We’ve been in Kerala, India for just over one week now, with one more week to go. My husband’s sister with whom we stay when we are here is an amazing cook, preparing three fresh meals per day. We are all incredibly spoiled with the delicious food when we are here. The food we have here, indigenous to southern India is also the perfect food for a toddler to enjoy.
One of the primary reasons Indian food is a lovely indulgence for babies and toddlers is because it is traditionally eaten with your hands. Both at home in the United States when my husband prepares Indian cuisine, and here when we are in India, we all eat every meal without utensils- only our right hands. Although our toddler knows how to use utensils (and enjoys it), there’s a pleasure she gets out of eating with her hands. Now that I’m accustomed to eating with my fingers, it seems awkward to me to eat Indian food with utensils- the food seems to taste differently (better) when eating with fingers somehow.
A typical meal in Kerala is predominantly vegetarian, and mostly vegan, rich in vegetables, grains, and legumes, which provides an abundant source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals in each meal. I will qualify that by saying most Hindu Kerala-style meals are vegetarian, although fish is widely eaten in the state, and Christians prepare a lot of dishes with chicken. My husband’s family is Hindu, so it’s all veg in the house. We also eat a lot of fresh fruits (mango, papaya, guava, pomegranate, bananas, pineapple, and watermelon are all readily available).
Many of the dishes are also prepared with freshly ground coconut and/or coconut oil. Unlike many of the northern Indian dishes which are prevalent in most Indian restaurants in the United States, most of the traditional southern Indian dishes are prepared without much oil, ghee, sugar, or paneer, so it’s pretty lean and healthy. My only problem when I come here is making sure I don’t eat too much of it- it’s so delicious I want to keep eating well beyond being-full. With each trip here I’m getting better at self-regulating!
Plus, this stuff is freaking delicious. It’s full of flavor and spice, which my toddler loves. She typically refuses peas, carrots, and cabbage, but when her aunt prepared it with a little garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, and black pepper she gobbled it all down (yes, my toddler ate cabbage!). Although some dishes can be spicy (hot), the food is just prepared with fewer hot peppers so that it isn’t too spicy for my toddler to eat. But, this doesn’t in any way compromise the flavor with the abundance of all the freshly ground spices that still flavor the food.
Here are a few typical Kerala-style dishes and meals we eat for breakfast that my toddler loves, all of which are savory (most Indian dishes are savory, even for breakfast):
– Appam with peas and carrot stew: appam is a spongey, thicker crepe-like breakfast item which is rice and coconut milk based (sort of like Injera bread if you’ve had that) served with a stew or curry on the side
– Upma with steamed bananas or plaintains and mung bean curry: upma is basically like Cream of Wheat (semolina) which you can get pretty much anywhere in the world, but cooked so it is thick, dense, and fluffy, and sauteed with mustard seeds; it can be prepared in different ways but we usually like to add veggies like small chopped peas and carrots. This is my daughter’s FAVORITE FOOD ever- she often requests it by name.
The following are typical Kerala-style dishes we eat for lunch and dinner that my toddler loves. This is a relatively short list given the hundreds of recipes of Kerala curries out there, not to mention the numerous variations of each dish. Although it varies across households, in ours in India lunch is usually eaten with rice and 2-3 curries, where as dinner is usually eaten with wheat chapati and 1-2 curries. On this trip to India we also brought some protein-rich quinoa which we sometimes use in place of rice at lunchtime (although rice is also a rich source of protein, B vitamins, and minerals- steamed brown rice being the most nutritious).
– Avial: A vitamin, veggie, and protein rich dish with carrots, yams, and beans
– Theeyal: this is a flavorful thick curry that is a very traditional dish in Kerala
– Sambar: This is a very typical soup-like dish that can be found on most tables in Kerala at lunch time- we like recipes that are packed full of veggies.
– Rasam: This is some potent soup full of ginger, garlic, black pepper, tamarind, coriander and more. One can drink it straight from a cup, or eat it with rice (fingers only!). Veda and I both arrived in Kerala with colds, and my sister-in-law made rasam to kick it (as well as for my husband who caught my cold two days after we got here)- this stuff is the best comfort when sick. It’s a bit too strongly spiced for my toddler, but I had to put it on the list since it’s so yum.
– Okra curry: Yum! Okra is one of my husband’s favorites.
– Grated Beetroot curry: I absolutely love beets, and there are many different ways of preparing beetroot curries Kerala-style. This grated curry is a great easy finger-food for babies and toddlers. This beetroot pachadi recipe is made with yogurt and also delicious.
– Pineapple pachadi: Made with pineapple this is a sweet and savory curry and one of my personal favorites (this one is made with yogurt)
– Erissery: This is my absolute favorite kerala-style curry. I love the sweetness of the pumpkin with the texture of the beans in the rich flavorful curry. Yummy!
– Beans and carrots thoran: this is great flavorful veggie finger food for a toddler
– Achingya Thoren: green beans curry that my daughter gobbled up today
– Cabbage Elisseri: this is a simple yet flavorful way to prepare cabbage
With three freshly prepared hot meals every day we are definitely spoiled when we are here in India. Some recipes are fairly simple and do not require too much prep and cooking time, although others are very time-intensive. Many of the breakfast foods also require a lot of work to prepare the dosas, appums, etc. When we are in the United States we usually have one or two meals a week (which my husband always prepares since he is the in-house Kerala cook). I think I need to start giving these recipes a whirl, though, since they are so delicious and a great way to prepare veggies that my toddler loves!