Q & A with Kaumudi Marathé, Part 2: Jaggery, Leaf Plates + Why There is No Such Thing as Curry
In part 1 of our interview with her, chef Kaumudi Marathé of The Un-Curry Table pop-up talked about the her journey from Maharashtra to Texas to Los Angeles, the crucial elements of Marathi cuisine and the virtues of the hot oil seasoning technique that is the basis of much Indian cooking. Today, she discusses the healing powers of jaggery, why there's no such thing as curry and the state of Indian cuisine in L.A. Turn the page for the interview, and be sure to check back later for Marathé's recipe for tomato coconut soup.
Stacy Lauren-Kon Chef Kaumudi Marathé serves diners at an Un-Curry Table event.
Squid Ink: Tell us about jaggery, since it's such an uncommon ingredient in the West.
Kaumudi Marathé: Jaggery is unrefined sugar usually sold in lump form. I have recently seen it on cooking shows like "Chopped" as a paste. We buy it in molds shaped like small sandpails. It's sugarcane juice that is expressed, cooked down and poured into these molds until it sets. It's like Mexican piloncillo.
Cane jaggery is what we use in Maharashtra. Palm jaggery is common in the south and east, like in Bengal. You have to remember that until very recently, until post-WWII, white granulated sugar was not common and was expensive, so most people used jaggery at home. That was what desserts and tea were made with.
It's much better for you than sugar because it's not refined. It's got minerals. My father tells me that in the old days when you walked into someone's house on a hot summer day, you would first take off your shoes then they'd give you a lump of jaggery and a glass of water. You'd put the jaggery in your mouth and let it dissolve as you drank the water. It replenishes your electrolytes and eases your thirst.
SI: How did you decide to do a pop-up supper club?
KM: Last January, a friend forwarded me a story about pop-ups in London and New York. I had no desire to do a restaurant because my daughter was younger and I didn't want a 24/7 job. But over the years, whenever I have done an Un-Curry catering gig, people have asked me, "Where is your restaurant?" So when she showed me this, I thought it was the perfect way to share my food.
A few friends who were at loose ends said they might be interested in being involved. [Four of us] partnered up for three months, and on November 6th, we had our opening night at Surfa's in Culver City. Within two weeks of putting out the invite, we were sold out. Then we did a holiday dinner and wine pairing event in Glendale. At the end of the year, the partnership expired and I decided to go it on my own.
SI: What happens at an Un-Curry pop-up?
KM: What we had been doing at the pop-ups was Indian food coursed in a very western way and plated in a French style, taking my Indian food and tweaking it for the western palate. I love giving traditional dishes a new twist. I like serving the bread as a cracker instead of the way it might traditionally be eaten.
For the Jan. 29th event, I decided it would be courses but not courses as you're used to seeing them. It would be courses at a Marathi wedding dinner.
SI: What happens at a Marathi wedding dinner?