In every cuisine, there are certain dishes that make each menu more complete and more festive. They might not have the status of a course in and of themselves, but without them, the meal would lose some of its appeal. What would American Thanksgiving be without cranberry sauce, for example, or a Mexican dinner without a spicy salsa?
In the vegetarian cuisine of Kerala, these palate teasers take on many different forms: salty plantain, jackfruit, or breadfruit chips; steamed plantains; crisp, puffy wafers called pappadams; golden, smooth ghee; and tangy buttermilk. Not all of them are served only with main meals. Crunchy chips are often served as snacks. Ghee is served at the beginning of the meal, and it is also used in making almost all desserts. Tangy buttermilk comes as a palate cleanser toward the end of the meal. During sultry, hot summer afternoons, a cool glass of sambharam makes a refreshing drink.
We also have a wide array of sun-dried preserves called kondattam; they come in handy both as a quick snack and as a pleasant accompaniment to meals. The practice of spicing and sun-drying rice, vegetables, and fruit goes back several centuries. My region of India receives hardly any rain during the summer months, so the climate is ideal for processing and preserving summer’s bounty before the monsoon season’s torrential rains arrive. During the summer months, spiced and cooked rice dough, as well as a variety of vegetables, are dried in the sun for several days until they are completely dry. Once they are dry, they are deep-fried in oil before serving. While fried rice crisps make excellent snack food, vegetable crisps are typically served with meals. Drying spiced mango pulp to make maangaathera is another summer activity.
In the sunniest regions of the United States, such as the Southwest, these preserves can be prepared in the traditional manner; good results can also be achieved by using a dehydrator or an oven set on low heat.