Aromatic childhood Onam memories: These chefs remember the time through yummy dishes

Chefs Arun Vijayan, Lekshmi Nair and Suresh Pillai share with us their favourite Onam dishes and their memories. Photo: Instagram/@chef_arun_vijayan/@lekshminair20/chef_pillai

Making vibrant pookkalam, spending hours on swings, munching on yummy chips, enjoying the smells wafting in the air from kitchen... our childhood Onam memories are never truly complete without the aromas of favourite sadya dishes. On Onam day, Chefs Suresh Pillai, Lekshmi Nair, and Arun Vijayan share with the readers of Onmanorama the delectable dishes that hold a special place in their Onam memories and their recipes.

'Varutharacha pachakkari theeyal' makes my Onam memories delightful: Suresh Pillai 

A black-coloured yummy curry made of roasted coconut, various vegetables, and more, and slow-cooked in uruli using 'kothumbu (dried coconut flower sheaths). Food expert Chef Pillai's favourite dish pachakkari theeyal is such a delicacy, that he says was a must-have for Onam at his home. "It is a Kollam-style curry. For Onam, we make it with just vegetables, and at other times, we add prawns to it and the taste is matchless. We add ladies' finger, drumstick, tomato, shallots, and onions, potato and brinjal to make this curry when intended as an Onam dish," he says. The chef says that even now, whenever he goes home this curry is always prepared. "Relishing this varutharacha pachakkari theeyal made by my mom is an essential part of my lovely Onam memories," he adds. 

Here's the varutharacha pachakkari theeyal recipe: 

1/2 of a coconut
15 gms chilly powder
20 gms coriander powder
3 gms fenugreek powder
3 shallots
50 ml coconut oil
1 square-diced onion
10 shallots
1 drumstick
4 ladies' fingers
2 potatoes
3 green chillies
2 tomatoes
1 gooseberry-sized tamarind soaked in hot water

In a pan, slow-roast coconut and shallots
Once the coconut is evenly roasted, add the masala powders
On low flame, roast for 3 minutes, stir well
Once it's cold, grind it well without adding water
Heat coconut oil in a pan, splutter mustard seeds
Into that, add all vegetables except for tomatoes and stir well for 10 minutes
Add the ground coconut paste into it, add enough water
Once the vegetables are almost cooked, add a little tamarind water and salt
Close the lid, and cook on low flame so that the vegetables cook a bit more
Add tomatoes and curry leaves
Serve the curry once it's cold

The fragrant memories of pickles stored on 'uri' are priceless: Lekshmi Nair 

For chef Lekshmi Nair, childhood Onam days meant a visit to her dad's village Koliyakode, which is around 14 km from Thiruvananthapuram. The joint-family atmosphere in the quaint village was complete with swings, visiting relatives, and more during the Onam season, she remembers. "I always loved their style of food and cooking method. What stays in my mind is the pre-made acharas and curries, stored and hung in mud pots on uri (a traditional method of storing food using ropes and mud pots, hung in the air). And the curries stored thus never got spoilt," she remembers. The chef remembers ginger, lemon pickles, and her favourite, mango pickle, as she recollects her childhood Onam. "I still make the mango pickle, and it is always stored at our home. My dad also loved this curry," she fondly remembers. 

Here's the mango pickle recipe: 
2 big mangoes
Salt (according to taste)
1/2 tsp asafoetida powder
1/2 cup water
1 tbs round-sliced garlic
2 round-sliced green chillies
2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
25 dry red chillies
Mustard Seeds- 1 tsp + 1 tsp
2 round-sliced
1-11/2 tbs coconut oil
4 dry red chillies
2 - 3 tbs curd
Curry Leaves

Cut mangoes into small pieces and dab salt on them
Grind the red chillies in a mixer grinder as a smooth paste
Add mustard along with it and crush it
Saute mustard, onion, a few red chillies, and curry leaves in oil
Add the chilli paste into it after that, stir a bit
After that, add the sliced mangoes, stir well, and add salt if required
Add a bit of curd into the mix, stir again
Serve with sadya

The aroma of my grandmother's 'kalan' curry makes me nostalgic: Arun Vijayan
Onam brings back the memory of nostalgic kalan curry for Chef Arun Vijayan, Culinary Director at Palmyra Hotels in Kochi. As his grandmother knew that kalan was his favourite dish, he always used to get an extra serving from her.

"It's my favourite item to cook for Onam because of precious memories of her. I miss her very much and often wish she was there with me to celebrate Onam by tasting my version of her kalan," says an emotional Arun. 

Here's the kalan recipe:
3 raw bananas
5 gms of julienne-cut ginger
5 gms of turmeric powder
Salt to taste
5 gms of crushed black pepper
1-1.5 l of water
1/2 coconut
5 gms cumin seeds
3 gms sugar
500 ml curd
80 ml coconut oil
4 gms mustard seeds
4 gms fenugreek seeds
3 whole red chillies
5 shallots
3 gms Kashmiri chilli powder
1 sprig of curry leaves
3 green chillies

Cut the raw banana into cubes and wash well
Boil the raw banana in 1/2 litre water, turmeric powder, ginger, salt, and crushed pepper
Boil until the water gets reduced to half
Grate half a piece of coconut and make a smooth paste with cumin seeds
Add the prepared coconut paste to boiled raw banana and cook for 2 minutes
Add sugar and mix well
Keep it to rest for 5 minutes on a low flame
Add the beaten curd into the kalan and mix well
Heat coconut oil in a frying pan and temper the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds
Add the whole red chilli and sliced shallots, sauté it until brown and add the Kashmiri chilli powder, curry leaves, and sliced green chilli
Mix well in high heat and pour into the kalan

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