Karimeen Pollichathu, a Pearl Spot fish dish cooked in coconut milk and spices within a banana leaf wrapping by grilling or pan-frying, tops the list.
How many times have you felt a craving for a dish you had ordered when you stayed at a resort or a retreat? Very often, the taste of a delicacy or a dish is eaten at some leisure property continues to linger in your memory much after your vacation is over.
That craving-inspiring dish
Niraamaya Retreat’s Backwaters and Beyond at Kumarakom has several such craving-inspiring dishes on its menu. Anish Kumar, the executive chef at the idyllic health retreat in the coastal state of Kerala, swears by the mildly-spiced Pearl Spot fish dish Karimeen Pollichathu.
“You must have sampled many meen (fish) curries in Kerala but Karimeen Pollichathu will stand out as it traps the flavours and aromas of every spice and ingredients used in it within the banana leaf in which the fish is wrapped and pan-fried or grilled. This is one dish a guest at our Kumarakom property should never miss,” he insists.
Karimeen Pollichathu is a fusion of Pearl Spot, spices and coconut milk with a dash of tang that is infused by kokum or lemon. Flavours from each of these ingredients invade your senses and lock its memory forever in your mind to intermittently arouse a craving for it.
Retracing steps for culinary treats
Gourmands, however, have more reasons to retrace their steps back to their culinary experiences at Backwaters and Beyond. Kumar points out that besides Karimeen Pollichathu, the taste of Niraamaya’s speciality dish at its Kumarakon property – Meen Fish Curry – is also likely to appease everyone’s palate.
This signature fish dish, cooked on a simmering flame, is essentially Kerala’s hotly popular meen curry with a twist, where kokum is replaced with raw mango. The introduction of the new ingredient gives it a sour-sweet tinge, slightly cutting down the wholesome sourness of kokum. This lifts the routine Kerala fish dish to an exotic food that can satisfy a gourmet’s fetish for experimental culinary experiences.
Kumar says both the fish dishes are cooked from the fresh catch from Lake Vembanad, on banks of which the Kumarakom property stands. “Pearl Spot, the fish used in the curry, is fresh from Lake Vembanadu. Since we are located on the banks of the lake, we get a fresh catch of fish for our kitchen every morning,” he alludes.
No ugly duckling this
Backwaters and Beyond’s fiery Duck Peralan also adds an impressive punch to its menu. Kumar feels this spiced duck dish soaked in the milky sweetness of coconut entices guests to binge on the retreat’s delicacies and keep returning to get a taste of them again. “Among our coconut specialty, Duck Peralan is very popular among our guests. It is not a curry but the main dish. We cook it by coating the masala on the duck meat,” he reveals.
Kumara is very finicky about the duck he uses for his Peralan. He makes trips to several duck farms around Kumarakom to select the best lot for his dish; “there are lots of farms for fresh ducks around Kumarakom. I go to all of them to get the best ducks for my dish”.
The wellness retreat flaunts a multi-cuisine menu but Kumar informs the food served at its various restaurants is hugely influenced by Syrian Christian cuisine and the ingredients available in the region. Along with fish, duck and other meats, dishes made from vegetables grown in the tropical belt also jostle for space on the menu.
The vegetarian on the menu
The ubiquitous Mappas, so integral in Kerala cooking, have been given a tweak by the innovative chef of Backwaters and Beyond. This coriander-based dish comes in many vegetarian variations and gets swiftly polished off with Appams (pancake made from fermented rice batter) or chapattis by guests at the retreat in Kumarakom. Mappas is very similar to vegetable stews of Kerala. Like stew, they are cooked in coconut milk. But instead of whole spices, in Mappas you throw in powdered spices to add more fire to the dish.
When it comes to ingredients, Niraamaya’s obsession with all stuff organic drives it to painstakingly source organic whole spices and ground them in-house for stronger flavour and aroma. “We don’t get ready-made powdered spice packets. We get our spices to roast and powder them. That way it gives more flavour and is more aromatic,” says Kumar.
The property also has its own little kitchen garden, where tomato, cabbage, brinjal, ladies finger and herbs like lemongrass and mint are grown. For now, these are grown in small quantity but the retreat is looking to expand its organic garden in future.
Quest for the best
To enhance the richness of regional cuisine in his dishes, Kumar says his kitchen team tours Kumarakom villages to hunt for exotic local ingredients and recipes and add them to the ever-growing menu of the wellness retreat. “That is how dishes on our menu get created”.
One of Kumarakom property’s signature snack, Vazhaipoo Vada – a cutlet made from banana flower and Bengal gram – was discovered on one of these exploratory expeditions through a village. It has become a hit with the guest now. But Kumar’s culinary exploration doesn’t end here. His search for dishes from beyond, and the beyond of the beyond, will continue as he scouts for new food ideas to offer exclusive culinary experiences to guests at Niraamaya’s Backwaters and Beyond, Kumarakom.
Try it at home
Karimeen (Pearl Spot) Pollichathu
For marinating and frying
- Pearl spot (Whole): 450gm
- Chilli powder: 3gm
- Turmeric powder: 3gm
- Pepper powder: 3gm
- Lemon juice: 5ml
- Salt to taste
FOR GRAVY MASALA
- Oil: 30ml
- Shallots (chopped): 100gm
- Tomatoes: 75gm
- Green chilies: 5gm
- 2 sprigs curry leaves (chopped)
- Ginger (paste): 30gm
- Chilli powder: 3gm
- Coriander powder: 5gm
- Fenugreek Powder: 2gm
- Fennel Powder: 2gm
- Thick coconut milk: 30ml
- A few drops lemon juice (or tamarind pulp – 1tsp)
- Salt to taste
- Cut and clean the fish; make diagonal slits on them. Make a paste with chilli powder, turmeric powder, pepper powder, salt and lemon juice. Marinate the fish and keep aside for ten minutes. Grill it till half done and keep aside.
- In order to prepare the masala, heat oil in a pan and sauté green chillies, ginger-garlic paste and curry leaves till its raw flavour disappears. Add shallots and sauté till golden brown.
- Make a paste of chilli powder, coriander powder, fenugreek and fennel powder with a little water and sauté it with onions till the oil separates. Now add the tomatoes and cook till it becomes soft. Mix in thick coconut milk.
- If you like it tangy, add kokum or one tsp of lemon juice. Place a layer of this masala on a banana leaf and place the fish over it and spread a second layer. Carefully wrap the leaf and tie it. Place it on a hot grill or hot plate and grill both sides, you may cover it if you desire till it releases a fine aroma.