Every cuisine tells a story. A story of evolution, cultural twists and delightful local produce that weave together to form the fabric of life around that region. As a practised religion in Kerala, Christianity came along with the early invaders and spice trade merchants to the Kerala coast. Some of them settled in this narrow strip of sundrenched land, engaged with the community and established themselves as a huge part of the community.
How do I celebrate Christmas?
Christmas in early childhood was for that spiced plum cake that Amma would get. Slowly it evolved to decorating a tree in the front yard and hanging stars. Since my schooling was at a missionary school, I had the best of both worlds both with English and understanding the traditions. The best Christmas memories are of course with friends and their family, who always cared to make something extra for the vegetarian me to feed on. They took me along to church, and family and even taught me their recipes. This is the inspiration for the collection.
Food traditions for Kerala Christmas
Food is the centre stage of any celebration. It is the same with Kerala Christmas too. The dishes are predominantly meat-based. The head chef is the older ammachi (mum or grandmother) who orchestrates the symphony and the timing at which each item is made and served. It is usually the daughters and daughter-in-laws who take up the actual cooking and baking. This is followed by an array of fetchers, cleaners, pot stirrers and assistant bakers. Together we get the job done.
Though the majority of takers are for meat-based dishes, the meal is incomplete without the veggies on your plate. So, one can’t leave easily without having a meal with the family who shows their love through the dishes they make for you.
Typical breakfast begins with a lace-like crepe, palappam and stew. The coconut milk-thickened stew is creamy to soak in the palapam making it melt in the mouth. Sometimes the steamed vattayappam replaces the palappam.
Palappam ( recipe coming soon) – Lace-like crepe that is made with a yeast fermented gluten-free rice batter.
Vattayappam – Steamed savoury cakes made with fermented rice flour batter.
Vegetable stew- An evolved version of the classic English stews made by cooking and thickening the vegetable or meat on coconut milk. We make this with potatoes and call it ishtu.
Lunch is the bigger meal. Since it is a festival day it may be biryani or rice that is made. Sometimes there is rice-based deep-fried bread, neipathyl. There is a huge number of curries and dry side dishes that are served along. Then on the side of the table, there is a collection of achar (pickles), papadam and moru kaachiyathu (tempered buttermilk).
Try these if you are getting a plate together
Biryani- That classic biryani is perfectly cooked, spiced and layered with rice and vegetable or meat. Most Kerala-style biryanis are made with short-grain rice and not basmati. Here is the recipe for Young jackfruit biriyani that my omni friends have fondly named fake lamb biryani.
Neichoru- Aromatic ghee rice that is a favourite among the northern parts of Kerala and pairs with slow-cooked curries well. Usually made with Jeerakashala or Kaima rice, this is an excellent use of aromatic spices without any addition of hot chilli peppers.
Nadan vegetable curry– A medley of vegetables cooked in classic coconut sauce is a mild curry that pairs brilliantly with neichoru.
Aviyal – irrespective of what festival Kerala celebrates, aviyal, the thick mixed vegetable curry made by gently steaming the vegetables is almost a must-have. Kerala aviyal is made with a lot of classic country vegetables and is a lot different from the aviyal kozhambu.
Koon curry- Mushroom-based curry either as a gravy version or as a dry fry is often made to compensate for the meaty texture that lacks from a vegetarian meal. The pepper-crusted mushrooms are my favourite.
Cabbage Thoran- Almost neglected, there is always a thoran on the table. Most commonly it is made with cabbage that is stir-fried with a coconut masala. This is a comforting combo with neichoru.
Kichadi: salad or raita that is served with either rice or biryani is Kichadi. My favourite is the okra kichadi with a bit of ground coconut and spices. in most other South Indian states the Kichadi is called pachadi.
Coconut milk sambhar: if you prefer to serve a meal of matta rice with sides, coconut milk sambhar will be a very handy curry. Creamy and slightly thicker than regular sambhar the coconut milk sambhar reminds me so much of home.
Moru kaachiyathu: A meal without the golden buttermilk that is tempered is not perfect. This is an all weather solution. The moru kachiyathu can be best for dinner too.
Beetroot and dates achar : The pickle on the side of the plate makes the meal complete. When making biryani, try this sweet and spicy beetroot achar. It adds colour and spice to the biryani plater.
Gooseberry pickle: make this spicy gooseberry pickle for that spicy addition to the plate. The nellikka achar tastes perfect with sambhar and rice.
This elaborate vegetarian Christmas lunch affair is followed by a payasam and cake as desserts.
Christmas plum cake-The spice-rich Kerala region prides itself on a delicious rich plum cake that smells incredible. With a classic icing sugar topping and a few mistletoe leaf candy
Jackfruit cake- a flavourful and light cake for teatime with the fragrance of the Kerala favourite ripe jackfruit.
Paalada payasam– The classic milk dessert with pasta-like rice-based bits is paalada prathaman. Use the recipe here to make a quicker version.
Semiya payasam– a quick dessert favourite is slow-cooked semiya or vermicelli in milk. This is one of the most popular payasams in most households.
Now for the siesta and tea
The humid afternoon and the heavy meal perfectly call to slow down and take a nap or a good amount of gossip and share recipes, while the kids play. Then comes the 4 o’clock tea. The nalumani chaya or the evening tea follows the siesta. This is not just a cup of tea but also an array of snacks, drinks and more cake. Here are some you will popularly.
Banana Chips- Deep-fried crunchy plantain bananas make the most popular teatime favourites. My mum taught me to make these in her kitchen.
Cornflour Halwa- The classic cornflour dessert is that perfect teatime treat. a bit of practice will get you the perfect slices, till then enjoy the jelly-like bites.
Cutlets- Mixed vegetable cutlets are often shaped as a heart shape. We have for you a bean-based moe like nuggets.
Chakka pori or pazham pori– made with Jackfruit or plantain banana the pazhampori is Kerala’s best fritter snack. The deep-fried fritter has a good flavour profile of sweet and salty.
For drinks, you will often have milk tea, lemon tea, pineapple juice or rose milk.
Light dinner ideas
Dinner is often a repeat of the lunch or a rice gruel, payaru kanji with pickle and papadam. This depends on how much appetite you have after the big meal in the afternoon. Then, we wait for Santa to arrive in the form of dressed-up local boys!!
Family-based celebrations and recipes form the heart of any celebration. Next to Onam, Christmas is one of the biggest celebrations in Kerala. Hence the families go all out to to ensure a good one is on. Hope you enjoy making these recipes as we have fun making some for friends this year as most of our friends have not experienced Christmas this way. Stay subscribed and let us know your favourites.
Have a wonderful Christmas.