Living in Consciousness ~ Indi(r)a’s Food and Garden Weblog

Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts Cookbook Review and Recipe ~ by Veena Parrikar

Veena Parrikar is a dear friend of Mahanandi and me and an occasional guest author on Mahanandi. Her first article was on Iceland. This is her second article, an insightful and engaging cookbook review. I thank Veena for this wonderful contribution!
~ Indira


There are perhaps as many misconceptions about Indian cuisine as there are restaurants named “Bombay Garden”.

Indian food is tandoori chicken, aloo-matar, saag-paneer, and naan.
It is hot and spicy.
Vegetables are cooked to death.
It starts with frying onions and tomatoes to pulp and ends with a garnish of coriander leaves

One can hardly blame the Western and even some of the Eastern world for harboring these notions. Most Indian restaurants outside India serve the same tired old fare under various guises. The exceptions to these are the upscale “fusion-Indian” restaurants; after all, Indian food cannot be admitted into the Michelin club without a French or “contemporary” accent (pun intended). Over the past few years, South Indian restaurants have slowly gained ground and it is not uncommon to see a Chinese eating masala dosa with her bare hands or a middle-aged white guy slurping rasam at the neighborhood Madras Cafe or Udupi Palace in the USA. The silly notions about Indian food, however, are far from being a thing of the past. For example, the threat of homogenization, albeit of a different kind, hangs heavy like the odor of yesterday’s takeout. The complexity and variation among and within the cuisines of the four states of Southern India (Karnataka, Kerala, Tamilnadu, and Andhra Pradesh) could never be guessed if one were to go by the menus of these South Indian restaurants. Most of them do not stray far from the familiar idli, vada, masala dosa, uttappam, sambar and rasam, with an indifferent nod to some rice varieties, such as curd rice, lemon rice and tamarind rice. Desserts are still “balls in sugar syrup” (gulab jamun), “ricotta cheese in evaporated milk” (rasmalai), or the occasional rava kesari, leaving in the cold a rich repertoire of jaggery-based sweets that is one of the hallmarks of the cuisines of Southern (and some other states of) India.

To be sure, even within India, availability of the authentic, traditional fare is limited to small niche restaurants, special festivals at star hotels, or if you are lucky, at the homes of neighbors and friends from other communities. Your best bet then, is to recreate many of these dishes in your kitchen, with the help of such cookbooks as Meenakshi Ammal’s Cook and See, Chandra Padmanabhan’s Dakshin, Saranya Hegde’s Mangalorean Cuisine, Saraswat Mahila Samaj’s Rasachandrika, and Jigyasa-Pratibha’s Cooking at Home with Pedatha.

A new addition to this stellar lineup of traditional Indian cookbooks is Ammini Ramachandran’s Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts: Recipes and Remembrances of a Vegetarian Legacy.

Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts ~ Cookbook by Ammini Ramachandran
Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts ~ Cookbook by Ammini Ramachandran

Ammini’s book fills a lacuna in the Indian cookbook landscape. Books on the cuisine of Kerala abound; however, most of them have a predominance of seafood dishes. Small wonder then that Kerala food, like most other coastal cuisines, is perceived to be primarily non-vegetarian. One food writer and journalist in India even declared that most Malayali vegetarian dishes are terrible! One knows, of course, not to take such statements without the proverbial pinch of salt, and a large one at that. Having encountered the delectable and varied vegetarian fare of the coastal cuisines of Goa and Karnataka, I had always suspected a similar treasure existed in Kerala. Eating and learning it, was another matter altogether, what with the lack of Kerala-food restaurants, close friends from the state, or opportunities to set forth on a voyage of discovery to its shores. With Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts, some of the vegetarian food of Kerala is now just a coconut (or two) away.

The present state of Kerala was formed by the merger of Kochi (Cochin), Tiruvithamcore (Travancore), and Malabar. Each of these regions, originally Hindu, was subject to varying degrees of Muslim and Christian influences. Accordingly, Kerala cuisine represents the confluence of Hindu, Muslim, and Christian traditions. Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts presents the traditional vegetarian cuisine of central Kerala including some from the Kochi royalty. It is one of the first cookbooks to focus on a Hindu culinary tradition of Kerala.

Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts is one of the finest Indian cookbooks to have been written in recent times. Here’s why:

1. Traditional food, when presented for a worldwide (read Western) audience, undergoes a simplification, motivated largely by the authors’ and publishers’ goal to widen the book’s market reach. Recipes are modified to exclude exotic or not-easily-available ingredients; difficult processes might be eliminated or substituted with commercial alternatives; and dishes that do not conform to the health fad of the day might be passed over. Except for a few dishes, food from Kerala is obscure even to many Indians, leave alone the non-Indian readers. Ammini has barely made any changes to her family recipes, yet her presentation makes them seem extremely do-able. She does not hesitate to include preparations with such exotic vegetables as breadfruit, jackfruit, and suran. Ammini has pulled off a seemingly impossible feat in Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts: she has preserved the originality of her traditional family recipes, and made them accessible to those outside the tradition, without overwhelming the reader with tedious detail. Novice cooks might miss having pictures of the finished dishes; the clarity of instructions, however, make up for this to a very large extent.

2. There is none of the anything-goes attitude to ingredients adopted by many modern Indian cookbooks published in the West. No false assurances are provided about difficult ingredients such as coconut milk. She tells us that coconut milk powder can be used instead, but clearly informs that the taste will not be authentic. We are told right at the onset: “My mother always insisted, “Never skimp on the quality or quantity of ingredients,” and I believe it is the first lesson in good cooking.” This is reflected in the meticulous detail provided in the chapter on ingredients.

3. Ammini’s family recipes create dishes that would go a long way in dispelling some of the popular myths about Indian cuisine. Spices are used in skillful moderation (garam masala powder never makes an apperance in this book), the vegetables and grains hold their shape and retain their flavour, and you will encounter delicate and subtly-flavoured curries that will never be found in a restaurant.

4. There is a detailed chapter on the history and development of ancient spice trade in Kerala, and to those who have not previously enquired into such matters, this chapter offers many surprises. The book also provides a very engaging account of the kitchens, culinary customs, and festivals and celebrations of Ammini’s maiden family. A world that is now almost extinct rises vividly from the pages and for a brief while, you forget the harried and hurried pace of your existence (and the pre-made frozen food in your kitchen). This is a serious yet enjoyable work, not just another cloying food “memoir” that is in fashion these days.

The book has been written for a Western audience, but readers in India will find much of profit. Such ancient traditional recipes do not come by very often. I am no alarmist, but it seems as though our traditional cuisines will soon exist only within the homes of determined souls or in five-star hotels. Even wedding feasts in India – the last stronghold of traditional food – seem to have embraced a global integration philosophy: Mushroom Pasta and Gobi Manchurian now jostle for buffet space with tava vegetables, Spanish rice, and Shahi Paneer.

Our culinary traditions, not unlike our ancient classical music, have been poorly documented for far too long, what with the practitioners jealously guarding their treasures from outsiders for various reasons. With the passing of generations, more and more of this body of knowledge will be lost. We hope there will be many more Amminis, who will not only document their family or community recipes painstakingly and truthfully, but also share it generously with others.

Srimati Ammini Ramachandran
Srimati Ammini Ramachandran ~ Cookbook Author


Pacha Sambar: Sambar with Fresh Green Spices
(Recipe from Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts)

I was intrigued by this recipe as it did not include sambar powder, and at first glance, seemed similar to some of my daal-vegetable preparations. The finished dish was neither like the familiar sambar nor my usual daal-with-vegetables. With powdered spices (except asafetida and turmeric) as well as ginger-garlic absent, the flavour of toor dal is allowed to hold centerstage, complemented by the freshness of the potatoes, herbs, and lemon juice. I stayed faithful to the recipe as I am wont to do when attempting traditional recipes for the first time. There is a slight error of omission in the recipe, but a missing pinch of turmeric is not a show-stopper.


1 cup toor dal
1 medium russet potato or 3 taro, peeled and cubed
2 medium tomatoes cubed
Salt to taste
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
¾ cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
¼ cup finely chopped fresh fenugreek leaves (preferred, if available)
or ½ teaspoon ground fenugreek
6 fresh green chilies (serrano or Thai), thinly sliced (less for a milder taste)
4 tablespoons lemon juice

For seasoning and garnish:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 dried red cayenne, serrano, or Thai chili, halved
¼ teaspoon asafetida powder
20 to 25 fresh curry leaves

Ingredients for Pacha Sambar
Clockwise:Toor Dal, Fresh Fenugreek, Tomatoes, Curry Leaves, Green Chillies, Potatoes, Lemons, Cilantro

Wash and clean the toor dal in several changes of water, until the water runs clear. If you are using oily toor dal, the oil must be washed off before starting to cook. Place the toor dal in a saucepan with two and a half cups of water and a half-teaspoon of turmeric powder. Bring it to a boil over medium heat, then turn down the heat, and cook for twenty-five to thirty minutes. (As an alternative, you may use a pressure cooker to cook the dal, following the manufacturer’s directions. It will take about six to eight minutes to cook in a pressure cooker.) As the dal cooks, it should be fairly thick but still liquid; stir in another half-cup of water if it is too thick. Mash the cooked toor dal thoroughly with a spoon, and set it aside.

Combine the potato (or taro), tomatoes, salt, turmeric, and two cups of water in a saucepan over medium heat, and bring it to a boil. Stir in the cilantro, fenugreek, and green chilies. Reduce the heat, and cook until the potatoes are fork tender. Stir in the cooked toor dal, and simmer for four to five minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Remove it from the heat, and set it aside.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a small skillet, and add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start sputtering, add the halved red chili, asafetida, and curry leaves. Remove it from the stove, and pour the seasoning over the cooked curry. Cover and set aside for ten minutes, to
allow the flavors to blend. Serve hot with rice and a second curry.

Makes 4 to 6 servings if served with another curry, as is traditional.

Pacha Sambar: Sambar with Fresh Green Spices
Pacha Sambar: Sambar with Fresh Green Spices

~Guest Post by Veena Parrikar

Ammini Ramachandran’s website :
For a detailed list of contents and exceprts from the book, see
Grains, Greens and Grated Coconut is available at, and Barnes&Nobles
Recommend this cookbook to your local libraries
Author and Book Cover Photo Credits: Ammini Ramachandran, Recipe Photo Credits: Rajan Parrikar
Veena Parrikar’s previous article at Mahanandi: Iceland

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Kottimera(Cilantro),Menthi Kura(Fenugreek),Potato,Reviews: Cookbooks,Toor Dal,Veena Parrikar (Monday March 19, 2007 at 12:22 am- permalink)
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The New Home of Mahanandi:

Ginger~Garlic~Coriander Paste : For Jihva (Allam Vellulli Kottimera Mudda)

Root vegetables, as if happy to be unearthed, usually mingle well with other vegetables by being subtly sweet. But when it comes to Gingerroot-the rhizome, it’s quite another story.

Like an unruly tiny tot, ginger is full of attitude. Potent, pungent and incomparable, it is nothing like other rhizomes or root vegetables. To put it gingerly, ginger is never needed in pounds, just a small quantity is enough to liven up an otherwise ordinary culinary experience. And Indian cuisine, one of the mother cuisines in the world, pairs ginger with garlic and coriander. The pungency of ginger is controlled and counteracted with more pungent flavors. What a way to civilize the taste of ginger! A perfect pairing appreciated by mature palates.

Ginger, garlic and coriander, together ground into a smooth paste is something that I often use in my daily cooking. Almost all traditional tomato and coconut based curries (pulusu, subjis) need at least a teaspoon of ginger-garlic-coriander paste. So depending on the market price of these three ingredients or my time constraints, I prepare this paste in quantities large (which would last for at least two weeks) or small (just enough for that day’s meal).

Here is my recipe for ginger-garlic-coriander paste, and an entry to “Jihva for Ginger” event. Hosted from Scotland by lovely Rosie of “What’s the recipe today, Jim?”.

Ginger-Garlic-Coriander Paste ~ for “Jihva : Ginger” event.


Ginger root – peeled, sliced to small pieces – Half cup
Garlic – peeled and sliced to small pieces – Quarter cup
Fresh coriander (cilantro) -finely chopped – 1 cup
Salt – quarter teaspoon

Take them all in a blender/food processor or in a mortar. Grind them to smooth consistency without adding water. Remove to a clean glass jar, seal tightly and store in the refrigerator. (Remains fresh from one week up to a month.) Whenever needed, take the required amount with a clean spoon.

To Jihva participants:
Rosie is in the process of moving and requesting “Jihva-Ginger” entries as early as possible.

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Ginger & Sonti,Indian Ingredients,Indian Kitchen,Jihva For Ingredients,Kottimera(Cilantro),The Essentials (Monday January 29, 2007 at 2:33 pm- permalink)
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The New Home of Mahanandi:

Coriander ~ Pappula(Bhuna Chana) Chutney

Coriander~Pappula Chutney with Upma

Just like dear Supriya (Tweety) of Bengaluru, I also prepare upma often, at least once a week for lunch or dinner. Rice and roti are good but sometimes I feel like taking a break from those two and upma usually comes to my rescue.

Upma recipe is very forgiving. We can make it as elaborate, nutritious (by adding lot of vegetables, nuts etc) or simple (just plain water and some salt) as we like. One thing the recipe does need is a pickle or chutney on the side. A meal is healthy when it’s homecooked and upma is pleasing when it’s served with chutney on the side. One such simple and easy chutney recipe that taste terrific with upma or for that matter all varieties of breakfast items is coriander-pappula (roasted chana dal) chutney.

Pappulu or putnala pappulu (Telugu) are sold as ‘dalia’ in US. See this label here. I always thought the name dalia is a North Indian one, but not so says Anita of ‘A Mad Tea Party”. So now the question is who calls pappulu or bhuna chana ‘dalia’? Which Indian language is it from? Or unknown to us mere mortals, Indian grocery wholesalers have a separate language to confuse us more?:)

Edited to add:
Thank you Darshana and Madhuli for clearing the confusion. Dalia is a Gujarati word for pappulu or bhuna chana.

Pappulu (Putnala Pappulu, Dalia, Bhuna Chana, Roasted Chana Dal) and Fresh Coriander


1 cup of roasted chana dal (Pappulu, dalia, bhuna chana)
1 bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro, Kottimera)
8 green chillies – short, Indian variety
1 T of tamarind juice or limejuice or to taste
1 T of coconut fresh or dried (optional)
1 teaspoon of cumin
½ teaspoon of salt

Take them all in a blender, add about half glass of water and grind to smooth paste. Remove to a cup.

Do the popu or tadka:
Heat a teaspoon of peanut oil in a tadka pan. Add and toast in this order – 5 curry leaves, half teaspoon each of urad dal, then cumin and mustard seeds. When seeds start to splutter immediately add the popu to chutney. Mix and serve with breakfast items.

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Amma & Authentic Andhra,Chana Dal-Roasted (Dalia),Kottimera(Cilantro) (Thursday November 9, 2006 at 1:28 pm- permalink)
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The New Home of Mahanandi:

Coriander~Tomato Chutney

Coriander-Tomato Chutney and Fresh Coriander

We had my dear friends comeover for weekend visit. They brought ThumsUp, lots of laughter and fun stories to share and we on the other hand fed them until they said no more. All and all we both filled up each other to our heart’s content.

What’s good company without good food so I tried some new recipes for them. One is dear Karthi Kannan’s (writes at Kitchenmate and proud mother of cutest toddler ever) coriander chutney. She mentioned in her fabulous food blog, that this chutney is her favorite recipe and got it from her mom. What I liked about her recipe is – no prep work is needed like roasting peanuts or cracking a coconut open as with peanut and coconut chutneys. Also it uses one whole bunch of cilantro. During summer, the sky-high prices of cilantro come to earth level at Boardman. 2 bunches for 1 dollar here at local farmers market. Not bad, right? Perfect recipe to finish off lot of cilantro in one setting, I thought, so prepared the chutney for utappams and it was indeed tasted super. Sometimes cilantro can be overwhelming, but here in this chutney roasted tomato and onion addition, balanced out the intense cilantro flavor, making it pleasant chutney to have.

I followed Karthi’s recipe mostly. First chopped one red onion, 8 dried red chillies and 3 tomatoes to big pieces and roasted them in an iron skillet until they are golden brown and wilted. Meanwhile I washed and chopped a big bunch of fresh cilantro (leaves and branches included), added them to the skillet for few minutes of saute. Took them all in a blender, added a small piece of tamarind and a pinch of sugar and quarter teaspoon of salt – blended them to coarse puree. Removed the chutney to cup and added the tadka (toasted cumin, mustard seeds and urad dal in 1 tsp of oil) to the chutney.

We had the chutney with utappams. My friends who are very much interested in our food blogging wanted to play food stylists. Grated carrots and red radishes for the chutney, was their contribution, which made it look more attractive, I think. Thanks my dear friends for the stylish touch and thanks Karthi for this wonderful recipe.

Coriander-Tomato Chutney with Utappams
Coriander-Tomato Chutney with Utappams

Coriander~Tomato Chutney Ingredients:
1 big bunch of fresh coriander
1 red onion
3 tomatoes
6-8 dried red chillies
1 inch piece of tamarind
A pinch of sugar
Salt to taste or ¼ tsp
For Popu or Tadka:
1 tsp of peanut oil
¼ tsp each – cumin, mustard seeds, urad dal and few curry leaves

Recipe adapted from:
Food blog: Kitchenmate

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Kottimera(Cilantro),Tomato (Monday July 10, 2006 at 2:01 pm- permalink)
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The New Home of Mahanandi:

Coriander Seeds (Dhania, Kottimera)

Coriander Seeds – Young

Coriander Seeds – In Different Stages of Drying

Coriander (Dhania, Kottimera) – Fresh leaves, Seeds (young and drying), Coriander Seeds
Photography By Vijay Singari ~ For This Week’s Indian Kitchen

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Indian Ingredients,Indian Kitchen,Kottimera(Cilantro) (Sunday July 9, 2006 at 7:06 pm- permalink)
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The New Home of Mahanandi:

Cilantro (Coriander, Kottimera)

Fresh Cilantro (Coriander, Dhania, Kottimera):

Coriander (Cilantro, Kottimera, Dhania, Hu Sui, Dhanyak)

Indispensable to my cooking, I can’t imagine preparing food without this herb. More about Cilantro – here and here.

For this Weekend Herb Blogging, it’s Curly Parsley at Kalyn’s Kitchen and Keerai(Amaranth) at My Dhaba.

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Indian Ingredients,Kottimera(Cilantro) (Sunday November 6, 2005 at 11:37 am- permalink)
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The New Home of Mahanandi: