Flaming red avakaya pickle is probably the first image that comes to mind when one thinks of Andhra (and now Telengana too) cuisine. While pickles have held the flag high for Telugu food, it’s not all about chillies on chillies. ‘Five Morsels of Love’, a recently launched book of Andhra recipes, opens with a recipe of Gongura Pappu. A comforting yellow dal made with sorrel leaves that lend a deeply tangy flavour, Gongura pappu turns our food association with gongura, also used to make a fiery relish, on its head.
The book of recipes, tested, translated and compiled by Bengaluru-based Archana Pidathala, is an eye-opener to Andhra cuisine in many ways. For instance, date palm jaggery is key to balancing the flavours in “spicy pulusus (gravy without lentils) and piquant pickles”.
“I have essays on tamarind, egg plant, jaggery and rice, but don’t have one on chilli,” says Pidathala, whose book is inspired by her maternal grandmother’s Telugu cookbook, Vanita Vantakalu, published in 1974. Most of the recipes — except the ones for pickles and relishes — use very little red chilli powder, or chillies in any form; and the sumptuous photos, shot by Chinmayie Bhat, are proof of the point that Pidathala makes with subtlety.
For someone who was overwhelmed by simple cooking terminology such as “dry roast”, “salt to taste” and “cook till done”, Pidathala has come a long way with ‘Five Morsels of Love’, which includes over a 100 recipes for 85 vegetarian and 21 non-vegetarian dishes. The author, a former IT professional, relied on bread-butter sandwich breakfasts, microwave lunches and take-out dinners until her son was born in 2012.
She says, “I had never cooked until that point but wanted to make fresh and nutritious meals for him.” Savoury beaten rice crepes or atukulu dose, as they are known in Telugu, is just one of the dishes Pidathala makes for her son’s breakfast, and he loves them with a drizzle of honey. Writes Pidathala in the book, “I discovered a hidden love not just for cooking but for all things related to food – history, science, flavour combinations, technique and so much more.”
‘Five Morsels…’ is almost like a memoir, giving readers a glimpse into Pidathala’s grandmother, Nirmala Reddy’s life — of how she secretly enrolled in a cooking contest because she was not allowed to cook at home and won it for her entry of a favourite South Indian dessert made with chickpea flour, the Mysore Pak; of how she learnt to cook country-style chicken biryani from a family friend in Kurnool and how visitors at the Secundarabad Club ask for the Nirmala Reddy bonda, whose recipe she had shared with the club’s cook decades ago, until date.
What is evident throughout the book is that Reddy’s joy in cooking emanates from her love for her family. Says Pidathala, “Ammama didn’t cook at all until she got married. But she was was ahead of her times in that she self-published her Telugu cookbook with a lot of encouragement from my grandfather.” In fact, the original book contained recipes of jam tarts and even Japanese cakes. “But I wanted to focus on Andhra cuisine,” says Pidathala, who also included some recipes from an unpublished draft of over 300.
“There were recipes that my ammama may have thought were too common – such as the ragi sankati (a porridge made of finger millet) and anapa ginjala pulusu (a curry made of hyacinth beans) – but when I looked for them online I realised they were actually rather unique.”
‘Five Morsels of Love’ is now available for sale for Rs1,699 here.