It’s the season of kappa, cassava, tapioca, maracheeni or what you will. The starchy root which has become the common man’s staple diet the world over, had its origins in the jungles of Brazil and has a rather delicious history to it. In Kerala, out comes the lore associated with kappa when the root is cut into small chips, boiled and spread out to dry in the searing post-winter heat.
Tapioca is today Kerala’s own food and it looks like the land has had its patent for the root which metamorphosis into a zillion dishes, thanks to the culinary skills of the Malayali. Think Mallu, think kappa and meen curry (fish curry)!
There’s the oft-told story of how the king of Travancore Vysakham Tirunal Maharaja introduced tapioca as a major rice substitute to Keralites. The king who was also a botanist, encouraged its cultivation in the 1860s and popularized its use.
When the great migration to the High Ranges and Malabar began in the early 19th century, people from Central Travancore regions took tapioca with them and introduced it to the local population.
The Malayalam “kappa” got its name in the 1880s when it landed on Kerala shores in 'kappals' (ships) from Europe. It came to be known as a product which came by ship. But it was Vysakham Tirunal’s farsightedness and knowledge of plants that gave kappa an assured future. His royal declaration that the stem of the plant would yield fresh roots worked its magic among the commoners. They realized kappa was not jut edible, but delicious too. Soon tapioca took pride of place in Kerala farming. There appeared several varieties of the root - Mulamoodan, Kaduthuruthi, Malabar, Ayroor vella, Pullad, Kantharipadappan.
To outsmart rodents which took to the roots and starting gnawing them all up, farmers in their ingenuity planted bitter varieties of kappa along with the highly edible ones - the kattan kappa!
The January - February months are ideal for chopping the excess kappa and drying them up. That’s the vaattukappa. Four days of blistering heat is just enough to dry up the kappa. In the good old days, folks used to cut the kappa in rings and dry them under direct sunlight without boiling them. The tapioca thus dried would then be pounded and made into different dishes. This was known as Vellukappa, ideal for the traditional puttu. Tapioca would also be boiled, cut into thin rings or strips and then fried as chips.
Chop 2 kg of kappa into small bits and cook them with the required quantity of water. Drain away the excess water. Now grind half a coconut (scraped), 10 green kantharis, 2 shallots and 3 cloves of garlic along with salt as required. Add curry leaves to the ground coconut mix and blend them well with the cooked tapioca. Kappapuzhukku is ready.