Catering company Tasty Kerala serves up authentic South Indian cuisine, including the celebratory Sadya feast similar to Thanksgiving.
Kerala means “coconut” in the Malayalam language, as coconut palms grow abundantly along the Malabar Coast, and coconut is used in almost every dish of the region.
Varghese “George” Vettaparambil is the chef with the help of his wife, Reetha, and daughter, Reshma. They cook in the kitchen of Royal India Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale with prep help from the eatery’s staff.
The couple is from Cochin, known as “the Queen of the Arabian Sea,” and met through an arranged marriage. They came to South Florida seven years ago, when Reetha Vettaparambil got a job through IFAN (Institute for Advanced Nursing) at the University of Miami. Her husband learned to cook from his mother, then became an oil-refinery welder, and when the family moved here, he started catering.
The Sadya feast celebrates Onam, the harvest festival at the end of the monsoon rains. All religions take part in the 10 days of cultural activities with fairs, dances and concerts to celebrate the return of the mythic king Mahabili from the netherworld to visit his beloved people.
You can celebrate with a vegetarian meal served on a banana leaf with special dishes such as kalan (elephant-foot yam and green banana curry) in yogurt and grated coconut seasoned with tarka (curry leaves and mustard seeds sizzled in coconut oil and poured over the dish) and erissery, a mix of mashed pumpkin with red chori beans and ground coconut.
There’s also thoren, a stir-fry dish of shredded cabbage with a coconut-chile-garlic paste, and avail, mixed vegetable curry with coconut. The main dish is sambhar, a spicy dal soup poured over a mound of plump grains of rosematta rice with yogurt-pineapple curry, lemon pickles, cucumber-curd pachadi (salad) and papadam wafers.
Coconut payasam (pudding) scented with cardamom ends the meal sweetly.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer.