A traditional breakfast in Kerala is usually a very heavy meal (and now the health experts do recommend the same – eating a full breakfast loaded with carbs and proteins is the right way to start your day). I have to admit though that I have never been able to eat a very heavy meal at breakfast unless it’s brunch we are talking about. And in my house, that’s what happens on most weekends – we wake up so late that brunch is what we eat!
So Vella appams (Fluffy rice pancakes) with any spicy meat curry or a vegetable curry is one such breakfast item. Black Chana or brown chick peas (called Kadala in malayalam) is another staple breakfast curry that is usually paired with Vella appams or with Puttu, which is a steamed rice cake. In this traditional Kadala curry, coconut is first roasted or browned in a pan until it turns brown in color and then this browned coconut is ground into a paste with fennel seeds and black peppercorns. My grandmother used to add a little bit of sweet coconut water too in this curry to give a sweet dimension. The flavor of fennel seeds and black pepper is predominant in this curry and the wonderful aroma pervades the whole house as you cook this delicious spicy and mildly sweet curry. To me, that aroma drives me into nostalgia land where I am just a kid running around in the kitchen of my dad’s ancestral house in kerala….
Sorry got a bit distracted there…but here’s the recipe.!
This recipe will make about 4 servings Ingredients: 1 1/2 cup black chana (black chickpeas), soaked overnight or for at least 6 hours 1/2 tsp salt 3/4 cup grated coconut (fresh or frozen that has been thawed) 4-6 peppercorns 1 tsp fennel seeds 2 tsp coriander powder 1/2 of a medium size onion, thinly sliced 3/4 cup of warm water 1 tsp mustard seeds 1 tbsp coconut oil 1/4 tsp fennel seeds 1/2 tsp red chilli powder (1/4 tsp for mild) 1/4 tsp turmeric powder 1/2 tsp salt 1 medium size tomato 1 tbsp fresh coconut water(optional) a sprig of fresh curry leaves(about 5-6)
1. Place the soaked chana in a pressure cooker with about 3 cups of water and 1/2 tsp of salt. And cook for 3 whistles on medium heat and turn the stove off and set the chana aside. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you will have to use more water and cook in a regular cooking pot covering with a lid for about 20 minutes or so until the chana is cooked and soft)
2. Heat a non stick frying pan and when hot add the coconut and toast it by heating on medium flame for about 5-7 minutes by constantly stirring to avoid burning. (Take care not to burn the coconut else the flavor of the curry will be ruined!)
3. After the coconut turns golden brown, lower heat to low and add the fennel seeds and the black peppercorns. Continue to toast stirring for about 30 seconds and then add the coriander powder and roast for another 30 seconds. turn the heat off and transfer the coconut and spices into a blender or food processor.
4. Now heat the same pan again and when hot add the onions and roast the onions for about 2-3 minutes until they turn golden brown. (Again stir continuously while roasting the onions to ensure no charring). turn heat off and add these onions into the food processor too
5. Grind the coconut mixture and the onions using the warm water into a fine paste. (Add a little more water if needed). Set this aside.
6. Now take a wok style deep pan or kadai (or any other deep cooking pot). Heat the coconut oil in it. When hot add the mustard seeds and lower heat to medium. When they start spluttering add the fennel seeds and wait for about 30 seconds. Then add the chopped tomatoes and saute for about 2-3 minutes on medium until the tomatoes turn soft. Add the salt, red chilli powder and the turmeric powder and fry for about 30 seconds.
7. Now add the ground paste and continue sautéing for another 2 minutes or so until the paste is well mixed with the tomato and spice mixture. Then add the curry leaves and the coconut water (if adding).
8. Lastly add the cooked chana with any remnant water in the pot and continue to cook the curry for about 2-4 minutes until you get the gravy of desired consistency. (If required, add more water too)