Updated: Nov 21, 2020
"I spent every summer during my childhood at my maternal grandmother's place, and all I remember is her food, and being fed lots and lots of it."
"But after that, my grandmother still said, 'You did not eat much,'" recalled Preetha Iyer, an Advertising Producer and founder of Preetha's Adukkula.
Preetha calls her maternal grandmother her favorite chef. She fondly spoke about various aspects of her grandmother's food, including its traditional authenticity, ties with local Kerala food culture, as well as its resulting taste.
"There was a lot of love attached to her cooking," said Preetha.
Preetha, being a self-confessed workaholic, decided to quit her job as a marketing professional at a firm last December, and made plans to go on a solo trip.
"I took a break a travel. I went to the mountains in Uttarakhand. I went for camping and trekking. It was sort of a journey of self discovery for me. I absolutely loved the natural beauty. I came back refreshed."
Then, shortly after resuming work at a new firm, she decided to start her own food venture.
"The pandemic struck around March, and everyone was home. I had always been into cooking and people always seemed to appreciate my cooking."
Preetha started her venture in August. She called it her "adukkula," which means kitchen in Malayalam.
After speaking to Preetha, it seemed clear to me that she had imbibed so much of her own grandmother’s warmth and ethos when it came to her own methods and style.
For instance, Preetha spoke at length about how we do not tend to find dishes outside the ambit of the usual idly, sambhar, dosa, chutney combination. The same dishes were ubiquitous, and real cooking and local Indian dishes seemed to be largely confined to the kitchens of every home in India.
In that respect, I see Preetha’s Adukkula as Preetha’s beautiful effort to reduce the homogeneity in the Indian menu, and the Indian food business. By opening up her own kitchen, she has allowed people to not only get introduced to, but also to stay connected with, textures, flavors and aromas that, paradoxically, do not seem to be found as easily.
Preetha shared that her favorite places to eat are often the small, roadside motels and dhabas along highways, where she says she finds the most incredible flavors in Indian cooking. Her family is often happy to partake in her food adventures when eating out while travelling by road, even while they sometimes find themselves in the company of truck drivers and auto rickshawallas.
"Their food is purely authentic. It touches your soul."
I asked Preetha what made Kerala's cuisine distinct from cuisines of other states in the South. "Coconut. Almost everything we make has coconut in it which ultimately has the effect of adding subtlety and reducing the spice quotient. It also blends in well with other ingredients."
Preetha is eager to eventually explore the local flavors of Karnataka, to get to know the flavors of her mother’s place of origin, more intimately. Currently, Preetha is centered around food from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, as well as the North.
What is Preetha's favorite food? "Rasam."
"I have grown up to believe in it."
This line struck a chord with me even when Preetha said it. In retrospect, I find that it might be the perfect summary to what Preetha Iyer and her adukkula is: based on a belief that the right food can do something magical for you.
It also illustrates the spirit, soul, energy, and activity that seems to constitute Preetha's personality.
Preetha Iyer is all about adding a warm, human touch, entirely her own, to everything that she does. Her food starts in the personal space of her family home, and only leaves her home with a personalized, handwritten note.
"I always love it when I receive handwritten notes. So I thought that I would do it too."
If that isn’t warmth, then what is? ●
Preetha was kind enough to share two recipes.
Kolhapuri, the Preetha Iyer way; a personal recipe.
Vegetables - potatoes, capsicum, carrots, beans, green peas. Add or substitute vegetables as per your taste. Cut the vegetables into medium sized cubes, and keep aside for later use. For the paste: Onion - 1 Tomato - 2-3 depending on the size Garlic - 5-6 cloves Ginger - 1 small piece Cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, red Kashmiri mirchi, peppercorn, coriander seeds, jeera - as per taste. For added flavor, one can also add fenugreek and fennel. Cashew - 3-4
In a pan, add a little oil and sauté all of the above ingredients sans the vegetables. Once sautéed nicely, grind it into a fine paste in a mixer. Add only up to 5-6 spoons of water, if at all. Keep the paste aside.
Add some oil in a pan. Add jeera and sauté all the medium bite-sized vegetables from before. Add a dash of turmeric, chilli powder, jeera powder, and garam masala, not more than about half to 1.5 tbsp of each. Add a little salt. Add kasuri methi after crushing it. Continue to sauté it all, before keeping it aside.
In a pan, add oil or butter, and then add the paste. Add a pinch of turmeric, and chilli powder if you like spicy, along with jeera powder, garam masala, and/or some kitchen king masala. Let the oil separate from the paste. Add salt. Preetha suggests adding a little curd for a beautiful texture. Finally, add the vegetables, some water and let it cook. Add more curd and/or cream for desired consistency. Crush some kasuri methi and add it along with coriander. Your gravy is ready!
Carrot Thayir Pachadi, a personal recipe from Preetha Iyer.
Grate 1-2 carrots. Chop a small onion into fine pieces.
In a mixer grinder, add 1/2 cup grated coconut, 2-3 green chillies, a small piece of ginger, 3-4 cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp jeera (cumin), 1 tbsp mustard seeds, a pinch of salt and a little water. Grind it to either a fine or a coarse paste, depending on desired consistency. Add this mixture to the grated carrot and add 1/2 to 1 cup yoghurt.
Serve it cold for it to be at its most refreshing best!
Preetha Iyer’s Instagram: @preethasadukkula