If there's one Indian city where you can feel the Christmas spirit it's Kolkata. Park Street is at the very heart of the city's Christmas cheer. But that's not the only Christmas hotspot in India. Drive through Kerala or many parts of Tamil Nadu including Chennai and there's a palpable Christmas vibe. Growing up in Chennai and as a student of Don Bosco Egmore, our last working day of the calendar year would usher in Christmas celebrations. Even if it meant that this would coincide with our last (half-yearly) exam of the calendar year. We were probably more pre-occupied with plum cake than our history exam. As smaller kids, we got to pick gifts off Christmas trees that were placed in every individual classroom and almost always bite into a plum cake as we left school for our Christmas vacation.
You will find the Christmas spirit in these Southern States where groups of carol singers make numerous stops in their neighbourhood. As a member of the school choir, it was not unusual for me to join some of these groups in the hope that we will be rewarded with Christmas goodies and cakes for flexing our vocal cords through the night. It's during these wonderful times when religious boundaries were almost non-existent that I discovered some traditional Christmas treats that different Christian communities in Tamil Nadu and Kerala would make during this season.
From Chennai's Anglo Indian community that has now spread its wings to cities like Melbourne and Toronto to the Syrian Christian community in Ernakulam and Kottayam, most families come together to create wonderful goodies for Christmas. And it's more than just plum cake. COVID-19 restrictions might remove some of the social interaction elements out of this year's Christmas but there's little doubt that Christmas goodies will still be produced and distributed with the same love and fervour as ever. One of the definitive 2020 trends has been the emergence of professional home chefs who are riding on delivery platforms. This is a trend we're likely to see reach a crescendo during Christmas with plum puddings and rose cookies (see recipe) becoming a big chunk of home delivery orders. You can also try making these recipes at home.
Here Are 3 Christmas Recipes From Tamil Nadu And Kerala That You Can Make At Home:
1. Munthiri Kothu
Recipe Courtesy - Mrs Ann Vanitha Babu
The name for this sweet is slightly misleading; while Munthiri refers to cashew in Tamil, this sweet dish does not contain any cashew. A Christmas special (it's also prepared for other festive occasions) in Kanyakumari and Nagercoil districts in Southern Tamil Nadu, this sweet contains no sugar and is made with moong dhal. I first heard about this dish from Sangeetha Neeraja a friend of mine with family roots in Nagercoil district in the southern tip of Tamil Nadu. Her mother - Mrs Ann Vanitha Babu, makes the most delicious Munthiri Kothu. This is her recipe:
- Moong dhal (Yellow split gram): 250 gm
- Black gram: 25 gm
- Jaggery: 350 - 400 gm
- Sesame seeds: 25 gm
- Grated coconut: 1/4 of a full coconut
- Raw rice flour: 2 - 3 cups
- Refined sunflower oil
1. Roast the moong dhal in a kadhai and then roast the black gram till you get a roasted aroma
2. Soak the rice for about two hours. Grind into a powder. Add water and make a paste adding a pinch of turmeric powder
3. Grind the roasted moong dhal and black gram in a mixer till it reaches a grated (not powdered) consistency
4. Roast the sesame seeds in a kadhai and set it aside
5. Grate the coconut and roast it in a kadhai till it is slightly brown
6. Heat the jaggery with water until the jaggery dissolves
7. Remove from heat and filter the syrup to remove any impurities
8. Place the filtered syrup on the stove and reheat until it reaches the right consistency. (Tip: To check the consistency of the syrup, put a small drop into a bowl of water. The drop must form a globule in the water and not dissolve. This softball is the right consistency)
9. Before you prepare the syrup, mix the moong dhal, sesame seeds, grated coconut with some crushed cardamom
10. Add the syrup and make balls of the mixture and keep them aside.
11. Dip the balls in the rice powder and deep fry in the oil on a medium flame. Cool them in a tray vessel once the rice coating is fried.
It's not unusual for these balls to stick together, it's how this dish acquired its name - Munthiri Kothu (that translates to a bunch of cashews in Tamil) that refers to how this dish bunches up like cashews.
2. Kulkuls recipe
Recipe courtesy - Nicola Jayakumar
The first time I tried this dish was during my stint with the Taj Group of hotels. My colleague - Nicola Jayakumar, had made the most crunchy kulkuls for a Christmas team lunch. Some culinary experts believe this dish originated in Portuguese Goa before it made its way across Christian communities in South India. It's a regular feature for Christmas in many Anglo Indian and Tamil Christian homes in Chennai. This curled, deep-fried maida snack dusted with sugar is also called 'kidyo' in Goa.
- 1 kg Maida (refined flour)
- 3-4 egg beaten (use a mixer)
- 150 gm butter
- 5 cloves and half a teaspoon of fennel seeds powdered
- 150 ml milk
- 200 gm rava - sooji (for a crisp texture)
- 500 gm powdered sugar or as required
- A pinch of salt
- Water to mix
- 4 cups oil for deep frying
- Also, keep a fork handy for shaping the curls.
1. Sift the flour and salt.
2. Make a small well into the sifted flour, add butter, rub the flour and should appear like breadcrumbs.
3. Add the beaten eggs, milk, sugar (powdered), cloves and fennel seeds powdered, rava (sooji) a pinch of salt and essence. Knead into a smooth and make the dough.
4. Cover the dough with a damp cloth for 30 minutes.
5. Make marble-sized balls, place them over a clean fork, and flatten the balls gently with your finger over the fork as thin as you can but without causing any breakage to the dough. In case the balls are torn, it's okay shape into balls and flatten again.
6. Now roll from one edge to another edge forming a curl and sealing the ends properly.
7. Place a vessel (for deep frying) over high heat. Once the oil is hot, reduce the heat. Fry few at a time don't clutter with too many on medium heat. You would see them rising in width.
8. Once they are golden brown in colour, remove them and place on absorbent napkins.
They are usually soft when you take them off the pan, but turn crisp in an hour. That's one explanation - the noise or the crunching sound when you bite into them, for how this dish got its name.
3. Achappam or Rose Cookies
Recipe courtesy - Chinnu Vinod
A signature dish of the Syrian Christian community in Kerala. These rice flour rose cookies acquired their name from the achu (mould) that is used to make this delicacy. This is a Christmas special in many homes in central Kerala. Chinnu Vinod, a professional home chef based in Aluva, Kerala shares her family recipe. You will need a mould for this recipe though:
- Sifted rice flour: 2 cups
- Eggs: 2
- Coconut milk: from 2 cups of grated coconut
- Salt to taste
- Sesame seeds: 2 1/2 tsp
- Coconut oil to fry
1. Mix all the ingredients without any lumps to form the batter
2. Heat coconut oil in a pan with the mould
3. Once the oil is hot take the mould out and let the excess oil drip off
4. Dip 3/4th of the mould into the batter, slowly take it out and dip it into the oil holding it for a minute (make sure not to touch the bottom of the pan)
5. After a minute slowly shake the mould to release the achappam into the oil.
6. Once the achappan is light golden brown take it out and drain the excess oil in a kitchen towel
7. Store them in an airtight container
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.