There are certain dishes that bring you back memories from a distant past or sometimes a recent past. When it rains quite heavily, I will be reminded of two very 'rain-day special' dishes, that our aunt (father's brother's wife) used to quickly make for us. One of them is 'moarkali', a gluey mass of pounded rice cooked in yoghurt and spiced. It is such a thoroughly enjoyable feeling to take small portions of the moarkali, while still very warm and try to swallow, still wanting to savor in your mouth.
The other dish is the milagu vellam. This has such a peppery warmth that will soothe you when the outside weather is dark and gloomy.
It was an everyday practice at our home that curd will be churned and butter extracted. For the afternoon lunch we would have thick set curds while with the night dinner only the fat-removed buttermilk was served with rice. There will be so much buttermilk that we can have a second helping to drink with salt and asafoetida added to the same.
So it was quite often that moar kuzhambu, rawa dosai and yoghurt based dishes were prepared at home. My mother made the milagu vellam once in a blue moon, so to me that was a luxury that Hema chitti had pampered us with. That was one of the recipes I copied from my mother's note book early when my cooking expedition had started. I would not wait for a rainy day to have it.
This recipe has another anecdote to go with it, which is more recent and importantly more relevant. It was the recipe that gave me a chance to start a conversation with Jayasree some two years ago. She has this recipe in her archives. I was reading most of her earlier posts and when I read this I found that her recipe was slightly different and she had not added any picture. I chanced to find her online and we discussed this. I suggested she add a picture and both of us made a pact that we would post our versions with the picture. It did not transpire to date and will never happen in her blog anymore.
My daughter has added her thoughts here. It goes to prove that regardless of the age, Jayasree had endeared herself to many of us.
"Isn't it amazing how, somebody that met you but twice, can have a profound impact on your life? Jayasree was one of those people in my life. I remember hearing so much about her from amma, and got to meet her for the first time at her home in Palakkad. She was so cheerful and full of smiles, that she brought out the chatter-box in me in no time at all. I have met her only once after that - this past august, at their home in Pune, during my summer break. I remember Jayasree telling amma that we did not get to spend enough time together.. how true she was.... it has indeed been far too short.
The life lessons I got from my interactions with this wonderful person are numerous. She taught me acceptance, in her cheerful love for everybody she met, she taught me optimism, in her ready smiles and her positive outlook.. and most importantly, I believe, she taught me simplicity.. in the way she drew joy and contentment from small everyday things.
This lovely woman is no more, but the hearts she has touched are numerous, and I count myself blessed to have gotten the chance to know her. Her memory will forever be with me, and her thoughts will always put a smile on my face. I pray that God give her family the strength to go through this difficult time and that she rest in peace."
Getting to the recipe now. This can be done with less than five ingredients that can be easily available in the pantry mostly and cooked in under 30 minutes. This dish combines well with hot steamed rice and any vegetable stirfry can be had as a side or even crisps work well.
You can eye-ball the measures usually. However, I give the list of ingredients, that can be adjusted according to individual taste.
100 ml fat removed buttermilk (fresh or the previous day's will work well)
1 teaspoon gram flour/ besan
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt according to taste
1 teaspoon Ghee (preferred to oil)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Few fresh curry leaves
In a bowl add one cup of water to the turmeric powder and the pepper powder.
Place on a high flame and once the water boils, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for a good 12 to 15 minutes until the pepper blends and the volume of liquid is almost half.
Mix the gram flour to the buttermilk well free of lumps.
Pour this to the simmering pepper water. Stir continuously and bring it to a near boil stage.
Over boiling will curdle the mixture.
Switch the heat off, but do not remove the bowl from the stove top. Keep stirring for a further 5 minutes.
Remove from the stove top and stir again. You will have a moderately thin kuzhambu ready.
Remember that you have not added the salt until this stage?
Allow the milagu vellam to cool to room temperature. Stir in the salt and mix well. (Salt is added to the end to avoid any curdling, that results in milk proteins and water being separated.)
Heat the ghee in a pan and add the mustard seeds and the curry leaves for tempering. Add the crackled mustard seeds and roasted curry leaves to the milagu vellam.
When you have a few spoons of this, you will feel the warmth travelling through the throat and then food pipe. Pepper has medicinal properties, which probably is the reason to have it when the outside weather is prone to bring infections.