Rediscovering India through its ingredients…
“Shappu curry” or Toddy shops in kerala are known for their food as much as their toddy. A Shappu curry kitchen was the first kitchen I entered on my visit to Kottayam ,Kerala and was struck by an astoundingly huge wall of Tapioca stacked neatly .”Kappa” as it’s called was the fastest moving starch in the Shop , faster than rice or “puttu” the steamed rice flour cakes.
This was my third meeting with manihot esculenta after Mexico and Assam and it was definitely a sign to dig further. It’s clearly accepted that Tapioca is a 5000 year old south American tuber, however most Spanish colonies traded with India through Philippines and Burma and that explains the Assam connection which is around 200 years old, but how did tapioca get to Kerala? The answer is that it had multiple entries into India, it also came in and probably much earlier through the slaves of Spanish colonies in Africa.
Well here’s another googly.. why has this tuber, no mention in recipes more than 120 years old? The answer is that it started getting used only in late 1800s. Thanks to the Ruler of Travancore in 1880 (Vaishakam Thirunal) who, after the great Famine spent a lot of time, money and energy researching alternate sources of starch and zeroed in on Tapioca, a tuber that could grow in the back yard and be kept in the ground until required. It’s said that the ruler personally went out advocating the use of this starch and demonstrating how to get rid of the bitterness that comes in due to the Cyanogenic compounds. Tapioca is not a good source of protein though and therefore has been intelligently paired with fish curries in kerala . “KAPPA” , Remember this magic word to utter when in a Kerala restaurant, to get this magic dish which, besides all the “nice to know” things listed above is an “awesome to eat” dish with your fish curry…..
Kappa Kuzhachathu (Tapioca mix)
1/2 kg tapioca cleaned and roughly chopped into cubes
Salt to taste
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp scraped coconut
4 cloves garlic
4 green chillies
2 tsp of coconut oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
5 shallots sliced
Chopped coriander leaves
1) Cook the tapioca pieces in salted water and sieve out.
2) Grind the cumin, turmeric powder, coconut, garlic, green chilies, and shallots coarsely.
3) Mash the tapioca in a heavy bottomed pan and mix in the ground coconut on medium flame for about 3-4 minutes and then turn off the flame.
4) in a small pan, for seasoning, heat oil, pop mustard seeds, add in curry leaves and fry the shallots till they are golden brown in color.
5) mix the seasoning well into the cooked tapioca mix and garnish with chopped fresh coriander leaves.