Cooking with Nasira

First breakfast: Aupum (fermented rice pancakes, red spinach thoran, cabbage thoran and aviil.

First breakfast: Aupum (fermented rice pancakes, red spinach thoran, cabbage thoran and aviil.

Thanks to an old friend of Daren’s (my yoga teacher in Chicago), who I met in Lino’s Ashtanga workshop group, Randa (who used to own a studio in Montana), I got set up with the best case scenario for cooking in Kovalam Beach. She heard I was a chef and happened to know a guy who used to own restaurants in the area, Bashir, who’s wife, Nasira is an awesome cook and would love to have me cook with her. She doesn’t speak much English which was a great opportunity for me to be immersed in the culture of Kovalam without all the tourists and tourist culture.

I was able to cook with Nasira for six awesome days which also included lots of play time with their son, Ramsan. Each day after yoga practice, I would wear something that covered me from the sun, grab a big bottle of water and head out for a 35 minute uphill climb to Bashir’s house on a hill. Their house is very homey with an incredible view of the sea from the porch out front. It is located in a small Muslim community just outside the tourist center of Kovalam Beach.

As I walked to their house for the first day, I stumbled upon a neighbor’s cage of love birds and had to stop and watch all the joyful noise and the nuzzling happening inside. I said my hello’s and had some small translation from Bashir who was there for the beginning. Then it was time to get down to business. The first day, we made Aupum and Red Spinach Thoran. I ate this for breakfast with some left over Aviil, which we made a couple of days later. I also got to watch the normal preparation of lunch everyday. This family eats really healthfully with meals incorporating tons of variety of organic produce, very little oil and lots of spices with some fish here and there. Nasira is an awesome home cook and I was really excited to have had this opportunity. It got me out of the funk of feeling trapped in the tourist community of Kovalam.

Vobrant colors for lunch: local rice, coconut curry sauce, turmeric and cassava smash, fish curry, red spinach thoran, amla achar (pickled gooseberries)

Vobrant colors for lunch: local rice, coconut curry sauce, turmeric and cassava smash, fish curry, red spinach thoran, amla achar (pickled gooseberries)

The second day, we made idiapum which is a saucer shaped cake of vermicelli made of rice flour and water great for soaking up the sambar (a vegetable stew with tamarind broth). There was lots of time in between cooking and eating to play with 8 month old Ramsan who’s current method of transportation is rolling. He rolled from room to room getting himself tangled from time to time making for the cutest interruption of cooking ever.

Ramsan being returned to the living room after rolling into his sister’s bedroom.

Ramsan being returned to the living room after rolling into his sister’s bedroom.

I most appreciated the vast array of things available locally like the abundance of coconut in it’s various forms and the use of green plantain in a simmered stew. I had never seen it prepared that way and it took on a lovely texture and flavor. I will definitely adapt some of what I learned to my own cooking and ingredients available in Chicago.

The rest I will show in pictures:

freshly made idly and mixed vegetable curry (primarily green beans)

freshly made idly and mixed vegetable curry (primarily green beans)

Local rice, cassava smash, aviil, fish curry featuring a delicious “drumstick” (local vegetable), green onion thoran, doused in coconut curry sauce.

Local rice, cassava smash, aviil, fish curry featuring a delicious “drumstick” (local vegetable), green onion thoran, doused in coconut curry sauce.

Idiapum with Sambar.

Idiapum with Sambar.

Radical Larder