Monday, July 04, 2011
This is a joint post as we both have stories to tell you about this special dish by Vijay's mother, Mageswary. If you're familiar with Southern Indian cooking, chances are you would've already made this before. If not, it's high time to venture into the cuisine of Tamil Nadu and give this a go. We promise you'll not stop at just once.
Vijay’s to market, to market…
Father’s day this year was a little extra special for Dad. After 15 years he finally made a proper trip down to the little red dot that has been my home for the past seven years. Mum came along of course although for her it was more recent, having spent almost a month during January last year. Unlike the previous time, I had initially intended for her to be free of all cooking simply so that she could just relax for the four days they’d be here. Dad on the other hand wanted her to cook my favorites and it took quite a bit of persistence on my part to insist adamantly,
“No need la, you guys are only here for four days, let her relax…”
After a Saturday and Sunday of Singapore’s take on hawker food (its Dad, he loves hawker food when he eats out), I started to lose my resolve to his relentless,
“Why not let mum cook your favorites tomorrow or maybe mutton?”
One of the agenda that I had predetermined for their trip was a round at Tekka Market in Little India. Honestly, it was only because I wanted Mum to be able to show Dad the Indian veggies that was difficult to get back in Kuala Lumpur or simply not imported in, as well as cart some back. Mum was already impressed the first time she went there last year. By now I had already given in to having Mum cook the following day, so I insisted on it being simple and not take her time too much. We had agreed on a particular chicken dish that I truly liked.
To market, to market…
…and off we went to Tekka Monday morning. It’s impressive when you see experienced people marveled. Mum certainly was when she scoured the produce last year and Dad was too during this excursion. The market's produce exuded freshness, variety, and choices; not to mention things were cheap. Looking at both of them excitedly pick, adore and contemplate how best to cook the items got me weakened and I finally caved in to my inner desire to have mutton done her style. In a slightly defeated demeanor I asked how difficult it would be to whip some mutton into her Diwali peratal frenzy.
Dad was much pleased; you see he absolutely loves mutton. Boy was he impressed at the level of freshness and how it was stored throughout the day. Back in Kuala Lumpur, he does most of the marketing and he compared how meat is simply left to hang out in the open, hot and humid with no refrigeration whatsoever. She got the butcher to cut up a nice chunk of boneless meat and had him throw in some marrow as well. Mum sought out a few more ingredients to go into the pot for the next day. When I got back for lunch from work on Tuesday, the house smelled of wonderful aromatic spices and meat. Before long I was ravishing her mutton peratal, complete with the bone marrow that I love so much.
Pick Yin’s murungai-kaai discovery…
It is only on rare occasions our fridge would be stuffed to its brim with home cooked goodness for leftovers. Normally this happens when we either conjured up a feast for visiting friends or have been called on by our parents. While the descent of my mother (Mum) months ago during the Lunar New Year left us half a salted chicken and prawns that rocked so much they almost burst out of their shells, Vijay's folks recent foray southwards to our nest here in Singapore meant there would be a couple of hours set aside to produce our all time favorites. Isn't it only natural for mothers to leave their far flung brood with food as a token of their affection?
Not very well versed with the various terms of Tamil curries, when Vijay called me at work to announce that his mother (Mom) had gone to Tekka Market, got us some top notch mutton and was wondering how I'd like them done, I confused him with mutton varuval. "You know, the one she cooks every Diwali?" Later I was informed that it was really mutton peratal I wanted. Varuval is more of a dry fry with spices and no signs of any gravy. Mom is famous for her mutton peratal. On Diwali day, if her home was open to guests, they would come for her mutton. Some close friends would invite themselves into her kitchen without much shyness to fill their plates straight from her kenduri sized pot as they couldn't wait for the serving bowls to be refilled. Others would bring along their Tupperware for take away back to their loved ones who couldn't make it to the big feast.
I never ate much mutton till I had Mom's peratal. In general, when eating out I'd avoid mutton, as most places can't get it right, or worse still, would give me meat that smelled. Most people are adverse to mutton for this reason. They can all come to Mom's house anytime. Her peratal converted a few friends and my Mum, all of who had previously sworn never to get anywhere near the meat of a grown goat. They would clean their plates spotless, wiping off the last bits of spicy gravy with some biryani rice or dosai, then sheepishly, go for seconds. While I wax lyrical on this amazing dish, I've never once made it myself for Vijay. Every Diwali since we're together, I'd help Mom make it, taking pleasure in stirring the humongous pot of goat pieces and simmering spices. Aside from those festive moments, he got his mutton peratal from Mom. Favorites from mothers are best left not to be compared with, in my opinion.
Mom's original recipe didn't include the drumstick pods (murungai-kaai in Tamil, kacang kelor/kelo/kalor in Malay), an extremely nutritious fruit I only learned about after Mom's initial visit to Tekka last year. It's more commonly found at Indian markets, along with other vegetables used mostly in Indian cooking, some imported directly from India. Mom had also previously cooked us the leafy part of the drumstick plant, murungai-keerai, which required some serious leaf picking hours in front of the tele. If you're experimenting with this for the first time, be warned that although they do look a little like very long ladies fingers, the stringy exterior cover of the pods are to be discarded while eating. Only the soft meat of the fruit is to be consumed. The murungai-kaai made its way into her mutton peratal when she first cooked for us in our HDB shoebox kitchen. Ever since then, it's now a permanent fixture in her signature goat curry.
People say food is about bringing back memories. It may sound very clichéd but it’s true. This curry would never fail to transport me back to Mom’s loving kitchen, her gallon sized pots, Dad’s endless chatter as he drove her up the wall and the imminent fiesta which would ensue.
Mutton Peratal (Dry Mutton Curry)
Recipe from Vijay's Mum, Mageswary
Serves 8 to 10
Note: For best results, get your butcher to chop the mutton fillet into bite size pieces, cutting along the grain, to avoid any chewy disasters. If you're up for it, get friendly with your butcher and you might end up with some marrow cuts to be added into your curry. The extra gelatin will thicken the gravy with much more body; add flavor and the marrow fans in your family can hold a marrow sucking/digging party. The amount of chilies in this recipe whips up a pretty mean curry; adjust accordingly for a milder version. Normally leftovers can keep up to a week in the fridge but with the addition of the drumsticks, the storage life of this curry would be reduced to no more than 3 days.
- 1 1/2 kilograms mutton fillet pieces
- 9 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3 inches ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
- 2 sticks lemongrass, chopped
- 3 inches fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped roughly
- 150 grams dried chilies, seeds removed and soaked in warm water till soft
- 50 grams candlenuts, ground finely
- 30 grams fresh cashews, ground finely
- 30 grams fresh almonds, ground finely
- 5 large red onions, sliced thinly
- 2 sprigs curry leaves, leaves picked and soaked in water to clean
- 3 sprigs coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 cinnamon quills
- 8 green cardamom pods
- 3 star anises
- 6 cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 300 milliliters fresh plain yogurt
- 4 tomatoes, chopped
- 3 large potatoes, cubed into 1-inch pieces
- 2 large carrots, cubed into 1-inch pieces
- 3 stalks drumsticks, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 5-6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1-2 cups warm water
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- salt to taste
Wash the mutton pieces and drain well. With a food processor or mortar and pestle, blend together ginger, garlic, lemongrass, turmeric and dried chilies into a thick chili paste.
Heat up oil in a large heavy pot or wok. Add in cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, star anises and cloves. Over medium high heat, toss till fragrant, then add in the curry leaves. Add in onion and fry till lightly brown and aromatic. Add in the mutton. Increase heat to high and toss to cook continuously, about 10 minutes or till meat is slightly browned. Reduce heat to medium; then add in chili paste, fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Cook till reduced and chili paste has released its oil, about 15 minutes. Stir well in between, scrapping off the bottom of the pot/wok.
Add in the candlenuts and mix well. Pour over warm water just enough to cover the mutton. Cover and braise over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove cover. Check that the meat has tenderized slightly but not completely done. Add in cashews and almonds, mixing well to coat the meat. Increase heat to high; then add in potatoes, drumsticks and carrots. Toss for a few minutes till vegetables have slightly softened, then add in yogurt and tomatoes. Stir well and continue cooking till all the vegetables are done, mutton is tender and gravy thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Check seasoning and add in the chopped coriander, leaving some for garnishing. Dish out into a large serving bowl, top with more fresh coriander. Serve warm with biryani rice, dosai or flat breads.
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