Saturday, March 08, 2008

1001 Basic South Indian Curries



South India has one of the world's oldest unbroken vegetarian culinary heritages. The curries of South India, shaped by thousands of years of cooking show a remarkable similarity in the way they are cooked, served and eaten.

Almost all South Indian curries are built on Tamarind, Tuvar dal, Yogurt and Coconut. You’ll repeatedly encounter various combinations of these basic building blocks across regions. Almost all curries are flavoured by fried mustard, curry leaves, and asafetida.

What makes the curry of one state taste different from another is the differing emphasis on the basic blocks, the oils used and the specialty veggies unique to a region.

Andhra curries are normally spicy as they emphasise tamarind and chilies. Karnataka curries use more lentils and coconut than Tamil curries. Kerala curries use tamarind sparingly and rely instead on yogurt / kokkum as a souring agent.

Curries across regions use different oils. Coconut oil is preferred in Kerala, groundnut oil in Andhra, Karnataka and sesame oil in Tamilnadu. Refined vegetable oils are now used across regions.

Each region also has it own specialty vegetables. Jackfruit seeds and Tapioca are used in Kerala curries, Banana stem and Banana flower in Tamilnadu curries, Dosakkai and Gongura (a sour spinach) in Andhra, Bamboo shoots and Colocasia leaves in Karnataka.

These regional variations makes the curries of these four southern states look and taste very different. But at their core, they are built from the same four building blocks - Tamarind, Tuvar dal , Yogurt and Coconut.

We can see 10 distinct families of curries in South India. All the four states have their versions of these major curry families.

Curry families of South India

Dry Vegetable curries ( Poriyal / Kura / Paalya / Kari) Boiled vegetables / pulses / spinach are mixed with flavouring and cooked into dry curries. These dry vegetable curries are served as an accompaniment to all meals.

Model Recipes
Kalai's Spinach Dry Curry : Tamilnadu Style
Suma's Tindora - Coconut dry curry : Andhra Style
Ramya's Bittergourd Dry Curry : Karnataka Style


Sour curries (Kulambu / Pulusu / Huli / Pulissery) Tamarind paste is mixed with water , jaggery and flavoured by Sambar powder. Vegetables are simmered in this broth.

Model Recipes
ISG's Taro root Sour Curry: Tamilnadu style
Indira's Pumpkin Sour curry: Andhra Style


Lentil Sour curries (Sambar / Pappu Pulusu / Pulingari) When you add boiled lentils ( Tuvar dal / Mung dal) to the sour curries above, you have a whole new class of lentil sour curries called Sambar. Vegetables are simmered in this flavoured sour lentil base. This is by far the favourite curry of all South Indians.

Model Recipes
EasyCrafts Mung dal Sambar - Tamil style
Latha's Spinach - Lentil Sour curry- Karnataka Style
Madhu's Spinach Lentil sour curry : Andhra Style
Indira's lentil sour curry with a double variation (mango as a souring agent instead of tamarind and mung dal instead of tuvar dal)

Plain Lentil curries ( Paruppu / Pappu / Thove) This is the simplest curry of them all. Tuvar dal / Mung dal is boiled with a pinch of turmeric and salt and is eaten mixed with rice drizzled with ghee. Most meals usually start with this.

Model Recipes

Dali Thoye - Konkani Lentil curry
Shiva Priya's Andhra Style roast and boiled lentils


Thin Lentil curries (Rasam / Saaru / Chaaru) When lentil stock (the water in which lentils have been boiled) is mixed with tamarind paste( or any other souring agent like tomatoes / lemon) and flavoured by sambar powder or Rasam powder, we get Rasams. These are thin, watery curries. They can be drunk like a soup. The famous mulligatawny soup is a type of Rasam. Only a handful of vegetables like tomato / garlic are traditionally used in Rasams.

Model Recipes
Prabha's Lemon Rasam - Andhra Style
Deepa's Pineapple Rasam
Archana's Tomato Garlic Rasam - Tamilnadu Style
Ramya's Kannada style Rasam with coconut

Coconut - cumin - chili thick curries (Kootu / Erissery) Coconut is blended with cumin , green chilies and water into a paste. Vegetables are simmered in this base. A variety of boiled lentils are often added to this curry.

Model Recipes

Sailu's Bottlegourd Kootu
Aayi's Sour Kootu
Laavanya's Cabbage Kootu

Coconut - cumin - chili- yogurt thick curries ( Aviyal) Coconut is blended with cumin , green chilies and yogurt into a thick paste. A variety of boiled vegetables are mixed with this base and served.

Model Recipes

Praneetha's Aviyal
Ammupatti's Aviyal
Annita's Aviyal with a twist (using mango /tamarind as a souring agent instead of yogurt)


Raw yogurt curries ( Thayir Pachadi / Perugu Pachadi / Mosaru Baji) A variety of raw / cooked vegetables are mixed with yogurt, flavoured by fried mustard and served as Thayir pachadis.

Model Recipes
Vidya's Capsicum raw yogurt curry
Latha's Iyengar style Potato - raw yogurt curry
Andhra style Tomato raw yogurt curry
Seema's Kannada style Beetroot raw yogurt curry


Cooked yogurt curries ( More kulambu / Majjigae Pulusu/ Majigae Huli / Pulingari) Soaked Lentils are blended to a paste with coriander, green chilies and yogurt. A variety of veggies are simmered in this base.

Model Recipes
Veda's Iyengar style Yogurt curry
Priya's Andhra Style Yogurt curry
Prabha's Karnataka style pumpkin yogurt curry

These are the major families of curries you’ll encounter in different forms throughout south India. They might look and taste different, have different vegetables, might be flavoured with different spice mixes or use different oils, but at the core, they are all alike - just a simple combination of the four building blocks.

5 comments:

Ramya's Mane Adige said...

hey! You have a nice collection of recipes here. Thanx for letting me know that you blogged about my recipe, but I do not see it here... Could you please send me the exact link? thanx again

Ramki said...

Hi Ramya,
Thanks. I've listed your recipe under Dry Vegetable curries as a model for Karataka style dry curries.

Praneetha Raghava said...

Thank you Ramki for selecting my recipe. I can give you more Andhra Dishes if you want. Your collection of recipes is great.

masalamagic said...

Good post Ramki! Loved the way you've described and the easy access links.. Thanks for sharing my link too!
Are u the same Ramki who R2Ied back to India?

Ramki said...

Hi Latha,
Thanks. Yes, I'm Ramki, R2ied and now in India, but am not sure if I'm the one you mean :)

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