The Suriana kitchen: Recipes and recollections from the Syrian Christians of Kerala, 240pp.
by Lathika George
Westland, Chennai, India, 2009
Cooking on page 132
The legend goes that Saint Thomas the Apostle landed in Cranganore, India in 52AD and established one of the oldest surviving Christian communities in the world, the Syrian Christians of Kerala.
The author was introduced to the traditions and cuisines of her Syrian Christian ancestors at an early age. In addition to the recipes, George has created a travelogue and memoir and food diary.
The title drew me to the book. We lived in Syria for several years in the 1980s and one of our daughters, Libby, was born in Damascus.
When I took this to the cashier in the airport in Delhi, he led me back to the shelves saying ‘there is a much better cookbook on India’. I thanked him, and explained why this book was important to me and had to be mine instead. On the way back to the register, he very sweetly kept apologising for trying to convince me to buy a different book.
Pepper chicken roast (Kurumolagu chertha kozhi roast)
1/2 cup oil
8 onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic
8 red chillies, halved
6 whole chicken legs (legs and thighs), halved at the joint
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
2 (1-inch) cinnamon sticks
Serves 4 to 6
In a large skillet, fry the onions in the oil for 2 to 3 minutes, until they are lightly browned.
Add the whole garlic and continue frying for 2 more minutes, until the onions and garlic are dark brown.
Add the red chillies, sauté lightly, then add the chicken, salt, peppercorns, and cinnamon sticks. Mix well and cook covered over low heat for 20 minutes, lifting the lid every 5 minutes to stir and toss, until the chicken pieces are tender and coated with the browned onion and pepper mix.
How it played out
No need to change a thing, except I did cut the oil back to 1/3 of a cup. And I used all drumsticks, although the combo of legs and thighs would be great.
An excellent and wonderfully peppery and oniony chicken dish that is so easy to make.
I’ll now pass the book on to Libby, who really deserves to own it.
Oh, and I’ve noticed that it is sold in the USA under the slightly different title of The Kerala kitchen: recipes and recollections from the Syrian Christians of South India.
Whatever title is on the cover, it is a very worthy cookbook and gets 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon’s website.
A moment on my soapbox
Syria was one of the nicest places we lived when Poor John was in Australia’s diplomatic corps, with wonderful people, fascinating monuments and tourist destinations, and excellent food. Sadly the conflict, which has been going for four years, has destroyed this country and the lives of its people.
Yesterday, Australia’s national media provider, the ABC, published a heartbreaking article on the long-term consequences of the strife. I wonder if our Libby will ever be able to revisit the land of her birth.
If you have some spare money, please consider contributing something to the Oxfam Syrian Appeal.