Keralan Prawn and Kokum Curry – Chemmeen Olarthiathu

IMG_2240

 

Hidden away in the calm and tranquil backwaters of Kerala you will find a homestay called ‘Philipkutty’s Farm’ that sits on 35 acres of a small island, which totals 750 acres. The island was reclaimed from the backwaters of Lake Vembanad in the 1950’s by the present inhabitant’s late husband’s grandfather.

IMG_8660

 

Today the farm is run by Anu (pictured above) and her mother-in-law, known as Aniamma, but it was Anu who warmly greeted us as we made our way from the opposite shore in a wooden canoe known locally as a ‘vallam’ (country boat), powered by a local using a wooden punt. After sipping on homemade cool ginger lemonade we were shown our cottage where we would be spending the next couple of nights.

IMG_8659

 

To say that it was charming was a massive understatement. I read in the visitors book that one lady had stayed for 5 weeks and had returned numerous times. I could see the attraction. It was without doubt the perfect place to unwind, write a book perhaps or simply just relax.

IMG_8638

 

Without modern day distractions such as television (there was only wifi in the main house) you felt positively cut off from the outside world. Bliss. It enabled you to sit and admire the views and watch the passing traffic, aka houseboats, drift by. My daughter’s fished with Anu’s daughter and managed to collect a number of fish, before always returning them to the waters. Mr B bravely swam in the backwaters themselves, much to all our amusement.

IMG_8639

The highlight of staying at Philipkutty’s Farm, however, is the food. Aniamma, Anu and their team of helpers prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for guests, which all congregate in a thatched pavilion close to the main house. As there are only a handful of cottages there tend to be no more than 12 or so guests. We all sat on one large table, swapped storied and filled our bellies with dish after memorable dish of food.  The cuisine was predominately Syrian Christian with a strong backwater influence. The vegetables and spices were grown on the farm and these were accompanied by a wide range of fish and meats. I was in heaven.

IMG_8634

I have a feeling that if I stayed for 5 weeks, like one guest, there would be a high chance that I would return home a little more ‘wholesome’ than when I arrived!

IMG_2912Each evening Anu and Aniamma would do a cookery demonstration of a couple of the dishes we were to eat that evening. So it was during these informal demonstrations that I learned a host of new recipes.

IMG_2905

This prawn and kokum curry – known as chemmeen (prawn) olarthiathu, was interesting as it included an ingredient I had not come across before. Kokum is a fruit bearing tree that is native to Western coastal regions of India and has many health benefits. The outer skin of the fruit is halved and dried, which in turn curls and becomes a dark purple black colour – apparently the darker the colour the better the kokum.
IMG_2217

Whilst they undoubtedly add a sweet and sour element to a dish (similar to tamarind) they also add a smokiness that is unlike anything that I have tried before. They never drown out the main taste of a dish, instead complementing it with their gentle souring notes.  As such they are used in a host of fish and prawn curries as well as dals and vegetable dishes. I realise that a trip to Kerala to source kokum maybe a little tricky for my readers so instead you can easily buy them online here or here. It stores easily for a year, I am told, in a sealed jar.

IMG_2221

I used prawns with tails on but you can use whatever prawns you wish.

IMG_8722

You’ll need red onion, shallots, ginger, garlic and fresh curry leaves. You can pick up fresh curry leaves from most Asian grocers. I tend to freeze mine and then dig them out of the freezer as and when I need to use them, which is most days.
IMG_8725

Above shows Aniamma adding the cherished kokum to her curry.

IMG_2251

I served mine with my Indian toor dal, which you can find here and some basmati rice.

IMG_2246

 

Kerala Prawn and Kokum Curry (Chemmeen Olarthiathu)

Serves 4-6

1-2 tbsp coconut oil

1 large or two small red onions, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 inch fresh ginger, roughly chopped

3 shallots, finely chopped

10 curry leaves

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp chilli powder

2 medium sized tomatoes, roughly chopped

500g prawns

4 pieces of kokum, pre soaked in 150ml boiling water for 20 minutes

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat the coconut oil and then add the garlic, shallots, ginger and curry leaves.
  2. After a minute add the red onion, salt and chilli powder (if using).
  3. On a medium to low heat, add the turmeric and allow the ingredients to soften, which will take around 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add the fresh tomatoes and stir into the other ingredients and allow to soften.
  5. Add the prawns and move around the pan so that they are coated in all the ingredients.
  6. After 3 minutes add the kokum and gently cook for a further 5 minutes.
  7. Add the fresh black pepper powder just before serving.

IMG_2253

 

 

Each morning at Philipkutty’s Farm the urns would have different arrangements of fresh flowers floating in them. So pretty and symmetrical.

 

Please note the comments below where one reader kindly informed me that the ‘kokum’ is in fact a close relative known as ‘kodampuli’ and the fruit show in my photos are in fact kodampuli.  Thank you so much indusinternationalkitchen.com  for highlighting this to me. You can read more about this fruit here

IMG_8641

 

 

7 thoughts on “Keralan Prawn and Kokum Curry – Chemmeen Olarthiathu

  1. You have a lovely blog! And this post about Kerala won my heart! Actually this sour fruit is called ‘Kodampuli’ in Kerala – Kokum is a different variety of this fruit that is obtained in coastal Maharashtra. Just wanted to clarify that although many folks will have probably heard of hokum than kodampuli. 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind words. My family and I LOVED Kerala and would return in a heart beat. Will look up kodampuli – not heard of it in fact, then again I had not come across Kokum before I went. Two separate locals (one from Alleppey and the other from the backwaters) referred to these beauties as Kokum and one sweetly gave me a bag full of them. They definitely said Kokum and I took their word for it. I found dried ones in my local Asian grocers here in London, which is good. Do you think they just call them Kokum as its hard to tell the difference? Is the name interchangeable?

      • I am sure they referred to it as kokum so that it will be easier for you to find it. This is what kokum looks like – http://www.sanjeevkapoor.com/Articles/Kokum.html. Kodampuli = Garcinia cambogia, Kokum = Garcinia indica. Your picture is of kodampuli though so I am just thinking that your grocers also call it Kokum for ease/convenience. Does the pack refer to its scientific name? Btw, my family hails from Kerala although I was born and raised in Mumbai. Just like you, I am in love with Kerala and Keralan food. You can find many Keralan recipes on my site. indusinternationalkitchen.com 🙂

        • Ah thank you for shining the light on kokum v kodampuli. Absolutely fascinating and I love the fact that you steered me in the right direction. I am going to do further reading around the subject. Do you know if kokum and kodampuli are used in the same sort of curries – e.g.often prawn and fish? I will most definitely check out your blog. Thank you. Best Torie

          • My pleasure, Torie 🙂 I thought you might like details like that 🙂 Kokum is also used to impart sourness to curries. As far as I know in Maharashtrian, specifically Konkani cuisine, it is used in seafood as well as lentils etc. They also make a refreshing drink out of kokum which is very cooling to have in summer!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s