On the cuisine of Coorg, a fascinating and little-known part of India with unexpected ingredients
On our recent trip to India we visited Mysore, we decided to stay at a homestay which also offered cookery demonstrations, as a way of getting to know and understand the country and people more intimately. After a lot of research we chose to go to the Gitanjali homestay, run by Yamuna Achaiah, and we couldn’t have had a warmer welcome, and a more interesting time anywhere else. For an account of what we learnt in the demonstration, go to Learning How To Make Chicken Curry In Mysore.
Yamuna, our elegant and enthusiastic hostess, came from Coorg (where we’d just been), a wild and wonderful area, with its own very distinctive cuisine. I asked her if she would agree to be a guest contributor on food in Coorg, and I was delighted when she agreed.
Coorg or Kodagu as it is referred to by the Kodava community, is a small district south west of Mysore city.A mere two hour drive from Mysore, it’s a landlocked world of its own, known for its warm, vibrant people and its exotic cuisine.
Several of our family live there and we have a small coffee plantation from which we source the coffee, cardamom and pepper for our homestay here in Mysore. All my long summer vacations from boarding school meant being in Coorg for a good length of time, with a couple of days spent at grandparents’ or aunts’ homes. Coming from a family of excellent cooks, who laid great emphasis on sourcing the best ingredients and the freshest masalas,it was but natural that I endeavoured to try and maintain the same standards in my own home cooking.
Kodava cuisine is characterised by the use of flavourful spices such as pepper, ginger and garlic,
The use of oil is kept to a minimum and cooking time is kept long and slow. Coconut-based wet masalas are the thickening agents in all curries and at our homestay we use organic ingredients wherever possible. Unlike many parts of India, the food is never chilly hot and the order in which the ingredients are used determines the flavour.
Coorg may be known for its coffee plantations, but rice also grows well there. The local rice is a type of Basmati known as Sannakki – this has a wonderful flavour. A variety of rice-based dishes known as Puttus such as Noolputtu (a sort of noodles), Thaliaputtu (with coconut milk and fenugreek), Sannas (also with coconut milk), Palputtu,(steamed, broken rice with coconut and sugar), Koovale puttu (with jackfruit or banana) etc are an important part of our traditional fare.
Pork or Pandi curry is the hallmark of our cuisine and was originally made with wild boar – Coorg is a nation of hunters and warriors, and is still the only region in India where it’s lawful to carry a gun, Lamb and chicken are, of course, also very popular, and easier to get hold of. The Pandi curry in my home is slow cooked for several hours and this imparts a unique flavour. Chicken curry and fried peppered mutton, dry beans curry, and pumpkin curry, are other popular dishes.
Payasam, a kheer made of vermicelli is a popular dessert. All the food is distinctive in flavour and easy to digest.
There is also a good selection of vegetarian dishes – traditionally wild mushroom and wild mangoes; bamboo shoots; and various local greens were an important part of the cuisine. But all these are now, sadly, increasingly hard to source even in Coorg. Wild mangoes are more peppery and tart than normal mangoes and they make a delicious kaad maange curry. Wild mushrooms make a good Kumm curry. From raw jackfruit we make a chekke curry.
Typical of coorg cooking is Kachampuli. The most similar thing to this in Western cooking might be a thick balsamic vinegar. Kachampuri is made from the extract of a fruit called Garnicia Gummi Gutta. Kachampuli is an important ingredient in Pandi curry.
More easily sourced is white pumpkin and below I give one of my favourite recipes for a yoghurt and white pumpkin curry.
Yamuna’s recipe for yoghurt and white pumpkin curry (serve with basmati rice)
- ¼ kg white pumpkin
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- ¼ tsp mustard seeds
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 green chilli
- 500 ml/2 generous cups of Greek yoghurt
- rapeseed oil for frying
Ingredients to grind
- ¼ coconut (or 200g packet of creamed coconut – if you use this, add it directly to the pumpkin)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- ½”/1 cm piece of ginger – peeled and shredded
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 25g/1 oz chopped coriander
- Chop the white pumpkin into smallish cubes
- Add the onion, mustard seeds and garlic, the turmeric and the green chilli a frying pan and fry in rapeseed oil. Add the pumpkin and allow it to cook in its own juices – if it gets dry add a little water.
- Grind the grind ingredients together, and add to the pumpkin.
- Cook a little longer. Allow to cool a little and add the yoghurt.
- Serve with rice and sprinkle over the chopped coriander.