Sunday, March 30, 2008

1001 Dals

Dal refers to skinned and split pulses (lentils, peas or beans). It also refers to the curries made from cooked pulses. Here, the term is used loosely, to cover all pulses, split or whole. Over 50 types of pulses are cooked in India. These are the main sources of protein for a mostly vegetarian population.

The basic preparation of dal is the same across India. Soak the dal and boil it with a pinch of turmeric. Add flavouring and salt and your dal is ready. Dals like tuvar dal , mung dal and masoor dal are thin and so require no soaking. It is primarily for this reason they are among the most cooked dals. The larger the dal is, the more it needs to soak. Chick peas and Rajma (Kidney beans) need the longest soaking time among dals.

Each region has its own favourite dal. The quick cooking tuvar dal and mung dal are very popular in the south. In Tamilnadu, just plain, unflavoured, boiled tuvar dal is eaten mixed with cooked rice and ghee. Tuvar dal is also cooked into stews like sambar and paruppu kootu.

Tuvar dal is boiled with a variety of vegetables and eaten as the Pappu in Andhra. Change vegetables and you have a whole variety of typical Andhra dals like Nimmakkaya pappu, Dosakkaya pappu, Mamdikkaya pappu etc.,

In Maharashtra, the dal is cooked with kokum / tamarind and is served as the Amti ( Nupur’s version uses buttermilk instead of Kokkum).

Tuvar - ni -dal, made from boiled and spiced Tuvar dal is the most popular dal dish in Gujarat.

Urad dal and chick peas dominate Punjabi cuisine where they are cooked into Maa ki daal or Chole.

Uttaranchal has several innovative ways to cook dals. It is here you'll find dals being roast and ground before being cooked into Chainsooo or bhatwani. It is here you'll see dals soaked and ground up to a coarse paste and then cooked into phanoo.

In the kitchens of the Nawabs in Lucknow, the humble dal was cooked with expensive spices and nuts into Shahi dal and Sultani dal.

The pairing of pulses and grains is India's gift to the culinary world. Something magical happens when dals are paired with rice or rotis - simple dishes turn into comfort foods and leave a warm glow in your heart.

If you have an interesting dal recipe, or notice a bloomer, please leave a comment.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

1001 Iyer Curries

Iyer cuisine arose from the ritualistic, vegetarian cooking practices of Tamil Brahmins from Cauvery delta, chiefly from Tiruchi, Tanjore and Mayavaram of central Tamilnadu.

Traditionally Iyer cooking is done only after a bath and concepts like madi ( avoiding contact with anything not recently cleaned) and pathu (avoiding contact with food served to the diner) are still practiced in many households. The food is served only after it is offered to Gods and ancestors ( or rather to crows ). After the food is served, the males go through an elaborate ritual, worshipping it, sanctifying it, offer it to various Gods and only then start eating it. A brief ritual is also observed at the end of the meal, thanking the Gods.

The most favourite 'curries' of the Iyers are also the most basic, requiring little or no cooking at all. Iyers are known for their love of yogurt , paruppu ( boiled tuvar dal) and ghee. The meal starts with cooked rice consumed with paruppu and ghee and ends with yogurt eaten mixed with rice. In fact Iyer’s undying love for yogurt- rice combo has earned them the name 'Thayir Sadam', which is what most lunchboxes of Iyer children still contain !

Iyer migrations to Kerala, Bengal and Karnataka has led to the development of distinct cuisines in these places. At their core, you'll see that these cuisines follow the Tamil Brahmin style of cooking, with some key ingredients replaced with whatever was available easily in the new lands they settled in. For example, replace sesame oil with coconut oil and Tanjore cuisine moves one step closer to becoming Palghat cuisine.

Typically onions, garlic or spices like fennel, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves are not used in Brahmin cuisine. But unlike the more orthodox Iyengar cuisine, Iyer cuisine tolerates them and you'll occasionally find them being used.

Like most south Indian cuisines, Iyer curries are built on tamarind, lentils, yogurt and coconut. Different combinations of these building blocks give rise to different curry families. Meenakshi Ammal’s ‘Samaithu Par’ is the classic cookbook cataloging Iyer cuisine.

If you spot a bloomer or have traditional Iyer recipes you’d like to be linked here, mail me or leave a comment. Thanks !

Thursday, March 27, 2008

1001 Iyengar Curries

Iyengars believe the kitchen is a temple and what gets cooked there is ambrosia. The simplest of Iyengar curries gets suffixed with 'amudhu (ambrosia).

Think of the Iyengar kitchen as a temple and you’ll understand why orthodox Iyengars will not eat from other kitchens and restrict access to their kitchens. This is why Iyengars prefer total silence in their kitchens and frown upon the usage of onion , garlic or spices like cloves, fennel, cinnamon / bay leaves. (These spices are not used in any temple kitchens).

For more on Iyengar cuisine check out the Yum blog or get Mrs.Kamala Wodeyar’s book.

If you are ever allowed into an Iyengar kitchen, behave as you would in a temple and you'll not go wrong !

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

1001 Poriyals ( Dry vegetable curries )


Poriyals
Dry vegetable curries are an integral part of South Indian cuisine. In South India, the staple food - rice, is eaten with a variety of gravies. Dry curries accompany all these dishes. A variety of vegetables, leafy greens, fresh & dried pulses are cooked into delicious poriyals. The most common cooking technique is braising, where the vegetables are cooked in a covered pan on low heat with minimum water.

The easiest way to cook poriyals is by using boiled vegetables. And the easiest way to boil vegetables is in a microwave. Just cut up a vegetable, sprinkle it with water and microwave it for 2 to 5 minutes in a covered container. You can use one master podi for flavouring all your poriyals. Just mix in the spice mix with boiled veggies and your basic poriyal is ready.

If you cook sambar / kootu / aviyal long enough so that all the water evaporates away, what you have left is nothing but a poriyal. You can think of poriyals as dry sambars / kootus. This is why you can flavor poriyals with exactly the same techniques you use to flavor sambar / kootu / kulambu. Sambar powder , kootu podi, rasam powder, kulambu powder – all can be used to flavor poriyals. Experiment with any of the flavouring techniques listed in the sambar / kulambu / kotu / aviyal cookbooks to flavor poriyals.

To illustrate, if you cook a kulambu long enough so that all water evaporates, you’ll end up with puli kuthi poduthuval. Cook up a sambar long enough to dry it and you have paruppu potta poriyal. Cook up a kootu long enough and you have thenga araichu vita poriyal. In many households, thick kootus / sambars are actually used as poriyals.

Most traditional poriyals are cooked by braising – cooking the vegetables in a covered pan, with a little bit of water. This always takes time and so I’ve called for boiled vegetables in most poriyals listed in the cookbook, except for quick cooking veggies like mushrooms. Stir frying vegetables is sometimes done, with a lot of oil. But this requires constant stirring and takes a while. Andhra cuisine deep fries the vegetables dipped in batter of spicy gram flour and serves them as poriyals. Andhra also has a wide variety of poriyals built on vegetable – boiled pulses mixture.
Kerala uses very simple flavouring – just a drizzle of coconut oil poured over the boiled vegetables and served as mezhugu peratti. Or roasted coconut flakes are mixed in with the boiled veggies to make a thoran.

Like all curries, changing the building blocks gives rise to different classes of poriyals.
Change the base and you have a range of poriyals. Instead of veggies, use spinach and you have varieties of
Keerai poriyal. Use boiled and mashed potato / mashed banana and you have podimas. Use boiled pulses and you have Sundal. Use fresh veggies and soaked mung dal and you have the Kosumalli. Use sprouts and you have sprouted poriyals. Use mushroom and you have mushroom poriyal etc.

Change additives:
Add tamarind and you have
Pulikutthi poduthuval ( Poriyals with tamarind), add steamed, spiced lentils and you have the usili. Add boiled tuvar dal and you have paruppu poriyal and so on.

Change flavouring and you have another class of poriyals like podi potta poriyal, araichu vita poriyal or thalithu kottiyae poriyal.

Though not listed here, change the cooking technique and more poriyals appear. Try baking, grilling, steaming veggies. Experiment with a wide variety of locally available goodies to cookup a range of poriyals.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

1001 Sambars - Lentil Sour stews

Sambar - A Primer
Sambars are probably the tastiest lentil stews on the planet. With the tang of tamarind balanced by lentils and divinely flavoured by sambar powder, a good sambar can be slurped up like a soup. Sambars are uncomplicated curries, easily made when you understand the building blocks. If you have learnt to make sour curries (kulambu), all you need to do is to throw in a handful of mashed, boiled tuvar dal and lo behold, the sour curry becomes a sambar. In fact, sambar is still called Paruppu Kulambu (Sour curry with lentils) in pockets of Tamilnadu.

The word ‘Sambar’ is most likely not a Tamil word. For ages, Kulambu was the traditional Tamil dish and not sambar. The prohibitive price of dal did not permit it to be used in daily cooking. The technique of cooking kulambu with dal was probably learned from the Marathas. Experts say the word ‘Sambar’ has been borrowed from Marathi. Tanjore was under the rule of Marathas in the 17th century. Legend has that Sambaji, son of Sivaji, modified a traditional Maharashtra recipe and created the first sambar. Probably apocryphal, but what is true is that the Marathas had a sambar like dish (the Amti) predating sambar.

The building blocks of a Sambar are the sour lentil base, the flavouring and the goodies added. The sourness comes usually from Tamarind, and flavour from Sambar powder. A wide variety of goodies are simmered in this flavoured broth. Sambars are versatile dishes and whole new families of them can be created by small variations of the basic building blocks.

Vary the souring agent and you have Tomato sambar,
Mango sambar , Coconut milk sambar (which would be divine with some tamarind added, as done here), More Sambar, lemon sambar etc.

Vary the lentil used and you have Pasi paruppu sambar, Iru paruppu sambar, masoor dal sambar etc.

Vary the flavouring and you have podi potta sambar,
araichu vita sambar, pitlai, rasavangi, Gounder sambar, Udupi sambar, Milagu sambar etc
(Tip : Instead of sambar powder, use local spice mixes and you’ll see sambar magically jumping cuisines. For example, mix in a pinch of powdered cinnamon with
Tamil sambar powder and you have the Konkani sambar powder .)

Vary the goodies ( or
use none) and you have Kadamba sambar, paruppu sambar, keerai sambar, paruppu urundai sambar etc., See Miri’s radish sambar.

Like any recipe, as the sambar moved into different regions, it changed form and moulded itself to accommodate local goodies. When it moved into Tanjore from Maharashtra, it dropped kokkum and took on the easier available tamarind as a souring agent.

Various regional variations of sambar exist within Tamilnadu. For example, in Salem, we bump into garlic in sambar. Moving west across Tamilnadu, we have the Gounder sambar which uses a paste of cumin, black pepper , garlic and curry leaves to flavour the sambar. Finely chopped tomato, onion and cilantro is added to the Gounder sambar just before serving.

When sambar moved further west, into Kerala through the Palghat pass, in the cook pots of the migrating Iyers, it morphed to accommodate the easily available coconut and coconut oil. Tamarind trees being uncommon in Kerala, we see Keralite sambars using yogurt, tomato or Kodumpuli as souring agents instead of Tamarind.

4 July 2008 Update : No Kerala sambars are cooked with Kodumpuli argue fellow Kerala bloggers. I'm also unable to find a single vegetarian recipe using this souring agent and it puzzles me - why has this been sidelined in Keralite vegetarian cuisine ? Is it because of its strong association with seafood (so much so that it is called Fish Tamarind ) ? Does anyone know of a vegetarian recipe using Kodumpuli ?


Sambars in Andhra evolved into a thick stew called pappu pulusu ( Lentil - Tamarind ). The technique of cooking vegetables along with tuvar dal characterizes many Andhra sambars.

When sambar moved into Karnataka, Kannadigas found out a way to cook two dishes in one. They let the sambar rest after cooking. It then separates into a thin watery layer and a thick dal-rich bottom layer. They would use the watery top layer as Rasam and the thick bottom layer as sambar - proving the point that rasam is nothing but a clear sambar. Karnataka also gives us the delicious, greenish, Rayar sambar. This is sambar in which dollops of blended cilantro (kothumalli) puree has been added. ( Thanks Hemant, I learnt this first from your post ! )

In Udupi sambar, we find a novel way of using onions. Onions are grilled on a open flame and the charred outer layers are removed. The grilled onion is pureed along with coconut and this paste is added to the sambar to give a unique flavour.

With easy availability of spices, it is not surprising we find cinnamon and clove in Konkani sambars, a combination which would raise the hackles of Tanjore Brahmins. Konkani sambars also substitute the locakky abundant Kokum (
Garcinia Indica / ‘bhirnda‘ or ‘bhinda‘ in Konkani, ‘murugala hannu‘ in Kannada) for tamarind. Moving north to Maharashtra, we bump into the ancestor of Sambar - the Amti. Amti-Bhaat-Bhaji (lentil, rice and vegetable) is the staple diet of Maharashtrians. Amti is very similar to Kannada sambars and like them, uses Cinnamon and cloves for flavouring. Instead of Tamarind, it uses Kokum as a souring agent. ( Thanks Preenu, for correcting me on this )

Further north, we meet another staple, the Tuver-ni-daal (Tuvar dal curry ), one of the pillars of Gujarati diet. This is nothing but sambar with added ginger and green chilli paste. Like the Tamil rasavangis and
pitlais, you’ll find whole peanuts in Tuver – ni- daal.

Prepackaged Sambar powder has greatly simplified sambar making and has guaranteed uniformly flavoured sambar. Like any mass produced spice mix, the easy availability of prepackaged sambar powder is fast killing off many delightful regional spice mixes. Though it is a lot less flavourful than fresh ground spices, readymade sambar powder now dominates sambar preparation, with fresh ground spices being reserved for special occasions.

Use the cookbook to create scores of your own sambars – and let me know if you’d like your recipe included here.

Here’s to Sambars – May it continue to delight !

1001 Kormas

Korma – A primer
Korma, the curry of the Nawabs, is a mild, rich, thick curry. The base is rich and is mildly flavoured by expensive spices.

Originating in the kitchens of Lucknow, the Korma soon spread across the country. In Hyderabad, the mild Mogul korma bumped into the strong spices of the south. It gradually accommodated them, evolving into a spicier version, coming to be called the Kuruma.

North Indian Kormas are built from dairy products ( milk / cream / yogurt). South Indian Kurumas are built from coconut paste / coconut milk. Like any curry using milk products, a korma will split (solids separate) on prolonged cooking or high heat. So it should be cooked gently, over a slow fire, with frequent stirring. This would ensure a creamy curry.

Using boiled vegetables greatly shortens the cooking time and reduces the risk of the korma curdling.

Korma is aristocrat’s curry. The only question you have to ask yourself while cooking a korma is “ Will a Nawab eat this ?” So the spirit of a korma calls for expensive spices and goodies. If you want to use saffron / vanilla bean as flavouring, go right ahead – the Nawabs would be proud of you! Kormas using less expensive goodies like spinach / boiled pulses are not very common. However, a variety of Korma called the Navratan korma using a mixture of nine vegetables is very popular. In fact, if the Kerala Aviyal is flavoured with expensive spices, it could pass off as a Navratan Korma !

Though traditionally eaten with naan, rotis or rice, a korma goes equally well as a sauce with pasta or noodles. Being very mild, it serves an excellent introduction to Indian cuisine. See Param’s Chana Kurma, Divya’s Vegetable kurma, Cook simple’s Cashew Korma, Heidi’s Navratan Korma.

And this one goes to Srivalli's Curry Mela.

Friday, March 21, 2008

1001 Kulambu

Kulambus are one of the easiest curries to make. Dissolve a spoon or two (or even three, as I do) of tamarind paste in a cup of water. Bring it to a boil, add a couple of pinches of sambar powder, a pinch of salt, and a pinch (or two or three) of jaggery. Let it simmer for five minutes and your basic kulambu is ready. Kulambu is nothing but sambar without Tuvar dal – In other words it is just a flavoured sweet and sour stew. In sambars the sourness of tamarind is balanced by the dal. In kulambus we use jaggery to regain this balance.

The defining characteristics of a Kulambu are sourness, sweetness, flavouring and absence of dal.
The sourness comes usually from Tamarind, sweetness from jaggery and flavour from Sambar podi. However, kulambus are so versatile that whole new families can be created by small variations of the basic ingredients. By varying the sourness, flavouring and the goodies added, we can cook up scores of kulambus. The one page cookbook summarises these variations.

Change the souring agent and new families of kulambus appear. Replace tamarind with Tomato and you have Thakkali Kulambu. Use Mango and you have Manga Kulambu. Use yogurt and you have more kulambu and so on. Column 1 lists the types of Kulambus you can cook up by changing the souring agent. See
Divya’s Thakkali Kulambu, Revathy’s More Kulambu.

Change the flavouring style and new classes of Kulambu like Araithu vita Kulambu, Poricha Kulambu etc, spring up. Column 2 summarises these changes. See Amma’s Araichu Vitta Kulambu.

Change goodies used and more kulambus spring up, Use sun dried veggies and you have Vatral kulambu. Use a mix of boiled pulses and you have Kadalai kulambu. Use steamed lentil balls and you get Paruppu urundal kulambu. Column 3 lists these variations. See Sriranjini’s Vatral kulambu, Prema’s Vatral Kulambu, Laksh’s Kadalai Kulambu, Mami’s Paruppu Urundai kulambu.

It took me quite a while to realize that Kulambu is a universal solution, not just a local recipe. For example, Vatral Kulambu is about converting dried goodies into a tasty stew. The genius of this solution is that it is not limited to local vegetables. As it is universal, it can handle any dried foodstuff with ease. Every culture has its own dried foodstuff and almost all of them can be turned into delicious sour stews. Vatral kulambus can gracefully accommodate a huge variety of dried goodies – from the Sangriya, Ker,or Gunda of Rajasthan to the dried shitake / porcini mushrooms or sea weeds of the far east or even the dehydrated fruits / dried meats of the west.

Similarly, feel free to experiment with other goodies by using locally available vegetables, pulses and fruits. See Tamil Cuisine’s Kulambu list

Safe Kulambus
The strong flavouring that Tamil cuisine uses has caused quite a few embarrassing incidents in the kitchens, office and school cafetaria’s of the west. (My brother in law was politely asked to have his lunch in the privacy of his cubicle and my nephew refuses to pack in a traditional lunch, dismissing it with what his friends comment -“ Yucky”. ) This is not demeaning or insulting as it stems from ignorance – it is no different from my grandma turning away in disgust after smelling parmesan cheese.

On the other hand, I’ve had the pleasure of introducing Tamil cuisine to people from all over the world and have watched many go bonkers over it. It is not easy to appreciate a thousand year old cuisine, without putting in a little effort to understand it. For the uninitiated, we need to alter the flavouring and souring agents so as not to cause a ‘cuisine shock’. ‘Strange’ local spices need to be replaced by ‘safe’ spices familiar to your guests.

Red chillies can be replaced by the milder paprika or black pepper, Asafetida by onion- garlic powder, Black mustard by brown mustard, Coriander seeds by cumin and tamarind by tomato/sour cream/ yogurt. Traditional sesame oil can be replaced with oils familiar to your guests. ‘Strange’ vegetables like sundakkai can be avoided. When you have a doubt with your guest’s familiarity with an ingredient, it is usually better to replace it with a safer alternative.

You can however use the original ingredients if you know your guests are familiar with it. For example Tamarind is familiar to people from Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. (In fact, the word Tamarind is an Arab word meaning Tamar – I- hind or Dates of India).

When cooking for newbies to Tamil cuisine, I do the following:

1. Tell my guests exactly what to expect – “I’m cooking up a sweet and sour stew from coconut milk and tamarind” and not “ I’m cooking up a Tamil delicacy – Thengapal Kulambu”.

2. Avoid strong flavourings like asafetida, turmeric, chili powder & sambar powder and use milder alternatives.

3. Let my guests handle the spices, smell them and even taste them. I talk about each of the spices and the reason why it is used. I do the same with vegetables my guests might not have encountered earlier.

Once you’ve let your guests taste a ‘safe’ kulambu, it is easy to let them work their way up to traditional kulambus.

Advanced kulambus for the Bold Cook
Tread with caution. You are entering unchartered territory here !
In this section we'll try out exotic variations, most of which has never before been cooked, for the simple reason that the world was not always a global village.

Sourness
Experiment by using any of the following souring agents.

  • Use a variety of Tamarind pulps - from the very sweet to the very sour. Check out the tamarind varieties in South east asian, African, Latin American and Arab speciality stores.
  • Use the pulp of sour fruits like gooseberries, Elanthai palam etc.,
  • Use few bits of Kokkum ( kodumpuli) soaked in water
  • Use a couple of spoons of a variety of vinegars / wines mixed with a cup of coconut milk.
  • Use a cup of sour cream. Or even soy sauce mixed with coconut milk.

Flavouring
Each cuisine has its own set of spices. In addition to the traditional spices we use for flavouring you can try experimenting with various spices.

Allspice which tastes like a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg can be used in masala kulambus. Vanilla bean can be used for mild kulambus like thengapal kulambu. You can add subtle flavoring by garnishing kulambus with a variety of herbs like rosemary or dill. Or experiment with a variety of European herbs like Marjoram, Oregano, Sage, Tarragon, and Thyme. To be safe, add these added towards end of cooking as delicate herbs lose their flavour on overcooking.

Thickeners
Traditionally only rice flour or gram flour (besan) are used to thicken kulambus. However, you can experiment with a variety of thickeners like Lotus root flour, Sago starch, Arrowroot flour, Okra powder or tapioca flour. Dissolve a pinch of these thickeners in a spoon of water and add it towards the end of cooking.

Sweeteners
Instead of jaggery as a sweetener you can use Panai vellam, karupatti, Brown sugar , molasses, honey, or just about anything sweet. Each will yield you a kulambu with a subtly different taste.

Goodies
Each region has its share of local fresh and dried goodies. Almost all of these can be turned into delicious kulambus. Embark on a voyage of discovery, visit the local markets, buy stuff you have never tasted before and turn them into kulambus never cooked before.

With these innumerable variations you can cook up a different kulambu for every day of your life and still would not have scratched the surface. And that’s the genius of Tamil cuisine!

And this one goes to Srivalli's Curry Mela.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

1001 Traditional Karnataka Curries

Karnataka curries use the same four building blocks as other South Indian curries - Tamarind, Lentils, Coconut and Yogurt. However, it places different emphasis on these blocks and on the spices used.
Karnataka curries use much less chilies than Andhra curries and use more lentils and coconut than Tamil curries.

Unlike other South Indian states, where curries are eaten with cooked rice, Karnataka curries are also eaten with Jowar ( Sorghum / Cholam ) and Ragi ( Finger millet / Kelvaragu) in addition to Rice.

Karnataka cuisine can be broadly split into the North Karnataka cuisine , South Karnataka cuisine and Coastal cuisine.

North Karnataka cuisine has a large overlap with Maharashtrian cuisine. Rice starts giving way to a variety of flatbreads. Coastal Karnataka cuisine is very similar to Kerala cuisine. Like Kerala, coastal Karnataka curries uses coconut oil instead of sesame oil / ground nut oil. South Karnataka cuisine resembles the cuisine of Tamilnadu.

Different regions use different combinations of the basic building blocks. For example, Coorgi curries are generally coconut based, gently spiced, and usually sour.

Like Keralite cuisine. Mangalore curries heavily emphasize the use of coconut and coconut milk. It is here we see the use of colocasia leaves as a vegetable.

Malenadu (mountainous land) spans Shimoga, Chikmagalur, Hassan, Kodagu (Coorg) and parts of South Karnataka. Its cuisine is a blend of Coorgi and Mangalorean cuisines. Speciality vegetables like tender bamboo shoots, turmeric leaves and raw jackfruit are used in their curries. Use of very little oil and steaming are hallmarks of Malenadu cuisine.

In the temples of Karnataka, we see a unique salad, the Kosambari. It is made from soaked green gram mixed with carrots and cucumber and is served as a ‘prasad’.

Like all south Indian curries, most Karnataka curries are flavoured by various combinations of mustard, curry leaves, ginger, garlic and cumin. Saarina Pudi, an equivalent of Sambar powder is widely used to flavour many curries. Use of spices like cinnamon, clove and poppy seeds is much more common in Karnataka curries than in other states. In certain regions, the flavouring is tempered by religious beliefs. For example the use of onions / garlic is frowned upon in the temple town of Udupi.

Let us now take a bird’s eye view of major Karnataka curries.

0.: Dali Thoye ( Plain Lentil curry) Dali Thoye is just boiled lentils( Tuvar dal / Mung dal), usually eaten with hot cooked rice and ghee.

1.: Kolmbo ( Coconut -Lentil Sour curry) Kolmbo can be seen a sambar with a lot of coconut. See Manisha’s kolmbo

2.: Saaru (Thin lentil curry). Saaru is commonly made by mixing tamarind paste with lentil stock (the water in which lentils have been cooked). Saaru can be looked at as a thin version of the Sambar. If you let the sambar sit after cooking, it separates into two layers. The top watery layer can actually be served as Saaru. See Roopas Pepper Saaru with a twist – using milk in place of tuvar dal !

3.: Majjigae Huli is a spiced yogurt curry. In some versions, yogurt is not cooked but is mixed in just before serving. See Mythreyee’s Majjige Huli with winter melon, Rupa’s Majjige Huli.

4.: Gojju is a sweet and sour tamarind curry. It is similar to a tamil Kulambu, but for the fact that it is a lot sweeter. See Tangy Gojju, Okra Gojju

5.: Chutney is a blended , spicy, uncooked coconut curry. A version called the Thambuli is very popular.

6.: Mosaru Baji is a raw yogurt curry, very similar to the north Indian Raita or the Tamil Thayir Pachadi. See 1001 Raitas for recipes.

7.: Huli, a lentil sour curry, is very similar to Sambar. See Masala Magic’s Huli and Huli Podi, with Cinamon, RH’s Lentil Ball Huli

8.: Sagu, a coconut- chili curry, is very similar to the Tamil Kootu. It always has a base of blended coconut and chili and is usually bursting with vegetables. You can even cook a sagu without lentils. Sagu has many versions in which soaked poppy seeds / cinnamon / cilantro / mint / cumin / cloves/ pepper etc are also ground up along with coconut. It is so versatile that I’ll be putting up a 1001 Sagu cookbook soon. See Asha’s Sagu, Vegetable Sagu, Latha’s Sagu with lentils.

9.: Paalya, a dry vegetable curry is similar to the Tamil Poriyal. See Potato Palya, Prashish’s beetroot Palya, Eco Smith’s Squash Palya, Paru’s clusterbeans Palya.

If you notice an error, or have a recipe that needs to be included here, please comment or mail me. Thanks !

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

1001 Traditional Tamilnadu Curries


Tamilnadu has one of world’s oldest, unbroken culinary heritages. It is Tamilnadu which gave the word 'Curry'. In the cook pots of traders, conquerors and workers, Tamil cuisine spread to Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Ceylon, South africa, West Indies etc., having a major impact on their local cuisines.

We can see four distinct cuisines in Tamilnadu.

The pure vegetarian Cauvery delta Brahmin cuisine of Thanjavur and Tiruchy in central Tamilnadu.

The mostly vegetarian, agrarian Kongunad cuisine of western Tamilnadu.

The predominantly non-vegetarian Chettinad trader cuisine of Karaikudi and neighbouring regions and the Muslim cuisine of Tamil speaking Maraikairs, Labbais and Rowtars of South Tamilnadu.


Brahmin Cuisine
The recipes of the bestselling Meenakshi Ammal’s cookbook “Samaithu Paar” exemplify Brahmin cuisine. This pure vegetarian cuisine is built around tamarind, lentils, yogurt and vegetables.

The orthodox Iyengar cuisine is more ritualistic and frowns upon usage of anything more than the very basic spices. It uses no garlic or spices like cinnamon, cloves, fennel etc.

Kongunad Cuisine
Kongunadu includes the western districts of Coimbatore , Erode, Salem, and Karur. In this agrarian and industrial belt, you'll see the use of roasted groundnut paste, shallots( sambar onions) and copra ( dried coconut) in curries. This is where the undisputed rule of rice is challenged by millets (Samai, Thinai) jowar (Cholam), ragi (Kelvragu) and bajra ( Kambu).

Chettinad Cuisine
Chettinad, being one of the driest areas of Tamilnadu is not conducive to agriculture. Unable to farm, its people, the Chettiars, became highly successful traders, reaching far into South east Asia. In direct contrast to Brahmin cuisine, Chettinad cuisine uses meat and exotic spices extensively. Spices like marathi mokku (dried flower pods), anasipoo (star anise) and kalpasi (dried bark) are used in addition to fennel, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, ginger and garlic. This makes their cuisine one of the most aromatic cuisines of India.

Tamil Muslim Cuisine
Tamil Muslim cuisine is a mixture of Tamil Hindu and Muglai cuisine. Though predominantly non vegetarian, it is tempered with Tamil beliefs, and so does not use beef. Tamil Muslim curries are unique in using whole lime pickled in salt, which is mashed up and used as a souring agent.

Chettinad and Muslim cuisines specialize in non-vegetarian curries and are not covered in detail here.

Let us take a look at the major vegetarian curries cooked across Tamilnadu

0.: Kulambu :: Kulambu is a basic sour curry. Take a spoon of tamarind paste ( or two spoons if you likeit sourer) and dissolve it in a cup of water. Add a couple of pinches of sambar powder, salt and a pinch of jaggery/ sugar, bring to a boil and your basic kulambu is ready. Different types of souring agents like tomato, mango, yogurt are used in place of or in addition to tamarind to cook up a large variety of Kulambus. Add vatral ( sun dried vegetables ) to a kulambu and you have Vatral kulambu. Add fresh vegetables and you have puli kulambu. Add a mix of fresh vegetables and you have Kadamba kulambu and so on. Kulambu is thickened by adding a few pinches of rice flour dissolved in water to the boiling curry

Indosungod’s Taro root Kulambu, Manju’s Chettinad Kara Kulambu, Divya’s Mochakka Kulambu , Remya’s Ginger – garlic Kulambu, Menu’s paruppu urundai kulambu.

1.: Sambar:: Add boiled and mashed tuvar dal to a Kulambu and you have Sambar , a lentil sour curry.

Lakshmi’s Sambar with small onions, Peppermill’s Radish Sambar, Aayi’s Sambar, Soundarm’s Two dal sambar, Iyercook’s Spinach sambar, and Vanaja’s unusual Beetroot Sambar.

2.: Rasam, a lentil thin curry, is a watered down version of sambar. (Lazyboy’s rasam : Let the sambar rest after cooking. Use the top watery layer as Rasam). For a regular rasam, mix a bit of tamarind paste in lentil water ( the water in which lentils have been cooked) , add a bit of Rasam powder / sambar powder, simmer for a few minutes and Rasam is ready. Only a few select veggies like tomato and garlic are added to a Rasam.
Garlic- Cumin Rasam, Tomato Paruppu Rasam, Archana’s Tomato garlic Rasam,

3.: Paruppu, the plain lentil curry is nothing but boiled and mashed Tuvar dal / Mung dal. It is eaten mixed with rice and ghee. Being such a simple dish, I could’nt find any model recipes at all !
4.: Kootu , the coconut – cumin curry, is made by simmering vegetables in a paste made from coconut, cumin and green chilies. Vidhya’s Spinach Kootu

5.: Paruppu Kootu Add boiled tuvar dal / mung dal to the Kootu above and you have the Paruppu Kootu ( Coconut – cumin- lentil curry) . See 1001 Kootu for more recipes

6.: Thayir pachadi is nothing but raw yogurt in which various salad vegetables / boiled vegetables are mixed. (Uncooked Yogurt curry). This is very similar to a north Indian raita . In fact, garnish a north Indian Raita with a pinch of fried mustard and curry leaves, and it becomes Thayir Pachadi ! See 1001 Raitas for recipes.

7.: More Kulambu . is a spiced buttermilk curry. A soaked mixture of lentils and spices is blended to a paste with green chili and coconut . This paste is mixed with buttermilk and simmered in to a medium thick curry. (In some versions, buttermilk is not cooked but mixed in just before serving). This is vey similar to the north Indian Kadi. Okra More Kuzhambu, Colocasia More Kuzhambu

8.: Poriyal is a dry vegetable curry made by mixing cooked vegetables with flavouring and spices. A variety of steamed / boiled / stir fried / braised / microwaved vegetables can be mixed with flavouring to create scores of poriyals. (Using precooked vegetables greatly reduces cooking time. B’s Cabbage Poriyal, Beans poriyal, Kalai’s Spinach Poriyal, Kribha’s Colocasia Poriyal, Plantain poriyal

9: Pachadi is a sweet and sour curry made by simmering tamarind paste, green chili, salt and sugar /jaggery with goodies. Think of it as a less sour, more sweet Kulambu, cooked without too much spices. It is usually thickened with rice flour. Okra Pachadi

If you have a recipe for a Tamil curry not listed above, please leave a comment. Thanks !

Monday, March 17, 2008

1001 Kerala curries

Kerala curries can be divided into the meat based Malabar cuisine of North Kerala and the predominantly vegetarian Travancore/ Palghat / Thrissur cuisine of south Kerala. The Non vegetarian curries of the Syrian Christians and Moplah Muslims form the bulk of Malabar cuisine.

Christians fleeing persecution in Syria landed in Kerala in the first century. Their cooking styles mingled with the spices of Kerala creating the unique cuisine of the Syrian Christians. Unlike western cuisine, Syrian Christian curries use coconut oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves, and coconut milk extensively.
Arab traders have been trading with Kerala for centuries. Some stayed back, married local women and became Mappillai (Son-in-law), or Moplah muslims. Their cuisine has more in common with Arab cuisine than with South Indian or Mogul cuisine. Unlike Mogul curries, the moplah curries do not use rich ingredients but rely heavily on spices of the south like coriander powder, chili powder, turmeric and cumin. Like Syrian Christian cuisine, it uses meat extensively.
The meat based Malabar cuisine is not covered here. We’ll instead concentrate on the vegetarian curries of Palakkad, Thrissur and Travancore.

Kerala has been a home to Brahmins since the earliest times. Over time, Brahmins evolved a separate identity, lifestyle and cuisine and came to be called Namboodris. They created some very unique curries with minimal spices. The delicious Olan and Kaalan are Namboodri curries. Namboodri curries prefer the use of pepper over chili. Spartan simplicity and elaborate rituals are a hallmark of Namboodri cuisine. Their feasts (sadhaya) display the rich array of curries they can magically cook up with very few ingredients and with the use of very little spices.

A few centuries later, Tamil Brahmins from Tanjore, Madurai and Tirunelveli migrated to Kerala through the breaks in the mountain chains in the north and south. They created major Brahmin settlements in Palghat, Thrissur and Trivandrum. The Tamil Brahmin cuisine morphed under the influence of Namboodri cuisine and the non availability of key ingredients. Sesame oil and tamarind, used in Tamil Brahmin cuisine were not easily available in Kerala. So they were replaced with coconut oil ,yogurt and Kodumpuli. Over time, these factors lead to the evolution of Kerala Brahmin cuisine.

Kerala curries are built around coconut and yogurt. Unlike other south Indian states, tamarind or lentils play only a marginal role. Coconut meat, coconut milk, and coconut oil are combined with chili, cumin and yogurt to create a variety of lightly spiced, easy to prepare curries. It is in Kerala we see black pepper jostling chili aside in many curries. Unlike the rest of south India, tamarind, cilantro or tomato are not extensively used. Use of raw coconut oil as a garnish, use of Jackfruit seeds and baby jackfruit as vegetables are unique to Kerala curries. All these curries are eaten with hot cooked rice. Unlike the thin, white rice eaten in other South Indian states, fat grained, red rice is preferred in Kerala. Let us now take a bird’s eye view of Kerala’s major curries.

0.: Parippu ( Plain Lentils) Paruppu is a thick curry made from boiled and mashed lentils. It is the simplest curry of them all. Just boil split green gram/ tuvar dal with a pinch of turmeric and parippu is ready. Drizzle with ghee, mix with hot rice and dig in ! Parippu is normally spiced up with a variety of elaborate flavourings. Check the model recipes below for details.
Bharathy’s Spiced up Tuvar dal with Coconut, Ashwita’s Parippu with roasted Mung dal,
Anu’s spiced up Parippu with garlic and onions
.

1.: Olan (Coconut milk curry). Olan is a chunky curry made from coconut milk and flavoured with coconut oil. Boil vegetables, add coconut milk and coconut oil and presto! Olan is ready. Though a variety of vegetables can be used in this lightly spiced curry, ash gourd and black eyed beans are the favourites.
Olan with Coconut milk, Ammupattis Olan sweetened with jaggery ,Sheela’s westernized Olan
Viji’s Olan
, Inji Pennu’s Papaya Olan, Prav’s Zucchini Olan

Simple Olan
Simplicity is a hallmark of Kerala cuisine. So we have versions of Olan which are even simpler and omit coconut milk altogether, relying on the vegetables and coconut oil to provide the flavor. Just boil vegetables (usually ashgourd) in water with a pinch of salt. Cook till done and serve with a dash of coconut oil. Can a curry get any simpler?
Deepa’s olan without coconut milk

2.: Pulingari (Coconut - Tamarind curry) Pulingari is a medium thick sour curry, made from coconut and tamarind. Roast grated coconut, mix in tamarind water and sambar powder, add boiled veggies and pulingari is ready. This is very similar to a Tamil kulambu, but for the addition of coconuts. Instead of Sambar powder, if a masala made from roast and ground tuvar dal, Bengal gram, dhania, red chili, asafetida, fenugreek and coconut is added to Pulingari, we get a variant called Podi pudicha pulingari. Some versions of Pulingari have boiled and mashed tuvar dal mixed in, thus making it almost a sambar. Pulingari can be thickened by adding a couple of pinches of rice flour mixed with water.
Muthu’s pulingari, Vasantha’s Pulingari with tuvar dal, Latha’s pulingari, Pulingari variations

3.: More Koottan / Pulissery (Coconut - cumin - Yogurt Curry) More Koottan or Pulissery is a medium thick curry made from coconut- cumin- green chili - yogurt paste. Take a handful of grated coconut, a couple of pinches of cumin and a green chili. Blend to a smooth paste , mix in boiled vegetables and Pulissery is ready. This is very similar to the More Kulambu of Tamilnadu. Various versions of this curry exist, but all have coconut- cumin- yogurt paste at their base.
Aparna’s Ripe plantain More Kootan, Deepa’s pineapple pulissery, TBC’s pineapple pulissery
Anu & Veena’s Mango Pulissery with garlic
, Chitra’s Pineapple – cucumber pulissery

4.: Erissery (Coconut - cumin curry) Erissery is a thick curry made from vegetables simmered in a coconut- cumin paste. Take a handful of grated coconut and a couple of pinches of cumin. Blend to a smooth paste with a dry red chili. Mix in boiled vegetables and Erissery is ready. Though coconut and cumin paste forms the base for all Eiisserys, various versions exist in which turmeric powder, green chili, garlic, shallots etc are blended along with coconut- cumin. In some versions, chili is replaced by black pepper. Erisseries are normally garnished with grated and roasted coconut.
Nupur’s Butternut squash Erissery, Annita’s Yam & Plantain Erissery, Prav’s Green gram – Plantain Erissery.

5.: Kalan (Coconut – cumin – pepper-yogurt curry) Kalan is a thick curry made from coconut- cumin – pepper - yogurt paste. Blend grated coconut to a paste with cumin, black pepper and a little water. Add yogurt and mix in a boiled vegetable and Kaalan is ready. Kalan is very similar to Aviyal, but usually has a single vegetable in it instead of the medley that Aviyal uses. Unlike the Aviyal, Kalan uses black pepper and not chili.
Sadhaya Kaalan, Kaalan for Oonam
A version of Kalan called Kurukku kalan (literally evaporated Kalan), cooked to last, is made by slowly simmering away the water from the coconut- cumin- pepper – yogurt paste, leaving behind a thick paste. This is then mixed with boiled vegetables. This keeps well for a couple of days without refrigeration or lasts for a month refrigerated (getting tastier as it ages).
Seena’s kurukku Kaalan

6.: Aviyal (Coconut- cumin - chili - yogurt curry) Add more vegetables to a Kaalan, replace black pepper by green chili and you have the Aviyal. Aviyal is a thick curry made from coconut- cumin – chili - yogurt paste. Blend coconut, chili and cumin to a paste, mix in yogurt and boiled vegetables and Aviyal is ready. This is easily the most popular Kerala curry. For detailed recipes and scores of Aviyal variations, see 1001 Aviyals.

7.: Thoran (Dry vegetable curry with coconut - chili) Take half a handful of grated coconut. Blend with a green chili (and optionally a garlic clove) to a coarse paste. Mix with boiled vegetables and Thoran is ready. Though any vegetable or combination of veggies can be used, Thorans made from Green papaya or long string beans (payar) are signature dishes of Kerala.
Nag’s patriotic Beans and Carrot Thoran, Rajitha’s Beans Thoran, Jayashree’s Papaya Thoran
Vini’s Cabbage Thoran
, Jyotsna’s Beetroot Thoran

8.: Mezhukku Peratti (Dry vegetable curry with Coconut oil ) Curries don’t get simpler than this. Boil veggies in water with a few pinches of turmeric, slit green chili and salt, drain water, mix in raw coconut oil and Mezhku peratti is ready. Variations call for different seasonings like fried mustard, lentils etc,.
Recipe for simple Mezhukku Peratti from the Palakkad Iyer forum. Another one from Palakkad recipe hub and Sheela’s plantain Mezhukku Peratti - an unusual, spiced up version with tamarind, brown sugar and surprisingly, peanuts! And this is how new cuisines evolve - by substituting locally available stuff in traditional recipes like Asparagus Mezhukku Veratti.

9.: Mulagootal (Spinach - lentil - coconut curry) Mulagootal is a mild, thick curry, made from spinach , lentils and coconut . Take two handfuls of chopped spinach, half a handful of tuvar dal and half a handful grated coconut. Add a cup of water, two pinches of turmeric powder and pressure cook for 2 whistles and Molagootal is ready. Other versions call for mixing in roast and ground powder of coconut, cumin, urad dal and red chilies.
Aparna’s Molagootal, KPR’s Molagootal, Ammupatti’s Molagootal, Molagootal – with a double twist – using two dals and vegetables.

If you have a traditional Kerala recipe, unlisted here, please comment / mail me (siramki at gmail) to have it included. Thanks !

Sunday, March 16, 2008

1001 traditional Andhra curries


Andhra Pradesh, being one of the largest producers of chilies in the world, is famous for its hot and spicy curries. Like other Southern states, the staple food is rice (the delicious Sona masoori), which is served with a variety of curries built from tamarind, lentils, yogurt, and coconut.

Andhra cuisine can be divided across three regions - The eastern Kosta (Coastal Andhra), the northern Telangana and southern Rayalaseema. Kosta is famous for its fiery tamarind curries and spicy sea food, Telungana for its Mogul influenced cuisine and Rayalaseema for its vegetable curries.

In coastal Andhra, tamarind is much loved and is added to just about anything. It is here you’ll find tamarind eaten raw and even young tamarind leaves being used in curries. Hardened by centuries on a spicy tamarind – chili diet, the coastal cuisine seems to have been immunized against the relatively bland Muslim or Christian cuisines. This is probably why despite its proximity to the center of the Muslim rule, coastal Andhra cuisine shows little signs of Muslim influence. This is why Vijayawada cuisine is so very different from Hyderabadi cuisine.

A lot of similarities can be found in the cuisine of Rayalaseema and the cuisine of Southern Karnataka. This is where you find a roti - the Jonna Roti (made from Sorghum/Jowar/ cholam) challenging rice for a place on the dinner plate.

Telangana is where the mild Mogul cuisine was shocked by the fiery spices of Andhra and gradually morphed into the Hyderabadi cuisine. These curries are very different from regular south Indian curries and are not covered here.

In spite of regional variations, certain curries are so popular, they are cut across regions. A variety of Pachadis (vegetables blended with tamarind, coconut and chilies into a thick sour curry) are eaten throughout Andhra. The chief among them is the Gongura Pachadi (sour spinach blended curry) - a uniquely Andhra curry. See 1001 Blended curries for recipes.

Podis (Roasted lentils powdered with chili) are very popular and are eaten across the state mixed with hot, cooked rice and ghee. Powders like the Kandi Podi (Yellow lentil powder) Papulla Podi ( Roasted gram powder) , Karvepaaku podi (curry leaves powder) are eaten everywhere. See 1001 Podis for recipes.

Eggplant is probably the best loved vegetable, though all other vegetables common to south India are consumed. A specialty vegetable is the Dosakkai - an orange sized, round, yellow variety of cucumber which is not common in other southern states.

Andhra pioneered the cooking of vegetables along with tuvar dal into a thick curry - the Pappu. The delicious Maamidikaaya Pappu, Beerakaaya Pappu and Dosakaaya Paapu are uniquely Andhra curries.

Let us now take a bird's eye view of the curry families cooked across the state.

Majjiga pulusu is a medium thick curry where vegetables are simmered in a spiced yogurt base. This is closely related to the Kadis of North India and More Kulambu of Tamilnadu. As yogurt splits on prolonged cooking, this curry needs to be cooked for as less time as possible, on low heat. Using boiled vegetables would greatly shorten cooking time.
Sailaja's Majjiga Pulusu ( Sailaja’s recipes dominate this cookbook – thanks Sailaja !)

Charu
is a flavoured, thin sour curry, without lentils, simmered with select vegetables ( usually tomato / garlic). A variant called Majjiga Charu is also cooked where buttermilk replaces tamarind water. If the sourness comes from lemon, it is called nimbu charu.
Maha’s rasam
Aruna’s Majjiga charu
Majjigae Charu

By adding boiled and mashed lentils to Charu above , we get Pappu Charu.
Cooking 4 all season’s Ulava Charu – a charu with a twist as the regular tuvar dal is replaced by horse gram.

Pachhi pulusu is thick, sour curry made by mixing raw tamarind paste with boiled and mashed vegetables. Andhra's love affair with tamarind is so strong that it is only here you'll see tamarind eaten raw.
Shivapriya’s Eggplant Pachhi Pulusu

Perugu Pachadi is the uncooked variation of Majjiga Pulusu. Mix in a variety of raw / boiled vegetables with raw yogurt and you have perugu pachadi. Majjigae pulusu is normally yellow due to the use of turmeric, but perugu pachadi is usually white as turmeric is not used.
Vaniram’s Eggplant Perugu Pachadi
Cilantro Perugu Pachadi

Kura is nothing but spiced vegetables. The vegetables used are cooked in numerous ways. They can be boiled, stir fried, deep fried, steamed, baked or braised. In some variations, the spice mix is stuffed inside the vegetables, which are then cooked as in the much loved Gutti Vankaya Kura. ( Stuffed Eggplant Curry).
Sailaja’s Chana Dal Kura

Pappu, as the name suggests is just dal (tuvar dal / mung dal) boiled with a pinch of turmeric. Popular variations have a variety of vegetables boiled along with the dal to cook up a range of vegetable- dal curries like Dosakkaya Pappu, Mamdikkaya pappu etc.
Srivalli's Mamdikkaya Pappu (Mango Dal)
Mudda Pappu (Boiled Tuvar dal)
Daily Meals' Nimmakaya Pappu (Lime Dal)
Luv 2 Cook's Cabbage and Carrot Pappu

Kottu is vegetables cooked in a coconut- cumin curry.
Sailaja’s Sorakaya kootu ( Bottlegourd Curry)

Pulusu is vegetables simmered in a medium thick tamarind curry. Usually a bit of jaggery is added to balance the sourness of tamarind. A few pinches of rice flour / gram flour is normally added to the boiling curry to thicken it.
Thotakoora Pulusu ( Spinach Tamarind curry)
Amar’s Sorakaya pulusu ( Bottlegourd Tamarind Curry)

Pappu pulusu :: Add boiled and mashed tuvar dal to a pulusu and you have the pappu pulusu, very similar to a sambar.
Onion- Tomato pappu Pulusu
Jyothi’s Pappu Pulusu with a twist, using lemon instead of tamarind for sourness.

If you have a traditional Andhra recipe not listed here, please leave a comment or mail me. Thanks !

Saturday, March 15, 2008

1001 Aviyal ( Coconut- Yogurt Curry)


Aviyal ( A as in Apple - vi as in vixen , yal as in algebra ) is a mix of vegetables in a thick, creamy, coconut-cumin-yogurt curry. It is one of Kerala's signature dishes. Like many Kerala recipes, Aviyal proves that a divine recipe need not be complicated, nor use a ton of spices. Unlike many Indian curries, Aviyal needs minimal or no flavouring at all.

Blend a handful of coconut, a pinch of cumin, salt and a green chili to a paste, mix in a cup of yogurt, and a handful of boiled vegetables, and your basic Aviyal is ready.

A variety of souring agents like Tamarind, mango or tomatoes are used in place of or along with yogurt to create a range of Aviyals.

Aviyal can be flavoured with just raw coconut oil and crushed curry leaves. Some varieties of Aviyal call for garlic, shallots, ginger and even cinnamon / cloves.

A mixture of vegetables cut into thick matchsticks are usually used in an Aviyal. Yam, Ash Gourd, Carrots, Beans, Drumsticks and Raw Plantain, Cucumber, Ridge gourd, Bootle gourd and Potatoes are vegetables you would commonly find in traditional Aviyals.

Purists decree that mushy vegetables like brinjal, vegetables that stain like beetroot, or bitter vegetables like bitter gourd should never be used in an aviyal.Or that strong flavourings should be avoided. But you have versions of aviyal using these 'prohibited' vegetables and 'banned' spices.

Aviyals are eaten with Rice or served as a side dish with Adai ( thick savoury pancakes). They make great accompaniments for a variety of flatbreads.

Like any old and much loved dish, Aviyal has its own creation myths. A legend has it that Bheema, one of the Pandavas was employed as a cook during his exile and created the first Aviyal by boiling up piles of vegetables with yogurt and coconut.

Another legend has it that the cooks of Travancore maharaja faced a shortage of vegetables and so decided to mix various vegetables to coverup the shortfall. The king liked it so much that he decreed it to be cooked at every feast. Aviyal still forms a part of Sadhaya - the traditional Kerala feast.

And this one goes to Srivalli's Curry Mela.

Model Recipes

Laksh's Aviyal
Laavanya's raw yogurt Aviyal
Padma's Thick Aviyal
Geetha's Puli Aviyal
Ammupatti's Aviyal
Lulus Aviyal Aviyal thickened by rice flour

Aviyals with a twist :


Aparna's Aviyal
With a double twist - use of just one vegetable, and that too an unuaual one!

Aviyal flavoured with garlic
Anu & Veena's North Kerala Aviyal
Aviyal flavoured by the unusual blend of small onions and curry leaves.

Solai's Kalla Veetu Aviyal

An Aviyal which breaks all rules by using ' forbidden vegetables' and exotic spices

Annitas Aviyal
Another 'forbidden' aviyal - using Zucchini and brinjal, garlic

Maheswari's Egg Aviyal
And finally the unthinkable Aviyal - with boiled eggs !

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

1001 Basic North Indian Curries

The eight states of North India - Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, & its daughter Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh and its daughter Chhattisgarh, cook up a bewildering array of curries. But look beyond the facade and you can see the basic building blocks are all alike. Almost all North Indian curries share the following characteristics.

1. They are built from milk, yogurt, onion - tomato, spinach or lentils.
2. They are mostly flavoured by fried cumin, ginger-garlic and garam masala.
3. They are generally eaten with flatbreads like Chapati.

The key point to remember is that almost all North Indian curries are built on milk, yogurt, onion-tomato, spinach or lentils. You’ll repeatedly encounter various combinations of these basic building blocks in all North Indian curries.

What makes the curry of one state taste different from another is the differing emphasis on the basic blocks. For example, Kashmiris use yogurt in almost all their curries. Parts of Madhya Pradesh like Gwalior and Indore use milk and cream extensively.

Curries across regions use different fats for cooking. Homemade ghee is preferred in Haryana and Mustard oil in Kashmir. Refined vegetable oils are now used across regions.

Each region has it own speciality vegetables. Lotus stalk and karam sag ( a type of spinach) are used in Kashmir curries, turnips in Himachal Pradesh, tinda and ghia ( a sweet gourd) in Haryana curries.

These regional variations makes the curries of these eight northern states look and taste very different. But at their core, they are built from the same five building blocks.

All eight states use almost similar spices for flavouring. However, different regions use different combinations of these basic spices.

Cumin seeds fried in oil is probably the most common flavouring used in all North Indian curries. Almost all recipes start with “Heat oil, add a pinch of cumin”.

The next most common are spices like coriander seeds, cumin, turmeric. Garam masala (a powdered mix of various spices) is the most commonly used readymade spice mix. Asafetida is not used in North Indian cuisine except in Kashmir and in the hills of Uttaranchal. Tamarind is not used as a souring agent. Instead yogurt / tomato / dry mango powder is preferred. Rock salt / Kala namak is used in some curries, which for the uninitiated can cause a cuisine shock with its sulphurous odour.

Food does not respect man made boundaries. This is why there is no clear-cut geographical division between curries of different states. As you move across the land, you’ll see the curries morph and change, reflecting local availability and local beliefs. And this is why it is a fallacy to talk about ‘pure’ or ‘traditional’ recipes. Recipes keep changing all the time and even the most traditional of recipes is cooked differently across regions. Only the basic building blocks remain relatively unchanged over time.

The chief goal of this cookbook is to give you a bird’s eye view of the general principles used to cook up a vast array of North Indian curries. Once you get the big picture, you’ll rarely go wrong in cooking up dozens of local variations. The following are the major curry familes cooked across North India :

Raw yogurt curries (Raita)

Mix anything edible with yogurt, add a pinch of salt and your instant raita is ready. A variety of salad vegetables like onions, tomatoes, cucumber are normally used for raitas. Boiled vegetables like potatoes are also used. Cooked stuff like roast and crushed papad, boondi ( fried gram flour paste) can also be used.
Roopa's Beetroot Raita
Prema's Capsicum Raita
Ruchii's Potato Raita

Blended curries (Chutney)
Blend anything edible with a spoon of lime juice and a chili and you have your instant chutney. A variety of salad vegetables / herbs are normally blended with chilies and lime juice to make spicy chutneys.
Priya's Cilantro Chutney
Vanaja's Mint Chutney
Prav's Tamarind - Date Chutney ( Tamarind is not commonly used in North Indian cuisine, but for the chutneys)
Anita's Mint and Walnut Chutney

Lentil curries (Dal)
Boil and mash lentils , mix in salt , chili powder and flavourings and your basic dal is ready. The humble dal made chiefly from tuvar dal, masoor dal, mung dal and urad dal is a cornerstone of North Indian cuisine. A variety of dried pulses ( mainly chickpeas and Red kidney beans) are also used to cook up numerous curries. Unlike lentils, these larger pulses need to be soaked overnight, drained and cooked for 4 whistles in a pressure cooker before they can be used.

Cauliflower Dal
Mandia's Toor Dal Fry
Meena's Chana Dal Tadka

Spinach curries (Saag)

Boil and mash up spinach, mix in salt and chili powder and you have your basic saag ( spinach puree). A variety of locally available greens are used for creating an array of spinach curries.
Anita's Sarson ka Saag
Mike's Saag
Dhivya's Sarson ka saag
Happy Herbivore's Saag and Red lentils
Freida's Saag Paneer

Dry Vegetable curries (Sukhi subji)

Chop up and boil a vegetable, add salt and chili powder, add a bit of flavouring and your basic dry curry is ready. A large variety of vegetables are cooked up into these dry curries.
Richa's Cauliflower dry curry
Vysh's Green gram dry curry

Yogurt - gram flour Curry ( Kadi)
Mix yogurt and gram flour together, add turmeric powder and some salt, cook for a few minutes and your basic kadi is ready. A variety of vegetables and other goodies are gently simmered in the kadi.
Punjabi Kadi

Dairy based mild, rich curries (Korma)
Mix nut paste with Milk / cream / yogurt , add spices and vegetables, cook for a few minutes and basic kurma is ready. (South Indian kurumas use coconut paste as a base, whereas the North Indian kormas use nut paste).
Navratan Korma ( Not exactly Navratan, but a Korma nevertheless)
Sheela's Vegetable Korma

Model Recipes
If you have a North indian curry recipe and would like to share it, mail me the link ( siramki at gmail) or use the comment form. Thanks !

Monday, March 10, 2008

1001 Thogayal : South Indian Blended Curries

Blended curries : Thuvaiyal / Thogayal / Pachadi / Chutney
A variety of blended curries are eaten all over the South. All these curries can be made in a jiffy. Most require no cooking at all. Just add everything and blend to a paste – and your curry is ready. They do not need any garnish too, though normally a couple of pinches of mustard seeds and curry leaves are fried in a spoon of oil and added. They can be eaten with rice and a variety of Indian breads. They can also be used as dips or spreads.

The sourness of the curry comes usually from Tamarind paste, or lemon. The curry is spiced up by red / green chilies. A variety of herbs / vegetables / pulses/ nuts / leaves are blended to a paste with a souring agent and chilies to make these curries.

Blended curries from sour fruits like gooseberry/ mango do not need an extra souring agent. Salad vegetables like onions, radish, tomato, can be used raw. Vegetables like eggplant, which cannot be eaten raw are cooked and used.

Thuvaiyal, Masiyal, Chutney, and Thayir Pachadi – all belong to the blended curry family. Their names change depending on the souring agent used. Thuvaiyals are made by blending raw / boiled vegetables / roasted pulses with red chili and tamarind. Masiyals / Kotsu are made by blending boiled vegetables with green chilies and lemon juice. Chutneys are made by blending raw vegetables / herbs usually with coconut and green chilies. Normally no souring agents are used for Chutneys. Thayir Pachadis are made by mixing raw / boiled vegetables with seasoned yogurt.

International Thogayals / Pachadis

The equivalents of our Thogayals, called dips, exist in many cuisines. Replace chilies with pepper , add olive oil, garlic and lemon juice to a thogayal and you get a range of 'International Thogayals' .
For example, toasted sesame seeds blended with sesame /olive oil, lemon and salt give the famous Tahini or Ellu Thogaiyal. Mix in boiled and mashed chickpeas with Tahini and you have the famous Hummus. We'd probably call it Chickpea Masiyal. ( It is interesting to note that boiled pulses are not used as a thogayal base in South India).

Instead of chickpeas, mash soaked and boiled Mochai ( fava beans) with lemon, salt, garlic, olive oil and chili and you get the Fava Bean Masiyal or Bigilla - the famous Maltese dip.

Mix in grilled and mashed eggplant and lemon juice to Tahini and you have eggplant masiyal or Baba Ghanoush, another famous Middle eastern dip. Mix in chopped tomatoes and pepper powder to Baba Ghanoush and you have the Greek dip Melitzanosalata .

Our Thayir pachadis minus the flavouring are nothing but Raitas, popular across North India. Mix in olive oil, lemon juice and grated garlic to a raita and you have the famous Greek dip Tzatziki.

Blend roasted peanuts to a paste and you have the eternal favourite Peanut butter. Add chilies and tamarind and it becomes Peanut Thogayal.

The humble mustard when ground to a paste with turmeric , salt and vinegar ( or wine / honey) becomes the delicious mustard dip, so popular in the west. We'd probably call it Kadugu Thogayal.

When you blend Tomato, onions, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, chili and salt together , we have what we would call raw tomato chutney, or Salsa cruda (raw salsa)as it is known in Mexico.

Instead of using raw veggies, stir fry the tomatoes, onion , chili and garlic . Blend it with cilantro, lime juice and salt and you have Tomato chutney or the regular Salsa, a wildly popular dip. If Avacados had been known in India, we'd certainly have had an Avacado Thogayal by pureeing its flesh with salt, pepper and lime juice. But now, we only know it as Guacamole. Another famous Middle eastern dip, Walnut Thogayal or Muhammara is made by blending walnuts, bread crumbs, chili, garlic, lemon juice, salt and olive oil . Chinese have their own pachadis built around Soy sauce, which is their chief souring agent . Soy Ginger sauce is their equivalent of our Ginger Chutney or the famous Allam pachadi. The Chinese and Japanese also add sugar to their version of our pachadis, very much like the Gujaratis do. Most Chinese or Japanese 'pachadis' have a distinct sweet and sour taste.

Thus, the concept of blending nuts / herbs / veggies / fruits, with a souring agent exists in many mature cuisines. Just keep an eye open for them and you'll see them all around you !

Model Recipes

Nilava Allam Pachadi
Latha's Fenugreek leaves Thogayal
Rak's Gongura Thuvaiyal

Srivalli's Goosebery Chutney

Laavanya's Mung Dal Thogayal

Ammani's Onion Thuvaiyal


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Okay, let me start from the very beginning. 1500 crore years ago, with a Big Bang, the Universe is born. It expands dramatically. Hydrogen forms, contracts under gravity and lights up, forming stars. Some stars explode, dusting space with the building blocks of life. These condense into planets, one of which is Earth. Over time, self replicating molecules appear, multiply and become more complex. They create elaborate survival machines (cells, plants, animals). A variety of lifeforms evolve. Soon, humans arise, discover fire, invent language, agriculture and religion. Civilisations rise and fall. Alexander marches into India. Moguls establish an empire. Britain follows. Independence. Partition. Bloodshed. The license raj is in full sway. I'm born. India struggles to find its place. Liberalisation. The Internet arrives! I move from Tirupur to Chennai. Start a company. Expand into Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. Poof! Dot com bust. Funding dries up. Struggle. Retire. Discover the joy of cooking, giving, friendships and the pleasures of a simple life. Life seems less complicated. Pizza Republic, Pita Bite and Bhojan Express bloom !

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