Ellukari - Vegetables in Spicy Coconut and Sesame Sauce


This thick curry of green plantains with the distinct fragrance of black sesame seeds, toasted coconut, and curry leaves reminds me most vividly of the simple vegetarian dishes prepared at the madapilli - kitchen of the Cochin royal family. Sweet, sour, and mildly spiced, Ellukari symbolizes Madapilli cuisine at its best. The toasted coconut and sesame seeds impart a nutty flavor, while tamarind and jaggery contribute sweet and sour contrasts. Ellukari is traditionally prepared with either plantains as called for here, or suran, but even potatoes may be substituted in a pinch.

Ingredients:
1 firm green (unripe) plantain, peeled and cubed
Salt to taste
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1½ teaspoons vegetable oil
1½ tablespoons urad dal
½ cup grated fresh coconut or dried coconut flakes
1½ tablespoons black or brown sesame seeds
5 dried red cayenne, serrano, or Thai chilies (less for a milder taste)
11/2 teaspoons tamarind pulp or 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
For seasoning and garnish:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
1 dried red cayenne, serrano, or Thai chili pepper, halved
¼ teaspoon asafetida powder
12 to 15 fresh curry leaves
2 tablespoons crushed jaggery

Place the plantain, salt, and turmeric in a heavy pot over medium heat, and add just enough water to cover it. Cook for six to eight minutes, or until plantain is fork tender. Heat one and a half teaspoons of oil over medium heat in a heavy skillet. Add the urad dal, and keep stirring until it begins to turn light brown. Add the coconut, and stir until it starts to turn golden brown. Add the sesame seeds and red chilies, and stir for another two to three minutes more. (The sesame seeds will start popping.) Remove the pan from the heat, and let the mixture cool to room temperature. In a blender, grind the spice mix with just enough water to make a fairly smooth, thick puree. Stir the puree into the cooked plantain. Dissolve the tamarind concentrate in a cup of water, add it to the pot, and cook over medium-low heat for six to eight minutes, until the mixture is fairly thick. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat, and add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start sputtering, add the halved red chili pepper, asafetida, and curry leaves to the oil. Remove the skillet, and pour the seasoning into the curry. Add the jaggery, and mix well. Cover and set aside for ten minutes, to allow the flavors to blend. Serve with rice and sauteed vegetables.

AMMINI RAMACHANDRAN