#1000Kitchens is a series that goes into kitchens all over the country, documenting heirloom recipes that tell a story. In this edition, we join Arathy Madappa in her home for a Ceylon Curry on a summer afternoon.
In Sadashivnagar’s quiet canopied lanes, a boy and his grandfather were often found picnicking under the jackfruit tree in the front yard, snacking on sandwiches and boiled eggs. Today, the house is still cocooned in a profusion of flora. In the back garden, the weepy branches of a bottlebrush tree are flecked scarlet. And inside, the house is filled with flowers — crab claws adorn the dining table, and ginger torches line tall vases. Wooden cabinets purchased on auction fill the large airy rooms, where rocking chairs and deep, cushioned armchairs create a capsule of plantation-era romance.
Lilly, for whom the house was named, and her husband, whom everyone called Daddie, travelled extensively through his service with the UN and IFS, and later as secretary to Prez. Sanjiva Reddy in the late 70s. Today, on a warm May afternoon, we are in the kitchen with Arathy Madappa, Lilly’s daughter-in-law. Arathy is sharing a family heirloom with us: the recipe to Ceylon Curry, a favourite with the family and their wide circle of friends. The recipe is now being handed over to its third generation — Lilly taught this recipe to Arathy, who in turn, is passing it on to her daughter-in-law, and our dear friend, Rohita.
The family calls it ‘Ceylon Curry’ but its roots in actual Sri Lankan cuisine remain unverified. Arathy describes it to us as a mutton rasam. "It's one of those recipes you can't hurry. It needs time — both in its making and its eating," she laughs. "Once the rasam is done, it needs to be strained, and the mutton is then roasted again separately. Then we assemble the bowl, which is a ritual in itself." This is a Sunday meal in the truest sense of everything the phrase conjures: in labour and time, in its enjoyment, and in the leisure it demands.
Arathy's white-tiled kitchen is lined with red and grey cabinets, meshed to keep out the fruit flies. Baskets of tomatoes and oranges glow in the noon sun, as big windows let in the light. With us in the kitchen is Vijaya, the family cook, and the third living guardian of this exquisite recipe. A stern woman of few words, she plainly has little patience for dilly-dallying. She cooks intuitively, adding salt to the pot by the handful, and using a sharp eye and the sniff test to check that the spices are ready, or the broth has come together. She is prepping several steps of the recipe at the same time, and her frightening efficiency doesn’t invite questions. But Arathy is entirely her opposite. Relaxed, gregarious and warm, she cheerfully interrupts Vijaya to clarify volumes and techniques, and Vijaya pauses to answer every time. Arathy's buoyant nature visibly softens Vijaya, and her affection is reciprocated in full measure in a quiet, restrained manner.
Arathy who grew up in Coorg, then travelled extensively with her late husband, says the one thing that they always carried with them is the Coorg phrase (and philosophy): Undithe poie — Stay for a meal. The essence of Kodava hospitality in the insistence to share a meal; let us break bread together before you continue on your journey.
Back in the kitchen, the spices are ground, the tomatoes are pureed, and staggering quantities of onion sizzle in hot oil. A few times, ingredients from previous steps are added once again to the simmering pot in different forms. Once the mutton is cooked, the broth is strained, and the meat is moved into a pan, to be cooked again until it is quite literally falling off the bone.
At the end of this elaborate recipe lies a one-bowl meal. And each member of the Madappa family has a bowl ritual. Arathy garnishes her bed of rice with condiments: sliced onion, a squeeze of lime, sautéed cabbage, crashed papad; then she chooses a few pieces of meat, and finally, fills the bowl till it is brimming over with broth. Aloke, her son, prefers to lay out his condiments on a plate around his bowl, and only ladles broth and meat over the rice. We watch and quickly form our own techniques before slurping into the hearty, delicious meal.
The effort, patience, and attention, required to make this curry can only be answered with a labour of love; one that requires the better part of a morning’s work. Which means that the remains of the day must only be frittered away in the leisurely enjoyment of this meal, many times over, until it is time for bed.
2 kg mutton
3 tbsp red chilli
3 tbsp daniya
1/2 tbsp haldi
2 tsp jeera
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp khus khus
7 onion, halved and sliced
3 pods of garlic
2 tbsp ginger paste
2 tbsp garlic paste
1/2 kg tomatoes chopped
3 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon, broken
2 tsp, pepper freshly ground
Whole pepper peppercorns
1 cup oil
Blend the mustard seeds, khus khus, chilli, daniya, haldi, jeera, pepper powder, and 1 cup of water. Add the garlic cloves into this mix, and blend again to form a smooth paste. Set aside.
Puree tomatoes in a blender. Set aside.
Set a pot of 1.5-2 litres of water to boil.
Heat oil in large, heavy-bottomed pot or a 10-litre pressure cooker. Add in the bay leaves, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and peppercorns, and fry until fragrant.
Add in the onions, and fry on low flame for about 15 min, until the the first strands begin turn brown. At this point, add in the spice paste and stir till it coats the onions evenly.
Add in ginger and garlic paste. Give pot a good stir.
Add in tomato puree, and allow it come to a boil.
Now, add in the mutton, and let it cook for about 10 min.
Add in the water that has been set to boil.
At this stage, add salt to taste, and allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
Close the pot, and leave the pot not he stove for 7-10 whistles. Turn off the flame and allow the pot to cool.
Open the cooker, and use a metal sieve to strain the broth into a bowl, leaving the mutton and masala in the sieve.
Transfer the mutton and masalas into a wide pot.
Skim the fat off the top off the broth and add into the roasting pan with the meat. Braise until the meat turns a golden brown, and caramelises.
When the meat is falling off the bone, it is done.
Serve the broth and meat with hot, steamed rice, sliced onions, lime wedges, cabbage thoran, and papad.
Words by Anisha Rachel Oommen; photographs by Aysha Tanya; and illustration by Richa Kashelkar.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE