We visited Thekkady in Kerala mainly for it's famous spice plantations. The region is also well known for it's Periyar Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the biggest tourist destinations here and definitely worth a visit.
Accessible mainly by water, it is a sprawling, scenic expanse of lakes, dense forests and hills. Elephants, tigers, wild boar, deer, leopards and mountain goats are said to roam free and there are many varieties of exotic birds as well.
We boarded one of the vintage looking, double decker sightseeing boats on a lovely sunny morning and sat right up in front on the top deck to get the best view! Although we were hoping to see some tigers or at least an elephant or two, all we got to see were some deer who had come to the water's edge for a drink.
I guess all the wildlife was napping in the afternoon heat! The boat ride was beautiful and very relaxing, with breathtaking scenery and an enjoyable fresh breeze coming off the water to keep us cool.
Once back on shore, we were followed around by many adorable little monkeys, hoping for a snack handout. And when none was forthcoming, they simply snatched at bags of chips held loosely in careless hands, ripped them open with practiced ease and nibbled happily on all kinds of chips!
Completely unafraid of humans, these monkeys were everywhere, weaving nonchalantly through groups of tourists, lounging in the sun or posing for photographs among the trees!
We had built up quite an appetite after all this boating and were ready for some authentic Kerala food. This is the region where some of the world's best black pepper is grown and it is used quite liberally in the cuisine.
Kerala style pepper roast chicken is a tart, spicy, aromatic and delicious preparation where the flavour of locally grown black pepper really comes through. It is a dry dish where the sauce is cooked off until it is thick, flavourful and clinging to the meat.
I like to use boneless thighs but you can use bone in pieces if you wish. I sometimes fold in finely chopped fresh tomatoes right at the end of cooking, for a change of flavour. If you want the dish to be hotter, add more black pepper!
Serve with Kerala parottas, naan or any flatbread. For a complete Kerala meal, serve along with Tomato Shrimp Masala.
Pepper Roast Chicken
1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 8 - 10), cut into bite sized pieces
4 tbsp oil (preferably coconut), divided
1 tsp each, ground spices, divided: black pepper, turmeric, cumin, coriander
or use 1 tbsp Malabar Masala Powder
Salt to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
1 inch piece ginger, minced or chopped
40 fresh curry leaves, divided
1 fresh red or green chili, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 medium onion, sliced into thin half rings
1 tsp tamarind extract or paste, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water or use 1 tbsp lemon juice and water
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 tbsp slivered fresh curry leaves
1 red or green chili, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 420F. Line a baking tray with parchment.
In large mixing bowl combine chicken, 2 tbsp oil, 1/2 tsp of black pepper, turmeric, cumin and coriander. Add salt to taste, half of the garlic, ginger and curry leaves. Mix well, cover and marinate in refrigerator for 1/2 hour.
To cook chicken, spread it in a single layer on baking tray, scraping up all the marinade over it. Oven roast for 20 min or until lightly browned and crisped.
Warm remaining oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add mustard seeds, let splutter 30 sec. Add remaining garlic, ginger, curry leaves, saute for 1 min. Add onions, saute for 5-7 min until they are softened and lightly browned. Add remaining turmeric, black pepper, cumin and coriander as well as more salt if necessary. Cook 1 min.
Mix in the tamarind extract or lemon juice, water and chicken with all it's juices. Reduce heat to low and cook covered for 12 - 15 min, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be very thick and clingy at this point.
Fold in the fresh coriander, slivered curry leaves and fresh sliced chili, serve.