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Meet Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis, author of the cookbook The Pondicherry Kitchen.
Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis’ The Pondicherry Kitchen brings us a collection of delectable and uncommon recipes from Franco-Pondicherry cuisine. A unique amalgamation of French and Indian flavours came together to form the cuisine of French Pondicherry and with many of these recipes being forgotten, The Pondicherry Kitchen is an attempt to preserve some of those flavours.
Why did you decide to write The Pondicherry Kitchen?
Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis: The Pondicherry Kitchen was written on the request from my English speaking friends; as the French Cuisine Traditionnelle de Pondichery was brought out in 2003 and again with more recipes in 2010. I had to oblige my friends with this book. The French book was written for my children and many Pondicherrians who are scattered all over the world. I thought it was high time to save these recipes that were dying. Most recipes were forgotten and buried in manuscripts dating back to the 1930’s.
What are the main distinguishing factors of the Franco-Pondicherry cuisine?
Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis: Many French dishes have been adapted to suit the Tamil palate, for example the simple roast has become something very elaborate and tasty. The French would just use salt, pepper and roast the chicken but Pondicherrians add garlic, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, onions and ghee. The roast tastes different and definitely tastier!
What was the most difficult part of writing The Pondicherry Kitchen?
Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis: The most difficult part was to convert old measures such as azhaku, seru, magani, paddi, ratle into metric measures. I had to go to Chennai to the Dravidian Center, meet the scholars and get this conversion done. It was a big hassle because you know how Tamil Pandits are! They asked me again and again why I needed this information and when I told them it was to write a cook book they almost laughed at me!
Which is your favourite dish from The Pondicherry Kitchen?
Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis: For my husband and I, the best dish from The Pondicherry Kitchen is Fish Assad. [Recipe given below.]
Who is your favourite chef?
Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis: Rick Stein with whom I have shared the Vindail recipe for the programme ‘In Search Of The Best Ten Currys’.
Do you feel that the food of our ancestors is slowly fading away and that there is a need for preserving our culinary legacy?
Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis: Yes, the traditional way of cooking is fading, people have no time to cook so they resort to readymade masala powders, they eat junk food and fall ill. There is a Tamil proverb that says a life free from diseases is the greatest wealth one can possess. After all, we are what we eat.
Below we share Lourdes’ favourite recipe from the book, for Fish Assad. (Republished from The Pondicherry Kitchen with permission).
Fish Assad Recipe
Seer fish/pomfret – 1 kg, cut into small pieces
Chilli powder – 1 ½ tsp
Turmeric powder – 1 + 1 tsp
Salt – To taste
Oil – 2 + 2 tbsp
Aniseed – 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tbsp
Poppy seeds – 1 ½ tbsp
Cashew nuts – 5
Cloves – 2
Cinnamon – 1 small piece
Bay leaf – ½
Big onions – 2, finely sliced
Green chillies – 4, slit
Garlic cloves – 18, crushed
Ginger – 1 big piece, crushed
Tomatoes – 2, finely chopped
Coconut – 1, to extract 1 cup thick coconut milk and 1 ½ cups second and third extract
Juice of 1 lemon
Coriander leaves – 2 tbsp, finely sliced
Mix the fish with the chilli powder, 1 tsp turmeric powder and salt.
Shallow fry in 2 tbsp oil till fish is half done.
Grind the aniseeds and cumin seeds together. Set aside.
Grind the poppy seeds and cashew nuts together into a fine paste. Set aside.
In a pan, heat the oil, add the cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf, onions and green chillies. Fry till the onions are golden brown.
Add the crushed garlic and ginger, and fry till golden brown.
Add the aniseed-cumin paste and 1 tsp turmeric powder. Cook on low heat so that the spices do not burn. Fry for a couple of seconds.
Add the tomatoes and a little more salt. Cover the pan and cook till the tomatoes are soft.
Add the second and third coconut milk extract, cover the pan and bring to a boil.
Add the shallow-fried fish and bring to a boil again. Switch off the flame and add the poppy seed-cashew nut paste, thick coconut milk extract, lemon juice, and coriander leaves. Stir.
Serve hot with rice and aubergine or tomato chutney.
*Photo credit: Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis.
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