Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts

Chopstick Cinema

This Week's Film: Before the Rains
Cuisine: Indian

Call it kismet, but out of the blue a few weeks ago, my publisher sent me a review copy of an Indian cookbook by Ammini Ramachandran titled Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts. It just so happens that I had already scheduled Before the Rains as my feature film, and amazingly (and unbeknownst to me until now), Ammini Ramachandran’s native homeland of Kerala, the focus of the cookbook, is the setting for the film.

Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts is a one-of-a-kind cookbook, and is as much a personal narrative and cultural history as it is a source of unique ingredients and recipes. The first ninety pages are devoted to Ramachandran’s vivid and detailed recollections of the kitchen in her family home, the feasts that were prepared there, and the holidays and rituals that she joined in celebration throughout her childhood. Together they weave a rich tapestry that forms a backdrop for the enticing recipes that follow.

Because Ramachandran is descended from Hindi royalty, she and her family are devout vegetarians, which is reflected in both the title of the book, and recipes it contains. Her recipes are divided into separate chapters for rice dishes, curries, skillet dishes, chutneys and pickles, accompaniments and sun-dried preserves, puddings, breakfasts and brunches, savory snacks, sweet treats, and festival foods. There is also a section that contains detailed descriptions of all the ingredients, and another that contains sample menus.

And although the recipes are simple and concise, most of them contain out-of-the-mainstream ingredients such as plantains, breadfruit, jackfruit, tamarind, unusual legumes and gourds, the ubiquitous grated coconut, and exotic spices such as ajawan, asafetida, cardamom, curry leaves, and fenugreek. Therefore convenient access to an Indian grocery or a large Asian market is essential. And with all the specialty ingredients required to prepare them, the recipe offerings in Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts may be a little daunting at first. Nonetheless, Ammini Ramachandran invites you to dive right in, and with an intrepid culinary spirit, to experience her beloved Kerala cuisine in your own kitchen.

For further information on Ammini Ramachandran and her cookbook, visit her website at A recipe excerpted from Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts will be posted at the end of the week, along with my Before the Rains film review.

For questions or comments send e-mail to cheiter at thingsasian dot com