The Jewish palate: Discovering the Jews of Cochin, India

Spice up your Shabbat meal with an exotic Southern Indian recipe fused with the flavors of our Cochini Cousins.

November 29, 2010 11:25
2 minute read.
A Besni Tavi made from lamb and regional vegetable

311_stew. (photo credit: Yakir Levy)

 “What is Jewish food”, or “What makes food Jewish or not”? Surprisingly there is more than just one answer.  

We all have preconceived ideas about what is Jewish food.  For most of us, it is the food that we grew up with - all of those great family favorites from our past.  Some of these favorites, especially from the Ashkenazi Tradition, have come to epitomize the very essence of Jewish Cuisine. What is more Jewish that Cholent, Kishke, or Gefilte Fish?  Well, if you are Sephardic, the answers are completely different.  And what about the more obscure traditions within the Jewish world?  Is their food any less Jewish? 

One of the more obscure Ethnic Jewish groups is from Cochin, India.  Also known as Malabar Jews, this group has a very rich and ancient heritage.  Following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E, a group of Jews fled to a region in Southern India, where they were welcomed by the Emperor Bhaskara Ravivarman II.  The community lived as a distinct entity and in 379 C.E., the Hindu King Sira Primal issued an edict that the Jews were to live freely, build synagogues, and own property without conditions attached for as long as the world and the moon exist.

The founding of the State of Israel saw a large influx of imigrents from the Cochin Community.  They brought with them their distinct flavors, food traditions and exotic cuisine. 

Here is a recipe to introduce you to the flavors of our Cochini Cousins.  It is from their traditional Sabbath meal or Hamin.  All of the flavors of Southern India blend together to form a truly unique treat. 

Cochini Hamin
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 cups Basmati rice, rinsed
1 tablespoon turmeric
4 cloves
4 green cardamom pods
1 stick Ceylon cinnamon
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup tomato, chopped
½ cup dried apricots, sliced
1 pound carrots, cut into quarters
1 5 pound chicken, cut up
2 cups water
Salt and pepper for flavor

1. Set oven to Sabbath Mode, or use a slow cooker for best results.

2. Heat the oil in a heavy pot, or slow cooker insert.  Add onion and sauté until it just begins to turn golden brown.  Add rice, dried spices, and tomatoes, and sauté for a few minutes.  Add ginger and garlic.  Sauté for 1 minute, and add the chicken and carrots.  Mix to combine and add 1 cup of water along with the apricots.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the liquid is all absorbed.  Stir from time to time. 

3. Add remaining water, season to taste with salt and pepper, cover, and place in slow oven or slow cooker for 16 to 20 hours.

4. When finished, serve the chicken and carrots on top of a bed of rice. 

Any crust that forms on the bottom of the pot should be scraped off and served as well, as this is the best part!

This dish can also be made on a week night by heating the oven to 375 degrees and cooking for 1 hour after initial set up.

The writer is an executive chef, and author of "Beyond the Kitchen Wall."

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