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Ammini RamachandranLet me tell you a little bit about myself - the sort of things friends share over a cup of coffee. I took a rather meandering route to the world of food writing. After spending over two decades in a career in finance, today I spend my time researching, cooking and writing about the cuisine and culture of my home state in India. For the first twenty-five years of my life I knew only one kind of food – the vegetarian cuisine of my home. However, a move to the U.S. with my then graduate student husband opened the door for me to the wonderful world of cooking. Until I came to this country I had never cooked a complete meal. I taught myself to cook by referring to the recipes that my mother sent me every week in her letters. They never mentioned any measurements - a pinch, a handful, and some -were the most prominent adjectives she used. I had to rely on my memory of tastes to get the flavors right.

Encouraged by my early successes in cooking, I submitted my mother’s recipe (with proper measurements of course) for coconut rice to a recipe contest held by Woman’s Day magazine. My joy knew no bounds when I received a letter from Woman’s Day informing that I had won the first prize in the recipe competition. A couple of weeks later the food editor of Providence Journal wanted to interview me. We talked in the kitchen as she watched me make pancakes with a rice and coconut milk batter. Next Wednesday’s food section featured her article along with my pictrure and some of my recipes. Thus began my journey into the world of food writing. My dream to get an American education and pursue a career took me in a different direction for the next several years. But my interest in all things culinary has always kept me close to food.

I was one of the founding members of the University Gourmet Club in Dallas, Texas, in which I remained active during the twelve years I lived there. In New York I continue to attend culinary seminars and take continuing education courses in Food Studies. I am a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Culinary Historians of New York. South Asian Journalists Association and Slow Food USA. My articles Woks, Fishing Nets and Ceramic Jars and Congee: Asia’s Bowl Full of Comfort appeared in Flavor and Fortune, an award-winning magazine about the science and art of Chinese cuisine. I have also contributed recipes and articles to www.leitesculinaria.com, www.ThingsAsian.com and Kumkumam, a Malayalam weekly published in Kerala. My educational qualifications include a diploma in article writing from the School of Careers, Berkshire, England; a BSc. in chemistry and physics from Kerala University, India; and an MBA from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas.

My life in India was a privileged one by Indian standards. I grew up in a large, well-to-do Nayar joint-family. Our household included twenty-one family members as well as two cooks and several servants. Our kitchen was a spacious and special place with its wood burning stoves and wooden racks filled with copper, bronze and soapstone pots and ceramic jars. Like the kitchen of any orthodox Hindu home, it was always spotlessly clean and no one was allowed to enter it without taking a bath first or with shoes on. As children we were not allowed to go further than the doorway to this kitchen.

My childhood recollections are of waking up to the distinct aroma of freshly made decoction coffee that emanated from this kitchen in the morning. Of sitting on the windowsill in the mornings and watching the cook churn a large pot of yogurt to make fresh butter and buttermilk. Of lazy summer afternoons tiptoeing into the kitchen, when no one was there, to pick a handful of sea salt from the uppumarava (wooden salt box) to eat with fresh raw mangoes. Of watching my mother continuously stir paalpaayasam (rice pudding) on festival days, while the cooks hurried around her preparing traditional dishes with fresh vegetables from our farm. And of the many good times that made this kitchen the heart of the home. From this kitchen came some of the amazingly diverse vegetarian dishes that were prepared with seemingly ordinary ingredients. To this day the tastes and aromas that accompanied these simple creations remain vivid in my memory.

My interest in the cooking of central Kerala has been truly kindled during the three decades I have lived away from there. When I learned to prepare dishes from other parts of India from my friends, I realized how different and unique our cuisine is. Exploring the world of international cuisine made me aware of the vague similarities of our cuisine to Mexican cuisine, and to a certain extent even to Italian cuisine.

Recipes for some of the traditional vegetarian dishes of our region still remain only in the memory of an older generation. During my many visits home I have studied this traditional cuisine from native cooks who have lived and cooked in this region their entire lives. I have spent many fascinating hours listening and writing down their verbal culinary histories that go back hundreds of years.

This “Southwest" will always be home to me and its foods are the comfort foods I long for. Through this web site I want to share with you the simple foods and cultural traditions of my community from central Kerala, a community to which I belong.

Welcome to Peppertrail.com

Please come with me through this Peppertrail to my corner of the pepper country, the old kingdom of Kochi, in central Kerala. Black pepper, the most widely used spice in the world, is native to my home state of Kerala, located at the southwestern tip of India.

Centuries ago black pepper attracted many foreign traders to our shores. This long history of foreign trade had considerable impact on our agriculture, cuisine and to a certain extent even on our language. Both the Nayars (hereditary warriors) and the Royalty of Kerala still continue to observe the ceremonial aspects of the ancient matrilineal system. Let me introduce you through my web site to our ancient cultural traditions, fascinating food history and our delicious and simple cuisine.

These are some examples of recipes from the Peppertrail web site:

Koova Varattiyathu - Arrowroot Dessert spiced with Cardamom

Koova Varattiyathu - Arrowroot Savoury spiced with Chilies and Mustard Seeds

Neyypaayasam - Rice Pudding With Brown Sugar And Ghee

Parippu Vada - Deep Fried Spicy Thuvar dal Fritters

Kozi Kari - Spicy Hot Chicken Curry

. . . if you want to know more about Kerala and its cuisine and history then visit Ammini's web site <click here>