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Read and see July 12, 2008

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food, Humor.
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For decades, this classic set of three books has been the last word on authentic South Indian cooking, says C Y Gopinath

This unassuming and classic trilogy is for many the last word on South Indian cuisine

May I offer you some light tiffin? No? A cool drink then?

What about a curd bath? It’s guaranteed to cool you off.

According to the instructions in the third book of the Cook and See trilogy, the offer of a curd bath may fearlessly be made to Brahmin priests during certain auspicious days. The complete bath must include rice, buttermilk, sweet jaggery water, and a coconut chutney, among other things. Towels and soap are not mentioned.

Before you leap to the conclusion that this blog has degenerated into bathroom humor, what with the lavage of priests and all, let me add that bath merely happens to be how the venerable Meenakshi Ammal spells bhath, meaning rice, in her three-part classic set, Samaithu Paar (or Cook and See). As any self-respecting Punjabi knows, curd-rice is what gives the average Madrasi his or her keen edge and legendary stamina.

Similarly, both light tiffins and cool drinks are de rigueur when you are getting your daughted hitched to a suitable boy and the wedding guests are at the door. Page 162 of Book III goes further, offering a ‘List of Items Required for Preparing Food Etc’. In smaller type immediately below this are the words ‘For About One Thousand Persons’, followed by a list of 46 items that includes 12 kilos of coffee powder, 8 litres of ghee, 40 kilos of idli rice, and about 750 kilos of firewood.

Trust me, this is valuable information, available nowhere else on the planet but in S. Meenakshi Ammal’s revered trilogy. Spoken as it would be in Tamil, samaithu paar is a disarming invitation to try your hand at some fun stuff in the South Indian kitchen, make a few mistakes, create a complete balls-up of in all but on the whole have a very good time doing it.

If you are wondering, as you should be by now, where cooking comes into what has so far sounded like a one-stop marriage manual, the answer is Books I, II and III. I doubt there is any recipe or procedure featuring any vegetable or grain you can name that will not be found somewhere in these two volumes, starting on page 1 with four different ways of making sambar, and going on to such obscure but crucial life skills as the method for grinding Australian wheat into flour, preparing a perfect cup of south Indian filter coffee, and how to beat rice flakes into submission. For the latter, there is the helpful tip that “when two people pound it simultaneously by alternate strokes, the flakes turn out better”.

Samaithu Paar is simply the most authentic set of recipes I have ever seen  on classic South Indian cooking. I was fortunate to find a fresh reprint at a Higginbothams book shop in Chennai. Amazingly, you will find its 1968 edition listed on amazon.com, but with a small line confessing that it is out of print. The single customer review there describes how indispensable it is to someone struggling to learn South Indian cuisine, even if navigating the book takes a little getting used to.

The books look today as they doubtless did when they were first printed in 1951. S. Meenakshi Ammal’s writing has not been value-added by the pens of modern recipe-makers. The ingredients and the instructions are offered in unhelpfully blocky paragraphs, no effort made to separate ingredients into lines. The tone of voice is that of an older woman advising a younger and inexperienced one. And this, it turns out, is pretty much what Meenakshi Ammal set out to do.

When she wrote her first volume, it was a planet that had not yet felt the need to coin a word like foodie. There was no great demand for cookery books, and no one thought it a great idea for a woman — imagine that! a woman! — to write an entire book of recipes. Meenakshi Ammal had many detractors and only a handful of supporters. One staunch encouraging voice was that of  her uncle, father of the Library Movement in Madras State, the late Rao Bahadur Sri S. V. Krishnaswami. And her own indomitable will, of course.

The set I finally purchased had been revised by Meenakshi Ammal’s son, P. S. Sankaran, to include modern weights and measures rather than pinches and pugils and fistfuls. The publisher, in her introduction, explains:

“. . . it was also a time when with the opening up of more opportunities for women and the dawning of the realization that education was for both sexes, a vast majority of girls were not able to find the time to learn cooking in the traditional way from one’s mother. This proved a problem subsequently when, after marriage, they had to build their own homes and manage their own kitchens. In was to address this need that the author with a lot of foresight, embarked on her venture to bring out a cookery book which would serve more as a manual for daily use”.

Where a modern cookbook might have a single sentence, ‘Boil a cup of tuvar dal (pigeon peas) with turmeric’, Meenakshi Ammal has an entire paragraph, titled To Cook Dhal. It is vintage Meenakshi Ammal, cooking instructions as stream of consciousness, not a thing linear, afterthoughts interwoven with forethoughts:

Choose a stoneware of vessel with a very narrow mouth. Wash dhal. Clean and remove stones, if any. Boil water in a vessel. Add dhal, a pinch of turmeric powder and 1 teaspoon of gingelly oil. Cover with a lid or cup, filled with water. (Add this water to the dhal, if needed.) Cook till very soft. (If the dhal is cleanly husked, it need not be washed.) (Some dhals do not cook soon. If so, add a pinch of baking soda. If baking soda is added, do not use the turmeric powder, as the color of the dhal will be spoilt.)

Yes, I know. You want proof of the pudding. So here are three of my all-time favourites from her set. Not only are the recipes simplicity itself, but the spice mixtures I describe may be used for pretty much most other vegetables other than the ones I have described.

Potato Podi

Potatoes 350 gms (choose big ones)

Red chillies 6 or 8

Red gram dhal (tuvar dal) 2 tsps

Black gram dhal (urad dal) 2 tsps

Asafoetida (hing) a pinch

Black mustard seeds 1/2 tsp

Method

Fry the spice ingredients in 4 tsps of oil to golden brown color, and grind to a coarse powder along with 1 1/2 teaspoonfuls of salt.

Cook the whole potatoes in their jackets, and peel. Spread the spice powder on a board and place the potatoes on top of it. Press the potatoes with a roller to break them up. Keep breaking them up till the pieces are roughly the size of large marbles and thoroughly mixed with the powder. Serve with chappatis or rice, and sambar or dal.

Crumbled Arbi Curry

Arbi (colocasia) 250 grams

Juice of an areca-nut sized piece of tamarind in 1/4 cup of water

Whole black pepper 2 tsps

Cummin seeds (jeera) 2 tsps

Black gram dhal (urad dal) 2 tsps

Sprig of curry leaves

Salt to taste

Method

Heat a vessel with enough water to cover the arbis. When the water is boiling, add the arbis (washed and cleaned well) and cover with a lid. Turn it occasionally. When it is cooked, remove from the fire and peel. Cut each arbi into two or three pieces and keep aside.

Roast the whole black pepper, cummin seeds (jeera) and black gram dhal (urad dal). Grind into a coarse powder. This is known as curryma powder.

In a vessel, heat 4 teaspoonfuls of gingelly oil, and add a teaspoon of black mustard seeds. When they start spluttering, add the cut arbi pieces. Add about a teaspoon of salt and scald, turning frequently. Add the tamarind juice and boil till the raw smell of tamarind goes away. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of curryma powder, curry leaves, and mix well. Keep cooking until the liquid has evaporated, and the arbis become a mass.

Serve with rice and dhal, or sambar.

And in closing, let me add that if some dedicated and selfless person were to take on the task of presenting the priceless recipes in Meenakshi Ammal’s books in a more user-friendly way with clear ingredient lists and instructions, and gorgeous drooly pictures as is the norm these days, on lovely glossy paper — why, I do believe there may be a modern classic here waiting to be lapped up.

Of course, you should make sure you have a word with P. S. Sankaran first.

Comments»

1. bee - July 12, 2008

i remember the sermon in book 1 about “young women nowadays who hate to enter the kitchen” and the measurements in ollocks. glad to know there is an updated version.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello—

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

2. evolvingtastes - July 13, 2008

Have been trying to get this set for a while now, but according to their website they are only available in Chennai. 😦

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello—

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

3. Anonymous - July 15, 2008

Wow! A new post after ages…

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello—

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

4. nandita - July 17, 2008

Wonderful post, i armed myself with the trilogy from landmark stores in chennai after I got married! I tried the nellikkai pachidi and poricha sambhar recently, and it was yummy 🙂

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Nandita —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

5. Kamini - July 23, 2008

Yes, these books are priceless indeed! And also good for many laughs and chuckles because of the very literal translation and some of the old-fashioned thoughts and ideas! And the recipes (once you figure out the ollocks and things) are fool-proof, just like my paati used to make.
Kamini.

6. Chithrupa - July 26, 2008

My mum just picked up the trio for me – a good time to read an intro on it then! I was really going to relegate it to a box of unused items sent from home… Thanks for averting that disaster.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Rupa—

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

7. Aparna - July 27, 2008

I had heard so much about Mennakshi Ammal’s Samaithu Paar, that I was thrilled to find the new reprints of all 3 volumes.
They are truly a classic.
Btw, there is now a fourth volume to this collection (don’t remember by whom) which I decided not to buy.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Aparna—

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

8. meera - August 4, 2008

Gopi, its is so good to have you back in my life…no one ever wrote anything like you do! you are like a lazy summer afternoon during a boring school vacation when a fantastic surge of excitement happens and like Batman you fly all over the world …!
Meenakshi ammal is a lot like you, vintage goodness, quiet, smooth joy! I will never forget her whole section called ‘Invalid foods’, a transferred epithet for Foods for the invalid…the kanjis she details are good anytime…what they call health foods these days, thereby rendering all of us suitably invalid!
incidentally i picked up a great hard bound glossy covered jacketed Cook & See looking gorgeous, with photo plates and all. strangely it lacked the credibility of the old edition…where ollock is decoded in 8 sentences into a whole paragraph!

wow Gopi…don’t you ever stop writing…let us a revisit of your visits to Brighton’s at Flora Fountain/VT….

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Meera—

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

9. Ramki - August 16, 2008

Samaithu Paar was the main inspiration behind the One Page Cookbooks listing 1001 Sambar, 1001 Kulambu etc.,

10. Fishy - September 2, 2008

Hi, Samaithu Paar is indeed classic. Just like the woodwards gripe water add, this was a part of the send off treasure from mother’s house when a girl gets married in my family.
Neway, just so you know, there is no vendaikai curry in that book. In the early days my cooking was totally based on meenakshi ammal advise and i made a awful okra sabji as i ventured on my own. But later learnt it was the easiest of all and may be thats y meenakshi ammal decided to omit it.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Fishy —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

11. Shoba - September 25, 2008

If anyone living in Bombay want to buy this book, it is available at Giri Book Stores, Matunga. A treasure every mother should have for healthy cooking.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Sobha —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Shoba —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

12. AVV - October 8, 2008

There is also a 4th book that is an addon by Meenakshi Ammal’s (granddaughter inlaw?)- a Priya Ramakumar in which there are recipes for dishes like Yellow Pumpkin soup, Beet juice, Fruit Bhel, Dhansak, Veg Au Gratin, Drumstick pickle,Potato mithai to finally somethin called Exotic Jaggery Payasam just to name a few!

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Rupa —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

13. Bookmarks about Cooking - December 19, 2008

[…] – bookmarked by 6 members originally found by favelapeople on 2008-11-12 Read and see https://cygopi.wordpress.com/2008/07/12/read-and-see/ – bookmarked by 1 members originally found by […]

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

14. Suresh Kumar - April 5, 2009

These books are likely the last words on Brahmin cooking – hardly representative of South Indian cooking, let alone Tamil cooking.
There’s more to South Indian food.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Suresh —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2009 letter in 2015.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

15. S - January 7, 2010

Stumbled upon your blog and found this gem! Just made my day reading this post! ARe copies of the old books still available?

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2010 letter in 2015. Thank you for your kind comments. Glad you enjoyed it.

You must be wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

16. Knorr Soups - February 21, 2011

Yes, Gopi, banana stem is so healthy and full of fibre and excellent for cleaning out the toxins from our systems. Today, with more and more Indians being diagnosed with the lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart problems, we must definitely try out healthy dishes such as these, so that we can start leading an improved and more productive life. For some expert tips on healthy eating habits check out our blog at http://knorratseven.blogspot.com/

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2011 letter in 2015. Thank you for your kind comments. Glad you enjoyed it.

You must be wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

17. cumincoriandercardamom - April 7, 2011

Beautiful. Meenakshi Ammal cook book is priceless. I used to read this as a kid. Now a days I have another handy book, Vedavalli Venkatachari..

18. Beejay - February 5, 2012

Icame across your blog while looking up a recipe and it sent me back 35 years when I used to sail with my husband (merchant navy). A Tamilian chief officer had joined the ship with his newly married wife. She introduced me to Meenakshi Ammal. Obviously a gift from her mother like you have mentioned. I found Part1 totally fascinating . only two years into my own marriage and being an enthusiastic cook who could make souffles and sorbets but sadly lacking in day to day ordinary food, I bought the entire set on my return to Chennai.

A couple of years back I came across The Best of Samaithu Paar in Bangalore with it’s new format and photos. 0f course I had to buy it immediately. Now living in Singapore for the next two years this book is one of those I chose to bring with me from my collection of cookbooks. Meenakshi Ammal sits there proudly sharing shelf space with other must haves like Delia Smith, Mary Berry and Camila Punjabi.

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2012 letter in 2015. Thank you for your kind comments. Glad you enjoyed it.

You must be wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

19. anup - November 20, 2014

that is beauty nice blog please send some tips my email is anup@q8living.com

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Anup —

Sorry to be so late in reverting. It is true that this blog has been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I have shifting everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com. Please do come back — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi


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