I first met Rollo and Ann Varkey at the Fancy Food Show in DC last summer. Among the glut of corporate exhibitors dominating the vast Walter E. Washington Convention Center floor, they represented a handful of real “mom & pop” operations, coming all the way from Pittsboro, North Carolina in hopes of getting national distribution for their line of exceptionally good spices and condiments. One taste and I was an immediate convert. Not only did their glass jars stand out from the increasingly crowded field of factory-produced Indian meals, which came packaged in metallic pouches like military MRE’s, but what was inside them–the spirit of Kerala–provided a refreshing relief from the run-of-the-mill.
For those who don’t know, the state of Kerala is located on the south-west coast of India in a region once known as the Malabar coast, a popular stop on the spice route of antiquity. In addition to such valuable natural resources, Kerala is also known for its bounty of coconuts–the Sanskrit root ‘kera,’ in fact, means coconut–which figure prominently into the local cuisine. Plus, like Sri Lankans, they love their chilies. While there are certainly similarities between our curries, Kerala has a character all its own. It is also strikingly different from much of the north Indian fare popular in America.
Out of everything Indian I sampled at Fancy Food, I found the Varkey’s Kerala Curry line to be the best. I don’t regularly endorse products, but I’ll definitely tip you off when I taste something good. So when I received a couple of new products in the mail recently–Kerala Curry’s Vindaloo Curry Sauce and the Curried Lemon Chutney–I was looking forward to trying them out.
As much as I love to cook, inevitably, there comes a time when I don’t have the time. In these moments, I don’t turn to Kentucky Fried or Dominoes, but my freezer. Usually there’s something good left over that just needs to be heated up. This time, it was Trader Joe’s frozen garlic naan, a good foundation for any curry. I brush it with a little olive oil and stick it in the toaster oven. Meanwhile, I have some chicken breasts thawing. I cut them up, and throw them in a pan with sauteed onions and fresh curry leaves. I add a few chopped green chilies for good measure. The bottle of Vindaloo Curry Sauce that I take out of the cupboard says “hot” all over it, but these things are never really hot. I dip in a finger and take a taste: It is hot! But damn good. Only water, tomatoes, canola oil, onion, vinegar, red chili, salt, coriander, black pepper, Kerala Curry spice, ginger, green chili, mustard seeds, garlic, turmeric. I empty this concoction–reddish, rich and shimmering–over the chicken, and then fill the bottle with water and add that to the pan. A chopped red potato follows as an afterthought. I mix it all up and let it simmer.
Twenty to 30 minutes later the liquid has reduced into a thick gravy, and the smell is divine. I serve some over the hot garlic naan and eat it with some fresh, sliced tomatoes; green chilies; mango chutney; and the curried lemon chutney, which tastes an awful lot like the popular Sri Lankan condiment, lime pickle. Not exactly fast food, but good food fast.
On a good day, I would have probably tried to make that curry from scratch. But it’s good to know that if I’m ever in a bind or just feeling lazy, I still have another bottle of Kerala Curry’s Vindaloo Curry Sauce in the cupboard as well as some Curried Lemon Chutney in the fridge.
For some curry in a hurry, go to: