Syrian Christians form a very small but closely tight-knit community along Kerala's Malabar Coast in Southern India. They follow the teachings of St. Thomas the Apostle and are sometimes referred to as St. Thomas Christians or Nasrani Christians. This unique community has managed to retain their religious identity while immersed in India's numerous and diverse ethnic and religious cultures.
This recipe is traditionally made with lamb, but I have substituted chicken. Feel free to use lamb or even shrimp, fish or vegetables.
SYRIAN CHRISTIAN CHICKEN CURRY
1 lb of boneless/skinless chicken (cut into 2 inch pieces)
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 star anise
1 inch piece of cinnamon
2 allspice berries
2 green cardamon pods
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric (haldi)
2-3 tbsp of white vinegar (as needed)
3-4 shallots, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 fresh small green Thai chilies, sliced lengthwise in half
6-8 fresh curry leaves
1/2 can of coconut milk
salt to taste
2-3 tbsp of oil (vegetable or canola)
water as needed
freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
freshly grated coconut for garnish (optional)
In a spice grinder, grind together the black peppercorns, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, allspice and cardamom pods into a fine powder. Transfer to a small bowl and add the red chili powder, ground coriander, ground cumin and turmeric. Mix well and add just enough white vinegar to form a thick spice paste.
In a large deep skillet on medium heat, add the oil. When hot add the chicken pieces and brown slightly. Add the shallots, ginger and garlic. Stir fry 3-4 minutes and then add the spice paste. Add the curry leaves, green chilies and salt. Stir well to combine all of the ingredients. Add the coconut milk and 1/2 cup water. Stir, bring to a gentle boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for 15-20 minutes on low until chicken is tender and juicy. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro leaves and freshly grated coconut and serve with fragrant Basmati rice and appams (rice flour pancakes).
Appams (or "hoppers") are a popular thick rice flour pancake eaten mainly in Kerala. Appams are made in variety of flavors such as egg appams, coconut appams, honey appams, milk appams and also non vegetarian appam varieties.
BASIC KERALA APPAM (or PAL APPAM)
Yield: 15-16 pancakes
2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup cream of rice cereal
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp milk
salt to taste
cooking spray as needed
In a small mixing bowl, add 1 tsp of the sugar with the yeast. Add 1/2 cup water and let stand for 8-10 minutes. The mixture should be foamy. Set aside until needed.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of the water to a good boil and add the cream of rice. Stir to combine well and bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook. Keep stirring for a minute or so until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat, let cool and keep aside until needed.
In a mixing bowl, combine the rice flour with the sugar. Carefully add the cooled cream of rice and the yeast mixture and the remaining cup of water. Then gently whisk all of the ingredients together form a thick batter. Next, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature in a warm area for 8 hours or even overnight. The batter should have doubled in quantity and have a slightly sour aroma.
To the batter, whisk in the milk and salt. Combine all of the ingredients until smooth.
In a large nonstick skillet on medium high heat, spray a little cooking spray and pour 1/4 cup of the thick batter into the center of the skillet. Turn the skillet so the batter spreads in an even layer. If the batter is too thick, you can add a little milk or water as needed. Cook on medium low heat until the pancake is golden brown and set. Appams are traditionally cooked only on one side. Remove to a serving plate, serve immediately and eat warm.