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Mashed and seasoned tapioca (Kappa purattiathu)

Updated: Mar 22

Tapioca, or cassava, is a staple in hKerala. Tapioca has a long and bloody history. Its origins can be traced back to Brazil, where it was cultivated over 9,000 years ago. The Portuguese facilitated the tuber's spread to Africa and India.

It took root in India rapidly as it is a hard and easy crop to grow, filled with nutrition and high carbohydrates.

Visakham Thirunal Rama Varma had a problem on his hands. His kingdom, the princely state of Travancore in present-day Kerala, had suffered raging famines. He pondered a difficult question – what could stave off hunger, especially among the poorest, when rice was in short supply? A keen botanist and, by all accounts, a thoughtful ruler, his explorations led him to cassava, a perennial plant with starchy, tuberous roots that fit the bill perfectly — drought resistant, easy to care for, adaptable to a variety of soil types, and harvestable multiple times a year. Undemanding yet prolifically giving. In his book, Indian Food: A Historical Companion, K.T. Achaya, the eminent food historian, documents Visakham Thirunal’s efforts. He notes that the Maharajah himself conducted demonstrations to show his people how the tuber should be prepared, calling for cultivating varieties from present-day Malaysia and other parts of the world. Some say “kappa”, the Malayalam word for cassava, derives from “kappa”, the Malayalam word for the ship, because cassava first arrived in Kerala on ships from abroad. Backed by an evangelistic monarch, the kappa became an intrinsic part of Kerala cuisine. It spared the state a terrible fate during a severe rice shortage around World War II. Visakham Thirunal’s reign lasted a mere five years, ending with his death in 1885. But he had left behind a lasting legacy (Source here)

This dish is a classic. Simple and yet filled with flavour. The ka[a is chunky and beautifully spiced. It is a lovely starch for the table and is most commonly paired with Kerala Fish or mutton curry.

This cookbook specializes in the cuisine of Syrian Christians in Kerala. This community traces its ancestry back to the supposed arrival of St. Thomas the Apostle to Kerala in the 1st century. The cuisine has a distinct Anglo-Indian influence from the Portuguese influence and cooking techniques. It is very meat-heavy, with duck, beef and mutton taking centre stage. The cuisine is loaded with heavy spices and is rich and bursts with flavours. This book is packed with traditional recipes that define this cuisine. This is a cookbook for those of us who want to experience this fabulous cuisine at home.

For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.


For the tapioca:

2 lb tapioca root, peeled, washed and diced

Salt, to taste

4 cups water

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

6 shallots, sliced

10 curry leaves

3 dried red chillies

For the coconut paste:

1/2 cup fresh grated coconut

1 tablespoon ginger paste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds

4 shallots, sliced

2 green chillies

4-5 tablespoons water

Add the tapioca, salt and water to a small pot and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 25-30 minutes till the tapioca is very soft. Drain and mash gently with a fork. You can leave the tapioca as chunky as you desire. Some folks like it smooth, while others do not mash it. I like it somewhere in between.

Add all the ingredients for the coconut paste to a small blender and blitz till very smooth.

Heat the oil in a small saucepan or wok. Add the mustard seeds and fry for 10 seconds till they pop. Add the shallots and fry till golden, about 1 minute. Add the curry leaves and red chillies and toss well.

Add the coconut paste and fry for 2 minutes until the raw smell disappears. Add the tapioca and fry until it is well coated with the spices or well mixed in. Fry on high to brown the tapioca in spots.

Serve hot.

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