People say, God’s own country is Kerala. I have heard and read about this since years, and I always used to wonder, is it really so beautiful?
But when I reached there, I experienced the bliss myself! With Arabian Sea and a network of rivers, along with a vast stretch of coconut trees, a visit to Kerala is surely invigorating! As a foodie, I was more excited as Kerala is also the land of scrumptious South-Indian dishes, like appam, stew, dosa and Kerala fish curry.
When we reached there, the weather was pleasant. The sun was not so harsh and it was drizzling occasionally. We stayed at Kovalam first, where we went for a backwater boat ride of two hours at Poovar. The serene backwaters and pleasing wild greenery all around were defining tranquillity at its best. AN, whose passion is Wildlife Photography, had a great time clicking some amazing pictures of the birds. Surprisingly, we didn’t come across notorious monkeys!
Sitting by the swaying coconut palms and watching the birds near the gentle backwaters, soothes your senses for sure.
After Poovar, we headed on to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. From Poovar to Kanyakumari, it took us around three hours by road. We went straight to visit the famous Vivekananda Rock Memorial. This memorial to Swami Vivekananda has been built on a pristine rock, where the saint sat on meditation for two days. The peace and positivity that surrounds this place is something unique.
Till our second day of stay in Kovalam, we had already tasted moilee, puttu, appam with vegetable stew and Kerala fish curry. We also savoured the fresh produce from one of the Kerala villages: different kinds of bananas (we tasted the red-peel bananas here) and local grapes.
After Kovalam, we headed towards Kumarokam. Our resort was in a village and we loved this place, as we could feed the fishes and families of turtles right from our balcony! But the unforgettable experience in Kumarokam was the houseboat stay. Our houseboat looked ethnic from outside and was comfortable and modern from inside, with almost all the amenities of a hotel room. The houseboat had a cook too, who cooked amazing Kerala-style dishes for us. The Kerala-style prawn fry and masala fish was just out-of-the-world. I must admit, I have not had such tasty Indian seafood dishes since a long time. We were so pleased by the food that we decided that when the boat stops at Alleppey, we would buy some crabs and large prawns for the evening, so that we have an extra side-dish for dinner, in addition to whatever the cook had planned for us. The dinner was an epic, as the houseboat was parked in wilderness the whole night. We could just see a dimming light from a far-away hut across the river, assuring us that atleast one human being was over there!
Our last stop was the Ashtamudi Lake, which was around four-hour drive from our Kumarokam resort. This place had its own charm too. We chose not to venture out much and just relax there. We stayed at The Club Mahindra Ashtamudi Resort. This is the place where I tasted one of the best bitter-gourd dishes I have known so far. It was served as a part of the lunch buffet and was absolutely delicious, with the surprise factor coming from the fact that the bitter-gourd fry was quite sweet, instead of being bitter. They called it Pavakka Fry, and as I confirmed from the Sous Chef there, this sweet and crispy fry has mustard seeds, curry leaves, little salt, finely sliced onions and bitter gourd crisp-fried and coated with jaggery. The dish tasted awesome with fried cashewnuts and raisins. With this dish they proved that even without using spices, vegetarian food can be outstanding!
I was so impressed by this dish that back home, I wanted to create something on similar lines. I wanted to do a fusion recipe which would remind me of my trip to Kerala everytime I make it. So I settled for making a tart. For making this fusion Indian tart, I swapped the bitter gourd (or karela) for starfruit (also called carambola) and used mustard seeds and curry leaves as my flavouring agents to the oil. Then I added finely sliced starfruit to the oil, but didn’t crisp-fry it: just made it a little softer. I added coconut slivers, cashewnuts and raisins to this too. After that, I sprinkled little salt and poured-in a good amount of date syrup, mixed with a little tamarind paste. I sautéed the starfruit pieces until these were browned a bit. As you might have noticed, I omitted the onions for the starfruit-fry recipe.
My Sweet Starfruit Tart recipe is inspired from Kerala cuisine. Although the sour starfruit is sweetened using date syrup, the tart as a whole is only moderately sweet, as a lot of sour cheese has been used in this recipe.
Soon the tart was ready. While I watched my family enjoying every crackle of it, I was satisfied that my new recipe was a success and I could make a great new snack for my family. It tasted so good that we decided to bake this tart often!
Sweet Starfruit Tart
Starfruit (choose the yellowish ones): 2
Mustard seeds: ¼ tsp
Curry leaves: around 15
Oil: 2 tbsp
Salt: 1.5 tsp
Palm syrup or jaggery: 3 tbsp
Tamarind paste: ¼ tsp
Coconut slivers: few
Cashewnuts: around 6
Refined flour: 150 g
Chilled butter (cut into small cubes): 100 g
Chilled water to bind the dough
Honey (to drizzle): 1 tbsp
Monterey Jack cheese (shredded): 100 g
Cheddar cheese (shredded): 100 g
Few extra curry leaves: to garnish
Slice the starfruit thinly. In a pan, heat oil Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. After a few seconds, add the starfruit pieces, along with ½ tsp salt. Add the coconut slivers, cashewnuts and raisins. Cook until the starfruit, coconut and cashewnuts are slightly browned.
Add the date syrup, mixed with tamarind paste. Cook for 2 minutes. Remove in a bowl. Don’t discard residual liquid, if any.
Make the pastry. For this, mix butter with sifted refined flour and rub it with your fingertips till this mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Season with salt and knead to form a dough. Cover with a cling film and refrigerate for 10 min.
Roll the pastry and line a 6″ circular tart tin. Fill with beans and bake in a preheated oven at 190°C for 15 min. Remove the beans after 15 min and bake for another 15 min. The tart shell should be uniformly browned. Cool at room temperature.
Spread the cheese on the tart. Arrange the starfruit, cashewnuts, raisins and the coconut slivers over it. Sprinkle 1 tsp of the reserved liquid. Bake for 5–7 min, or until the cheese just melts. Garnish with a few curry leaves.
While serving, dot the tart with honey.
Sweet Starfruit Tart
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