family, were fortunate to experience that love waft into our lives every day.
Two comforting recipes filled with earthy aromas from Nirmala Pandarinathan’s kitchen.
Bursting with flavour, these dishes are sure to go down as a treat for the whole family.
Mom’s Chicken Curry
‘The world’s best chicken curry’ is how Avantika, Prasanna’s niece, described the dish and it’s on her insistence that Prasanna added this mouth-watering recipe in her book.
- 1 kg chicken
- 3 cups coconut milk
- 2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
- 10 almonds, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 10 gm khus khus or poppy seeds
- 10 gm kharbuja or muskmelon seeds
- ¼ tsp jaiphal or nutmeg powder
- 5 green elaichi or cardamoms
- 6 green chillies, slit lengthwise
- Few strands kesar or saffron
- Few green dhania or coriander or cilantro leaves, chopped
- Salt to taste
- Clean the chicken and cut it into medium-sized pieces.
- In a blender grind the poppy seeds, muskmelon seeds and almonds to a paste.
- Heat the ghee in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and saute the ginger-garlic paste for a few minutes.
Add the green chillies.
Add the chicken and fry till golden brown.
Add the ground paste, garam masala, nutmeg, cardamom, salt.
Fry for about 10 minutes and then add the coconut milk.
Cook over low heat.
When the gravy thickens, add the saffron strands.
Cook until the chicken is tender.
Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
Serve with ghee rice.
Pamban Fish Curry
“The Pamban fish market, in Rameswaram, Mother’s ancestral home, was her first stop when she arrived there,” says Prasanna. “This huge coastal market with the freshest catches is a sight to behold and a smell to get used to.
“Although I would hold my nose as I watched her bargain for the best price of fish, the anticipation of her appetising Pamban fish curry would keep me going.”
- 1 kg seer fish or surmai or king fish
- 500 gm sambar onions or shallots, peeled
- 2 medium-sized tomatoes
- 2 tbsp red chilly powder
- 3 tbsp dhania or coriander powder
- 1  haldi or turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp jeera or cumin seeds
- 3 tbsp khus khus or poppy seeds
- 1 tsp rai or black mustard seeds
- 1 tsp methi or fenugreek seeds
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 2-inch ginger piece
- 6-8 garlic pods, peeled
- 1-inch dalcheeni cinnamon stick
- 4 long or cloves
- 4 green cardamoms
- 4-5 green chillies, slit
- 1 coconut, grated
- 1 lime-sized piece tamarind
- 2-3 tbsp oil
- Few curry leaves
- 1 lemon, halved
- Salt to taste
- Wash the fish.
Add a squeeze of lemon and rub a pinch of salt, chilly powder, turmeric on the fish.
Cut into medium-sized pieces and keep aside to marinate.
- In a frying pan roast the cumin seeds, peppercorns, grated coconut, poppy seeds, whole spices, sliced ginger and a few pods of garlic.
Take off heat, cool and transfer to a blender.
Grind to a paste.
You can vary the consistency by adding some water.
- Grind the tomatoes coarsely.
- Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan.
Add the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, whole onions, the remaining garlic pods, slit chillies, curry leaves.
Then add the ground tomatoes and the ground masala.
Add the chilly powder, coriander powder.
Add the remaining turmeric powder and adjust salt.
Add the tamarind pulp extract once the masala and tomato are well cooked.
Add some water and cook on low heat till the curry is thick.
Add the marinated fish and cook till tender.
Serve with plain rice.
Note: Serving Pamban Fish Curry and Chicken Curry for Sunday lunch and there are vegetarians too? Serve some of Alamelu Vairavan‘s traditional Chettinad vegetarian dishes.
Excerpted from Ammi by Prasanna Pandarinathan with kind permission from the publishers Rupa Publications India.
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