The travel brochures in Kerala refer to their State as “God’s own Country” and I have to agree. Bordered on one side by the Malabar Coast, there are many spots along that stretch of sea to while away the hours, Varkala being the most famous. The breeze blows gently from the Arabian sea, the people are friendly, it is the home of Ayurvedic medicine, the food is sensational and the fertile jungle, reaching up into the tea gardens at Munnar, provide the world with the spices we love- cardamom, vanilla, black pepper, along with other goods such as coffee, tea, cashews, rubber and coconut. Like most folk who visit that State in India, we arranged to spend two days travelling on a rice barge through the backwaters, a ‘network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, a labyrinthine system formed by more than 900 km of waterways.’ Kettuvallums, old restored rice barges, are houseboats which travel very slowly around the tranquil backwaters near Alleppey (Alappuzha), passing colourful villages, fertile agricultural scenery and larger lakes. It is easy enough to organise your trip once you are in Alappuzha. There are many agencies around the town or be guided by the recommendation of your guest house owner.
Our houseboat tour for two included all meals, a comfortable bedroom with en suite, two living areas, one with a dining table, the other, a deck with two comfortable cane chairs to watch the world go by. You may need to do some serious exercise after the trip as the meals are generous. We enjoyed a mostly vegetarian diet with the occasional fish when available. The meals included rice, chappatis or puri, four curries and raita, and fried river fish. The cook, a young man trained to work in hotel restaurants, would negotiate a fish purchase along the way by popping into backwater village markets for fresh supplies. On one occasion, he came back with some huge fresh water marron, which he cleaned and then rubbed with a wet masala mix to marinate for some hours before frying. I loved watching him prepare our meals.
Lemon rice appears on the menu often in Kerala. It makes a perfect side dish to fried fish or an egg curry. It is also a very soothing dish: there are never any leftovers.
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons blanched cashews, coarsely chopped
- 2 teaspoons channa dal
- 3 cups (330g ) cooked rice
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves
- 2 teaspoons or more of lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, then add the mustard and cumin seeds. When they start to splutter, add the cashews and channa dal, and stir over heat to roast. When the nuts begin to colour, add the hot rice, ginger, turmeric, salt and freshly chopped coriander. Stir thoroughly to combine.
Sprinkle with the lemon juice and asafoetida to serve.
Notes. The success of this dish relies very much on all the little crunchy bits which are roasted at the beginning. If you don’t have channa dal, use masoor or mung dal instead. Broken raw cashews are often found in Middle Eastern stores. Use long grain or medium grain rice, not basmati.
Recipe adapted from Tasting India, Christine Manfield, 2011