Kodava Pandi Kari (Coorg Pork Curry)

Kodagu, Coorg, hills, Western Ghats, India
Lush Kodagu

Last month a contingent of friends came to visit from London and we all travelled south to Karnataka for what turned out to be an amazing two weeks of history, unfamiliar flavours, new friends and good times. For part of the trip we stayed in a homestay on a coffee plantation in hilly Kodagu (a.k.a. Coorg when under British rule, and also the Scotland of India despite the heat!) in the Western Ghats where we were spoiled with delicious home cooked Kodava food. Kodava food tends to be pretty meat and fish heavy, which is probably due to the fact that the Kodava people were traditionally warriors and agriculturalists.

The most popular dish from Kodagu, justifiably in my opinion after having tasted it, is Pandi Kari – a rich, dark, spicy pork curry with a hint of sourness. Knowing I’d want to try to recreate it when I was home, I managed to get an initial recipe from our host Leila which I have developed further after a little more eating and online research. Traditionally it would have been made with wild boar that was hunted, but these days people tend to buy pork from their local butcher or market. Common to a lot of other Kodava cuisine one if its primary ingredients is kachumpuli, a dark, thick, tangy vinegar made from Garcinia gummi-gutta, a sour fruit which grows commonly in South India and South East Asia. The distinctive tartness and dark colour of Kodagu’s meat and fish dishes are thanks to the kachumpuli. Outside of Kodagu, it’s pretty hard to find, but it can be substituted with lime juice or a decent malt vinegar – you just won’t get the dark colour.

Other than in Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and the remote North Eastern states, pork curries are relatively rare in India. Of the ones I’ve tried so far (mostly Goan), this is easily my favourite and one that I’m sure I’ll be making on a regular basis.

Kodava Pandi Kari (serves 4-6)

Pandi Kari, Curry, Pork, Karnataka, Coorg, Kodagu
Pandi Kari with rice

1kg boneless pork shoulder (skin removed, but with a little fat)
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder (omit if you want the curry less spicy)
500ml water
sea salt (to taste)
2 tsp kachumpuli (or substitute with 2 tsp lime juice or 3 tsp quality malt vinegar)

Masala paste 1:
1 tsp black peppercorns
6 cloves
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 inch piece cinnamon/cassia
1 tsp black mustard seeds
12 fenugreek seeds
1 small onion
5 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of ginger
15 fresh or dried curry leaves (optional, but recommended)

Masala paste 2:
1 small onion
5 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of ginger
5 green chillies
1½ heaped tsp cumin seeds

NB You can eat pandi kari on the day it’s made, but the taste and consistency are actually better one day later. It can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days and also freezes well.

Cut the pork into 1-1½ inch sized pieces. Mix in the turmeric and chilli powder and keep aside.

Toast all the dry spices for the first masala paste in a pan for a few minutes until fragrant, and then grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder. Chop the onion as finely as you can, crush the garlic, grate the ginger (or do this all in a food processor) and mix in with the dry spices. If you’re using fresh curry leaves, chop them finely and add to the spice/onion mixture. Add this all to the pork and mix well.

To make the second masala paste, chop the onion and chillies as finely as you can, crush the garlic, grate the ginger and coarsely grind the cumin seeds in a pestle and mortar. Mix these all together and keep aside.

Bring 500ml of water to a boil in a heavy based pan. Add the pork and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the pork pieces are no longer pink, add the second masala paste and ½tsp of salt to the pan and stir well. Bring to a simmer again then reduce the heat to minimum, cover and slow cook for one hour.

Uncover the pan after the hour is up, stir and continue to gently simmer uncovered until the liquid has become a thick curry-like sauce – mine took almost another hour!

Once you have the consistency you like, check the seasoning and gradually stir in the kachumpuli/lime juice/malt vinegar until it’s to your taste – I think slightly more sour than you like it is best as it will mellow out by the next day. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool and keep in the fridge until the next day. I’ve read you can keep it at room temperature overnight, but personally I’m not willing to take that risk…

When you’re ready to eat the kari, heat it up and serve with plain white rice or kadumbuttu – coming in the next post.

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