Coconut is the most important of the palms in the tropics and the kernel of the fruit, finds a whole range of uses in cooking besides being used to extract oil. Every part of the coconut tree finds use in one form or the other and hence occupies a very important place in not only the life of a Kongu but people in almost all of South India. The coconut meat is considered high in fat content but of the kind that is easily digestible and utilized by the body. The oil resembles butter in physical and chemical properties and is high in saturated fats hence medical opinion is against cooking with coconut oil, Kongus are not known to cook with coconut oil. The protein content in coconut is high providing all of the amino acids and providing essential minerals like potassium, magnesium and sulphur. Coconut has been used for generations in cooking so the recent scare about its health benefits may well be unfounded, provided one leads an active life. Kongus never lead a sedentary life being busy from dawn to dusk in the farm or fields and energy was very important to sustain an active life.
One of the sought after drinks after the strenuous fun in the sun activities during the summer time was the tender coconut water and the kernels. No ice cream or smoothie can be that refreshing! The tender coconut water is considered a perfect for children because of all the minerals and nutrients it provides.
Rightly called Kalpa vrisksha or Kalpa tharu coconut rightly gets its due by occupying a prominent place place in any auspicious event in a Kongu home. Important activities always include breaking a coconut to bring good luck and prosperity.
In the village coconut trees provide natural air conditioning along with mind soothing symphonies when they sway elegantly forming a lovely silhouette against the skyline. For me a home can never be too far from a coconut tree.
Coconut in everyday food of a Kongu
During breakfast coconut make its appearance often as coconut chutney the delicious side for any popular breakfast dish like idli, dosai, paniyaram or upma.
Sweet Coconut milk with appam or sandhavi for special breakfast occasions. And my favorite Paal Curry Kuzhambu a spicy side made with coconut milk.
Traditional Kongu Lunch has sambhar or paruppu, rasam and poriyal. Poriyal or stir fry is almost always seasoned with grated fresh coconut. Araicha Kozhambus (curries with blend of chilies, corriander and onion) include addition of coconut milk in the end to add a sweet and rich taste. Some dishes include addition of grated coconut in the spice paste for the special taste like the Kongus very own Thatta Payar Kozhambu.
Dinner time most commonly includes one of the several tasty thugayals with rasam and appalam. Most Thugayals require addition of fresh grated coconut like this common paruppu thugayal or this milaguthakkali chutney.
Desserts cannot be far behind in the use of coconuts with tasty delicacies made using them like thengai barfi, opputtu and paasi paruppu payasam. Any festive occasion at my grandparents house included making of opputtu, flour covered sweet filling known by the common name puran poli. Coconut is roasted in ghee mixed with jaggery and seasoned with cardamom powder. The flour covering was made with maida (all purpose flour), kneaded into a dough, made into balls, placed on a well oiled banana leaf, patted flat with the tips of the fingers, the filling placed in the middle, the edges pulled over and covered and then patted flat out again. This chapathi is then roasted in ghee. I took the whole wheat flour route because it is easy to roll out, I also saw Bee's post last week on Puran Poli and I knew I was on track.
Opputtu (Coconut jaggery filling)
Make 6-7 Opputtus
1. 1 1/2 Cup Whole Wheat flour (chapati flour)
2. 2 tsp of ghee
3. 1 cup warm milk
Make a soft pliable dough
1. 1 Cup grated fresh coconut
2. 4 tbsp jaggery (or to taste)
3. 1 tsp cardamom powder
4. 1 tbsp ghee
1. Heat the ghee in a pan and add the coconut and saute. The heat should be just below medium
2. Add the jaggery and cardamom powder and continue to saute till the moisture is gone and the coconut flakes sort of separate
3. Cool and make small lemon sized balls
4.Take a small ball of dough and roll out into circles of about 4". Place the coconut ball inside, pinch the edges on top, and roll it out again. (for those familiar with making aloo parathas or any stuffed parathas this should be a breeze)
5. Heat a tava, brush oil and place one rolled out opputtu, add ghee along the edges and fry on both sides
Serve Warm. This dish serves as a heart warming reminder of kongu hospitality and warmth.
In this series
Kongu Foods 1 - Cereals
Kongu Foods 2 - Pulses