Parangikkai Poriyal| Butternut Squash Curry, Tamilnadu Style

Here’s presenting to you Parangikkai Poriyal, curry made Tamilnadu style using butternut squash.

It is not often that I come across butternut squash in a vegetable shop, here in Bangalore. When I do find it, I make sure I grab it. 🙂 That’s just what I did when I recently found a row of butternut squash sitting pretty on the shelves at Namdhari’s Fresh – I brought one home.

Say hello to the butternut squash!

The butternut squash that came home with me!

For the uninitiated, butternut squash is a type of pumpkin with red flesh, not unlike the parangikkai that is commonly available in Tamilnadu. With a shape like an hourglass and tough outer skin, the butternut squash is a winter-special vegetable. I find it easier to peel, chop and cook with than parangikkai, and the flesh is a bit more sweet too.

Butternut squash is, perhaps, the best known of all fall produce. There are numerous dishes made using the veggie in the UK and the USA, including soups, curry and baked goodies. It is also often eaten grilled. I, however, used it to make a very Tamilian poriyal. I made it the same way we make Parangikkai Poriyal, but using butternut squash, and it turned out finger-lickingly delicious.

Parangikkai Poriyal, or Tamilnadu style curry made using butternut squash

How to peel and chop butternut squash

Considering its hard exterior, peeling and chopping butternut squash might seem like a daunting task. However, there is no need to feel intimidated. Like I was saying earlier, butternut squash is more easy to work with than the regular red pumpkin. All you need is a good-quality knife and a sharp peeler.

Here’s how you go about it:

1. Remove the top of the butternut squash, with the green stem. Similarly, chop off the stub at the bottom too.

2. Use a sharp peeler to get all the skin off the butternut squash. Make sure you remove any greenish rind that might remain. The orange-red flesh of the butternut squash should be exposed.

3. Cut the peeled butternut squash into equal halves, length-wise. Cut the squash from top to bottom, right in the centre.

4. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and all the stringy bits from the cavity inside one half of the squash first. Repeat this process for the other half too.

5. Discard the scooped-out seeds and stringy bits.

6. Cut up the butternut squash halves into smaller parts. Then, proceed to cut them into cubes – as big or small as you require. Here, I have cut the squash into cubes that are about 1/2″ in length and breadth.

How to make poriyal using butternut squash

The detailed recipe follows. This is my family recipe for Parangikkai Poriyal – I made it the same way using butternut squash.

This is a vegetarian curry, suitable for those following a vegan or plant-based. It is also a Sattvik dish, prepared using minimal ingredients, no onion or garlic included. This curry can easily be made gluten-free by just omitting the asafoetida used in the tempering here – this is because most asafoetida brands in India include wheat flour. If you are able to get hold of asafoetida that is free of wheat flour – and hence, gluten-free – it can be used without any worries.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  1. 1 medium-sized butternut squash
  2. 1/2 tablespoon oil
  3. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  4. 2 pinches of asafoetida
  5. 3-4 dry red chillies
  6. 1 sprig of fresh curry leaves
  7. Salt to taste
  8. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  9. 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder or to taste
  10. 1/2 tablespoon sugar or jaggery powder or to taste
  11. 1/3 cup fresh grated coconut

Method:

1. Peel the butternut squash. Remove the seeds and strings within and discard. Chop the squash into cubes.

2. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in mustard seeds and allow them to pop. Add in asafoetida, curry leaves and dry red chillies. Let them stay in for a couple of seconds.

3. Add in the cubed butternut squash, along with a little water, salt and turmeric. Mix well.

4. Reduce flame to medium. Cover and cook on medium flame for about 2 minutes or till the squash is tender.

5. Add in red chilli powder and sugar or jaggery powder. Mix well. If the water has dried up, add in a bit more. Mix well.

6. Cover and cook for 1-2 minutes on medium flame, or till the butternut squash is cooked through. Switch off gas.

7. Mix in the fresh grated coconut. Your Butternut Squash Curry is ready to serve! Serve it at room temperature as a side to rice with rasam/sambar. I like having it with phulkas and plain parathas too.

Tips for cooking

1. I came across butternut squash at Namdhari’s Fresh, and used it to make this poriyal. You may use regular red pumpkin instead, too.

2. Sesame seed oil (nalla ennai) or coconut oil works best in the making of this Butternut Squash Curry.

3. Adjust the quantity of coconut you use, as per personal taste preferences.

4. Slit green chillies can be added in too, while tempering.

5. You can keep the curry really simple and skip the red chilli powder altogether. It will still be very flavourful. I prefer adding just a dash of red chilli powder.

6. Finely chopped fresh coriander can be added to the Parangikkai Poriyal, at the end.

7. If the butternut squash or red pumpkin you are using is very sweet, you may skip the sugar or jaggery powder altogether. We like it with a bit of jaggery.

8. Make sure the butternut squash or pumpkin is not cooked to a mash. It should be cooked just enough, not overdone.

Did you like the recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

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Paruppu Thogayal| Tamilnadu Style Lentil Chutney

#KhaaliFridge? What’ll you cook?

What do you do when you need to serve a meal to your family (or guests), but realise that you have run out of vegetables completely? Eat out, Swiggy or Zomato food, use some ready-to-cook mixes, or cook something simple that doesn’t call for any vegetables (or meat, in case of non-vegetarians)?

The first three options are palatable in today’s age, but that wasn’t always the case. In the lives and times of our grandparents, I’m sure there were often times when there would be no vegetables at hand, and a tasty meal still had to be cooked and served. Sun-dried fruits and vegetables, lentils and legumes of different types would take centre stage at such times.

Tamilnadu’s heritage ‘budget’ recipes

Tamilnadu has a whole host of such traditional dishes which can be made without any veggies – I call them ‘budget recipes’, as they were often resorted to when finances were tight, often towards the end of the month – and one could not afford to splurge on fresh vegetables. Mananthakali Vattalkozhambu (a tangy dish made using dried nightshade berries and tamarind), Paruppu Thogayal (a chutney made using lentils), Puli Pongal (a sort of rice dish soured with tamarind), Milagu Kozhambu (a tangy-spicy gravy made using black peppercorns) and Vepampoo Rasam (rasam made with dried neem flowers) are some examples of such dishes. These might be dishes typically cooked with a budget constraint, but they are far from bland or boring. In fact, they are outright delicious!

Introducing Paruppu Thogayal, Tamilnadu style lentil chutney

Today, I present to you our family recipe for Paruppu Thogayal, lentil chutney made Tam-Brahm style. Toor dal forms the base for this chutney, dried red chillies providing the spice factor, with a bit of tamarind added in for sourness. Sometimes – I think when there was a coconut tree in the backyard 😛 – there would be some fresh grated coconut added to the thogayal for flavour. This is such an easy thing to make, one requiring minimal ingredients, but very delicious, like I was saying earlier.

The simple thing that it is, Paruppu Thogayal is a hugely comforting dish. When served with some steamed rice and Milagu Kozhambu or Vattalkozhambu, drizzled with some sesame oil, it makes for a complete, fulfilling meal, all of it made using only ingredients from one’s pantry, with zero fresh vegetables in the picture. Quite innovative our ancestors were! This is actually a detox meal, light on the tummy, a refreshing change from the usual.

This Paruppu Thogayal is completely gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan too. It is packed with protein too, considering it is made using toor dal. You could call this a Sattvik dish too, as it is made (usually) without any onion or garlic, and is a simplistic thing using the most basic of ingredients.

The Foodie Monday Blog Hop group explores #KhaaliFridge

I’m sharing this recipe with the Foodie Monday Blog Hop group that I’m part of, on Facebook. Renu of Cook With Renu suggested an interesting theme for the group this week – #KhaaliFridge. On her blog, Renu has a fantastic collection of healthy dishes and baked goodies from around the world. You must check it out! I so want to try her Sprouted Horsegram Salad, Sweet Mango Chilli Sauce and Tandoori Paneer Biryani!

This week, all of us in the Foodie Monday Blog Hop group will be showcasing recipes made using only ingredients from one’s pantry, food that one would make when they are face-to-face with a refrigerator that is completely empty. I loved the theme; it made me revisit so many traditional Tamilnadu ‘budget’ recipes. Allow me the liberty of saying this again – our ancestors were definitely very wise, and very creative to have come up with so many delicious, beautiful dishes when their circumstances were, probably, not all that great!

Traditional Paruppu Thogayal recipe

Here’s how we make the Paruppu Thogayal at home.

Ingredients (serves 5-6):

  1. 1/2 cup toor dal
  2. 2 Salem Gundu dry red chillies
  3. 1 Bydagi dry red chilli
  4. 1 tablespoon fresh grated coconut
  5. 1 teaspoon oil
  6. Salt to taste
  7. A small piece of tamarind

Method:

1. Soak the tamarind in a little hot water, for at least 10 minutes. This will make the tamarind softer.

2. Heat the oil in a pan. Add in the toor dal, the Bydagi chilli and the Salem Gundu chillies. Turn the flame down to medium. Saute till the toor dal begins to turn brown, taking care to ensure that the ingredients do not burn.

3. Add the grated coconut to the pan. Saute all the ingredients together for about a minute, on medium flame. Switch off gas. Transfer the sauteed ingredients to a plate and allow them to cool down fully.

4. When the sauteed ingredients have cooled down entirely, transfer them to a small mixer jar. Add in salt to taste and the softened tamarind, along with the little water it was soaked in.

5. Grind the ingredients in the mixer jar together, to a smooth chutney. You may keep the chutney a little coarse, if you prefer it that way. Your Paruppu Thogayal is ready – serve it with hot steamed rice with a dollop of ghee, or as an accompaniment to rice and Vattalkozhambu or Milagu Kozhambu.

Notes:

1. In some families, a mix of chana dal and toor dal is used to make this Paruppu Thogayal. We use only toor dal.

2. Some people add in black peppercorns while making this chutney. We don’t.

3. Garlic cloves are also added in by some, while making this Paruppu Thogayal. We don’t use them.

4. Adjust the quantity of dry red chillies as per personal taste preferences. We typically use a mix of the spicy Salem Gundu dry red chillies and the less hot Bydagi dry red chillies.

5. Some families completely omit the tamarind in Paruppu Thogayal or add a very minimal amount. This is because the thogayal is traditionally served as an accompaniment to Vattalkozhambu or Milagu Kozhambu, which are spicy and sour already. I add tamarind to taste, because we consume this thogayal with idlis, dosas and plain steamed rice too.

6. If the tamarind you are using has seeds or impurities, make sure you remove them before using them in making the thogayal.

7. Sesame oil aka nalla ennai works best in this Paruppu Thogayal.

8. Do not add much water while grinding the chutney. The Paruppu Thogayal is supposed to be quite thick, unlike other regular chutneys. It is typically made into a ball and then served, as in the picture above. If you find it hard to grind the chutney using just the water from soaking the tamarind, you can add in a couple of spoons of water – remember not to add too much.

9. Some families omit the coconut, while making Paruppu Thogayal. We do use it.

10. Traditional Paruppu Thogayal does not have any mustard seed-curry leaf tempering added in.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

Lemon Coriander Soup With Vegetables

I found the most fragrant of lemons at my vegetable vendor’s, recently. You know, those big lemons that are zested and used in desserts on cookery shows? They look imported – American? Italian? My vendor has no idea. I bought one to try out, and then I had to go back and pick up a few more, because they were so very aromatic and juicy! These lemons are a far cry from the dried-up, wrapped-in-plastic imported ones that we frequently come across in the supermarkets of Bangalore. They provided me with the perfect foil to prepare Lemon Coriander Soup, something I had always wanted to do.

I absolutely adore Lemon Coriander Soup, the citrus-y tang, the fragrance of coriander, the almost clear texture. I’m a sucker for anything with citrus in it, and this soup has my heart. It is my first preference of soup while we are eating out. I never ventured to make it at home, though. So, I was thrilled when I came across this recipe for Lemon Coriander Soup with vegetables on Sasmita’s blog First Timer Cook. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect – it is soup season in Bangalore now, and I had all the ingredients for it ready, gorgeous lemons included. I made the soup over the weekend, with some little variations to the original recipe, and was it lovely or what?! It turned out to be utterly delicious, beautifully scented with lemon and coriander, just like the ones we have at restaurants. It was so very simple to prepare too!

This post is brought to you in association with the Recipe Swap group that I am part of, on Facebook. Every alternate month, the members of this group pair up, and cook from each other’s blogs. I was paired with Sasmita for this month’s challenge, and was asked to prepare any recipe from her blog. While Sasmita’s blog has loads of traditional Oriya recipes and several beautiful bakes, this Lemon Coriander Soup was the obvious choice for me!

Here’s how I made the Lemon Coriander Soup with vegetables. Do try it out too, and share your feedback.

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

  1. 4 cups + 2 tablespoons water
  2. 2 handfuls fresh coriander leaves, with stalks
  3. 1 green chilli
  4. 4-5 strands of lemongrass
  5. 1 teaspoon oil
  6. A 2-inch piece of carrot
  7. 4 garlic cloves
  8. 1 big piece of babycorn or 1 tablespoon sweet corn kernels
  9. A small piece of cabbage
  10. Salt to taste
  11. 1/4 teaspoon black pepper powder or to taste (optional)
  12. 1/2 tablespoon cornflour
  13. Juice of 1 lemon or to taste
  14. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander or as needed, for garnishing

Method:

1. Chop up the 2 handfuls of coriander leaves, along with their stalks, roughly. Chop the green chilli and the lemongrass stalks roughly too.

2. Take the 4 cups of water in a heavy-bottomed pan, and place it on high flame. Add in the roughly chopped coriander leaves and stalks, green chilli and lemongrass strands. Let the water come to a boil, then turn the flame down to medium. Allow to cook on medium flame for 4-5 minutes. Switch off gas. This will form the stock for the Lemon Coriander Soup.

3. Now, we will prepare the vegetables needed for the soup. Peel the garlic cloves and carrot, and chop finely. Chop the babycorn and cabbage finely.

4. Take the cornflour in a small cup. Add in the 2 tablespoons of water. Make a slurry, without any lumps.

5. Strain the stock we prepared earlier, using a colander. Discard the chilli, coriander and lemongrass. Reserve the stock.

6. Heat the oil in a pan. Add in the finely chopped garlic, carrot, babycorn or sweetcorn kernels and cabbage. Drizzle some salt. Saute on medium flame till the veggies are cooked through but are not overly mushy. They should retain a bit of a crunch. Sprinkle a little water over the veggies if they get too dry.

7. When the vegetables are cooked, pour the strained stock into the pan. Add in salt to taste, black pepper powder (if using), and the cornflour slurry we prepared earlier. Mix well. Cook on medium flame till the soup thickens a little, about 2 minutes.

8. Taste and adjust salt and seasonings. Add more water if required. Switch off gas.

9. Mix in the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander. Serve the Lemon Coriander Soup immediately.

Notes:

1. You may skip the vegetables, if you so prefer. In that case, just prepare the coriander-chilli-lemongrass stock, add the cornflour slurry, allow to thicken, then switch off gas and add lemon juice and finely chopped fresh coriander.

2. Use a neutral oil like olive oil or refined oil to make the Lemon Coriander Soup.

3. If you feel the heat from the green chilli is enough, you can skip the black pepper powder entirely.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

Home-Made Red Chilli Sauce| How To Make Hot Sauce At Home

I discovered beautiful red Fresno chillies at a Namdhari’s Fresh outlet near my house, recently, and life hasn’t been the same ever since. I haven’t stopped admiring these beauties, and have bought them over and over again. The best part? These chillies have inspired me to start making sauces at home. I have made several batches of different types already and, in the process, discovered the yummiest of home-made red chilli sauce!

Red Fresno chillies. Ain’t they super pretty?!

The beginnings of my home-made sauce story

Growing up, I used to love adding tomato ketchup to just about everything. Roti, adai, dosa, pulav, sandwiches, parathas, bhel, pizza, chips – just about everything would undergo a generous dousing of tomato ketchup, store-bought. One of those weird phases that teenagers go through. Dad loved ketchup too – he still does – and, in between the two of us, we would manage to empty a considerable number of bottles every month. Then, one day, my mom got alarmed by just how many bottles of ketchup we were going through, just how much sodium, sugar, preservatives and what not we were downloading into our systems. So, the hunt started for a good home-made tomato ketchup recipe, which she ended up finding on some cookery show on TV, I think. Amma began making vats of ketchup at home using real ingredients – pretty good stuff, you know? It was an eye-opener of sorts for the entire family. We continued making ketchup and different types of sauces through the course of my school life, but then gave up due to the sheer convenience of store-bought versions. I grew out of my ‘ketchup monster’ phase, and then we began buying the few bottles we would consume. However, I remained, always, in awe of the process of making sauce at home. When I spotted these chillies at Namdhari’s, I just had to go ahead and pick them up and do something with them, and sauce it had to be!

Home-made sauce vs. store-bought versions

I believe it is possible to make at least a few basic sauces at home very easily. Most of them don’t need many ingredients or call for complicated cooking techniques. They do require effort, yes, more effort than that required to pop a bottle of ready-made sauce into your supermarket cart or ordering one online. That said, they are still not all that difficult to prepare. It is incredibly satiating to make home-made sauces too, to use real ingredients to fill up those bottles, to know exactly what is going into them. The only downside is that these sauces need to be used up within a short timeframe, considering they are made without any preservatives. Having experienced the high of home-made red chilli sauce, I can only say you need to try out this amazing, enriching, enlightening experience for yourself.

I have used white vinegar in the hot sauce I made, but no artificial colours or preservatives other than that. I have used way less salt and sugar than most store-bought bottles contain, and it still tastes absolutely, mind-blowingly delicious. The gorgeous red colour of the sauce is all natural – from the chillies!

The chillies cost me just INR 32 per box of 250 grams, and that was enough to make one batch of sauce, with the rest of the ingredients coming from my pantry. I didn’t calculate the exact cost for each of the batches of sauce I made, but I do know that it was soooo much less than what a similar quantity would have cost me had I picked it up off a departmental store shelf.

Home-made red chilli sauce or hot sauce. Just look at that gorgeous red, will you?

What are Fresno chillies?

Fresno chillies look similar to fresh jalapenos, but have thinner walls. They are moderately spicy chillies, which possess a slight fruity taste. This makes Fresno chillies perfect for making hot sauce. When pickled, these chillies go beautifully in pizza, sandwiches and burgers.

I have used red Fresno chillies to make this hot sauce, but you can easily substitute them with jalapenos or Serrano peppers.

How to make hot sauce at home

Here is how I went about making the hot sauce or red chilli sauce at home.

Ingredients (yields about 1 cup):

  1. 250 grams red Fresno chillies, about 1 heaped cup when chopped roughly
  2. 1 medium-sized onion, roughly
  3. 6-8 cloves of garlic
  4. 1 teaspoon oil
  5. Salt to taste, about 1/2 tablespoon
  6. Sugar to taste, 2 tablespoons
  7. 1/8 cup white vinegar or to taste

Method:

1. Wash the Fresno chillies well under running water. Pat dry, using a cotton cloth. Remove the green tops from the Fresno chillies. Chop them up roughly, seeds, membrane, et al. Keep aside.

2. Peel the onion. Slice length-wise. Keep aside.

3. Peel the garlic cloves and chop roughly. Keep aside.

4. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the chopped garlic, onion and chillies. Add a little salt. Mix well.

5. Cook on medium flame for 2-3 minutes. Stir intermittently, to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan.

6. Now, add in the sugar and salt to taste. Cook on medium flame for 2-3 more minutes or till the ingredients turn soft. You don’t have to cook the ingredients to a mush – just make sure they are cooked through. Switch off gas and allow the ingredients to cool down fully.

7. When the ingredients have completely cooled down, transfer to a mixer jar. Add in the vinegar. Grind to a smooth paste. Your Home-Made Red Chilli Sauce is done!

8. Allow the sauce to cool fully after the grinding, then transfer to a clean, dry, air-tight bottle. Store refrigerated.

Notes:

1. I have used red Fresno chillies to make this sauce. These are moderately hot chillies, so the sauce is moderately hot. You may use a hotter version of chilli – or a milder one – if you so prefer.

2. You may use refined oil or olive oil to prepare this sauce. I used refined sunflower oil.

3. Adjust the quantity of salt, sugar and vinegar as per personal taste preferences.

4. The flavours of the sauce intensify the next day after making it. It tastes better the next day.

5. Keep the sauce refrigerated when not in use. When refrigerated and used hygienically, this sauce stays well for a week to 10 days. Since this sauce is made without any preservatives, it is best used within 7-10 days. The ingredient quantities above yield a limited quantity of sauce, which can easily be consumed within the said time frame.

6. A glass bottle is best to store this Home-Made Red Chilli Sauce.

7. I didn’t remove the seeds or the membranes from the Fresno chillies before using them to make the sauce. If you want a milder version of the sauce, you can go ahead and remove them.

8. Vinegar works best in this sauce, giving it a nice flavour. I wouldn’t suggest replacing the vinegar with lemon juice. I have used store-bought white vinegar here.

9. You can filter the sauce using a not-very-fine sieve, and remove the seeds or any big bits that might be left out. I haven’t done that.

10. This Home-Made Red Chilli Sauce is thickish and easily spreadable, but extremely flavourful. You may thin it out using a little water before using it, but this might make the flavours less intense. I use it as is.

11. This hot sauce is similar in taste to Sriracha sauce or store-bought red chilli sauce. You can use it in sandwiches or fried rice, as a dip for momos, spring rolls or samosas, in Thai salads and Chinese stir-fries, as a spread for fusion dosas or rolls, as a marinade for vegetables, tofu or paneer.

12. Make sure this sauce is prepared in a well-ventilated kitchen. The fumes from the chillies were manageable to handle for me, largely because I had my kitchen balcony and windows wide open.

13. The Fresno chillies I used were only moderately hot, so I was able to handle them without gloves. If you are not used to handling hot chillies, I would highly recommend wearing kitchen gloves.

I’m super excited to have gotten this right! Very soon, I will tell you about the very interesting ways in which I used this home-made red chilli sauce.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

Sangu Pushpam Aval Payasam|Butterfly Pea Kheer With Beaten Rice

Best wishes on the occasion of Maha Navami!

I hope all of you are thoroughly enjoying the festive season, gorging on Navratri and Durga Puja specials, dressing up, meeting friends, and having loads of fun in general. The last few days have been crazy busy for us, with hundreds of festive errands that needed to be run. I’m loving every little bit of it, and so is the bub. 🙂 The bub has especially been enjoying learning the significance of each day of Navratri, not to forget the special foods that we have been cooking almost every day. The special food in question for today is Sangu Pushpam Aval Payasam, kheer made using beaten rice or poha, naturally coloured blue with butterfly pea flowers.

The Foodie Monday Blog Hop group has decided to share Dussehra dishes today, and this Sangu Pushpam Aval Payasam is my humble contribution to the #VijayaDashamiTreats theme. Aval (poha) payasam (kheer) is something we commonly prepare at home each Navratri. The idea of using butterfly pea flowers (‘sangu pushpam‘ in Tamil) to colour the kheer came about when I saw Sangeeta using them to make mini idlis look absolutely gorgeous. It was through Sangeeta’s Insta post that I learnt about butterfly pea flowers being used to worship Maa Durga, of the Goddess’ love for them. What better dish could I prepare for Dussehra, then, if not this payasam?

Out came the precious stash of dried butterfly pea flowers I had picked up on our last holiday in Thailand, and this blue kheer came about. Oh, my! What a beauty! It was so much fun making and shooting this pretty kheer! Taste-wise, it still remains your regular home-made payasam, delicious as always, but the blue colour adds loads of thrill, magic and festivity to it. It did make the bub all agog with awe. 🙂 And, oh, did you know that these flowers possess several health benefits too?

You must definitely try out this Butterfly Pea Kheer too, especially if you have children in the house. I’m sure they would love it! Here’s how I made the kheer.

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  1. 1/2 litre + 1/2 cup of full-fat milk
  2. 1/4 cup beaten rice (poha or aval)
  3. 1/2 cup sugar
  4. 7-8 dried butterfly pea (sangu pushpam) flowers
  5. 1 tablespoon ghee
  6. Dried rose petals for garnishing, as needed (optional)

Method:

1. Heat the ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the poha. Cook on medium flame for about a minute, or till the poha crisp up. Take care to ensure that the poha does not burn.

2. Now, add 1/2 litre of milk to the pan, along with the sugar. Keep cooking on medium flame till the milk thickens a little, 12-15 minutes. Stir intermittently, to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cream will form on the sides of the pan – scrape them back into the milk.

3. In the meantime, heat the remaining 1/2 cup milk in a small pan. Bring it to a boil, then add the dried butterfly pea flowers to it. Give the milk a quick stir, then switch off the gas. Set this milk aside for 10-12 minutes, or till the butterfly pea flowers leach their blue colour into the milk.

4. Pour the blue milk into the kheer cooking in the other pan, along with the butterfly pea flowers. Let everything cook together on medium flame for about 2 minutes. Switch off gas. Your Sangu Pushpam Aval Payasam is ready! Serve it hot, warm, at room temperature or chilled, as per personal taste preferences. Garnish with dried rose petals before serving.

Notes:

1. Use good-quality full-fat milk only to make the kheer. I have used Nandini full-cream milk, here.

2. Cashewnuts and almonds fried in ghee can also be added to the kheer. I haven’t.

3. I have used dried butterfly pea flowers that I picked up at Big C in Thailand, to make this Sangu Poo Aval Payasam. You can use fresh butterfly pea flowers instead, too, if you can get your hands on them. Butterfly pea flower powder is also readily available online these days – you could use that to make the payasam too.

4. Adjust the sugar as per personal preferences. The above quantity was just right for us.

5. Don’t overcook the beaten rice. Just cook it for about a minute, let it crisp up, then add the milk and sugar to the pan. Overcooking the beaten rice will make it hard to chew.

6. I have used the thin variety of beaten rice (aka poha or aval) – the kind we use to make poha upma – to make this payasam.

7. You can filter out the dried butterfly pea flowers before adding the coloured milk to the pan. I let them stay in, as the flowers are very much edible.

Did you like the recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

Karuppu Mocchai Sundal| Purple Hyacinth Bean Stir-Fry, South Indian Style

Navratri and sundal are synonymous with each other, in the south of India. The typical sundal is made using legumes like black chana, moong beans, hyacinth beans, dry green peas, black-eyed peas or kabuli chana, tempered simply with mustard and red or green chillies, with a good amount of coconut added in. Some families also add in a sundal podi – made using dry red chillies, chana dal, urad dal and the like. The sundal recipe I present to you today – Karuppu Mocchai Sundal – is made using dried purple hyacinth beans (yes, such a thing does exist!). I did not have sundal podi ready, so I took my mom’s advice and flavoured this with home-made dosa milagai podi aka gunpowder. I’m so glad I did, for the end result was beautiful!

That’s how them dried purple hyacinth beans look like!

Each time I go to my Mama‘s place in Madras, I sneak in a visit to the Pazhamudir Cholai in Nanganallur. For the uninitiated, Pazhamudir Cholai – literally ‘orchard of abundant fruits and vegetables’ in Tamil – is the name by which large vegetable shops are referred to in Tamilnadu. Most of these shops stock flowers, grains and pulses, various other items of household use, chocolates, ice creams and fresh fruit juices, apart from a vast variety of fruits, leafy greens and veggies. I adore the Pazhamudir Cholai in the Nanganallur area – situated very conveniently right next to a Murugan Idli Shop which serves some seriously delicious food. The shop is a treasure trove of unique food products, some indigenous to Tamilnadu, which aren’t easy to come across elsewhere. The food blogger in me is overjoyed to see things like baby bitter gourds, the longest of snake gourds, purple hyacinth beans, fresh black nightshade berries, moringa flowers, and greens like Maderaspatana, Vallarai and Pirandai. I picked up a pack of dried purple hyacinth beans (‘karuppu mocchai‘ in Tamil) here on my last visit, a novelty to me. Some of these beans went into the making of this Karuppu Mocchai Sundal, a delicious prasadam that all of us enjoyed heartily.

Hyacinth beans – also called lablab, lima beans, field beans, avarai (Tamil) or mocchai (Tamil) – usually have green pods, which bear green-coloured seeds (yellowish when dried). However, there is also a purple version of these beans available – the fresh pods are a pretty purple in colour, and they bear deep purple seeds. The blackish-purple seeds can be dried too, in which case they need overnight soaking before cooking. The presence of anthocyanins is what gives these beans their purple colour, similar to black rice, purple corn, purple cabbage and cauliflower, blackberries and blueberries. The high-protein beans lose their purple colour upon cooking, though, but they do possess a certain characteristic scent which might not be agreeable to everyone. The dosa milagai podi I used in the Karuppu Mocchai Sundal helped mask the smell of these beans greatly. The sundal was absolutely flavourful and very lovely!

Now, without further ado, let’s check out the proceedure to make the Karuppu Mocchai Sundal.

Ingredients (serves 5-6):

  1. 1 cup dried purple hyacinth beans or karuppu mocchai
  2. 1/2 tablespoon oil
  3. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  4. 2 pinches of asafoetida
  5. 3-4 dry red chillies
  6. 2 sprigs of fresh curry leaves
  7. Salt to taste
  8. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  9. About 3 tablespoons dosa milagai podi or as needed
  10. 1 tablespoon jaggery powder or as needed
  11. Red chilli powder to taste
  12. 1/3 cup fresh grated coconut or to taste
  13. A dash of lemon
  14. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander

Method:

1. Soak the dried purple hyacinth beans for 8-10 hours or overnight, in enough fresh water to cover them completely.

2. When the beans are done soaking, drain out all the water from them and discard. Transfer the drained beans to a wide vessel, and add in enough fresh water to cover the beans completely.

3. Place the vessel in a pressure cooker. Pressure cook the beans for 4-5 whistles or till they are well cooked. They shouldn’t get overly mushy. Let the pressure release naturally.

4. Drain out all the water from the cooked beans, once the pressure has gone down completely. Reserve the water for future use.

5. Heat the oil in a pan. Add mustard, and allow it to pop. Add in the dried red chillies, asafoetida and curry leaves. Let the ingredients stay in for a couple of seconds.

6. Add the cooked and drained hyacinth beans to the pan, along with salt, red chilli powder, jaggery powder and turmeric powder. Mix well.

7. Cook on medium flame till all the water from the beans dries up and all the ingredients are well combined together, 3-4 minutes.

8. Add the dosa milagai podi and grated fresh coconut. Mix well. Cook on medium flame for a minute more. Switch off gas.

9. Add in lemon juice and finely chopped coriander. Mix well. Your Karuppu Mocchai Sundal is ready – serve it warm or at room temperature.

Notes:

1. Use fresh, soft water to soak the hyacinth beans.

2. Make sure the beans are well cooked but not overly mushy, before proceeding to make the sundal.

3. Coconut oil or gingelly oil (nalla ennai) works best in the making of this sundal.

4. If you don’t have dried purple hyacinth beans, you can use the regular dried yellow ones instead. Follow the above proceedure for the same, too.

5. Adjust the quantity of coconut you use, depending upon personal taste preferences.

6. I have used home-made dosa milagai podi to flavour this sundal. Since the podi is quite mildly spiced and sweet, I have added some red chilli powder and jaggery powder to the sundal. Adjust the quantity of dosa milagai podi you use, depending upon personal taste preferences.

7. If you have sundal podi ready, you may use it in the above recipe, instead of the dosa milagai podi.

8. The water used to cook the beans in is rich in nutrients. Do not discard it. This water can be used to make rasam, soups and gravy-based dishes.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

Tawa Bread Pizza| How To Make Pizza Using Bread Slices On A Pan

Are you looking for an easy yet delicious and satisfying dinner idea?Try out this Tawa Bread Pizza! I make the pizza with store-bought wheat bread slices, home-made sauce, and some of our favourite toppings, and it’s such a breeze! This is our favourite weekday dinner, especially Friday nights – it puts us right into the weekend frame of mind. 🙂

Pizza doesn’t have to be junk food at all – made the right way, it can be a wholesome treat. Just make sure you are buying whole wheat bread with no artificial additives, limited or no refined sugar, and no preservatives. Making the pizza sauce at home helps you to control the ingredients that go into it – no artificial colours or flavours or preservatives there too. I use toppings like home-made paneer, cucumber, pineapple and grated carrot for my little daughter, with a bit of cheese, making the pizza super healthy. For the hubby and me, the cucumber is foregone and store-bought jalapenos, red paprika and pitted olives are added to the toppings – that’s okay occasionally, I think. If I can get my hands on some hand-made artisanal cheese, it finds its way to this Tawa Bread Pizza. Otherwise, I’m partial to Amul cheese!

My mother gifted me a grill pan from Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s WonderChef collection for my last birthday, and I’m loving every bit of it. It’s just awesome for sandwiches, tandoori appetisers, and for making Tawa Bread Pizza. A regular thick dosa pan would work beautifully as well.

Now, without further ado, here’s how I make the Tawa Bread Pizza. I’m sharing this recipe with the Foodie Monday Blog Hop group, the week’s theme being #PizzaMania. Preethi, who has some really innovative recipes on offer on her blog Preethi’s Cuisine, suggested the theme for the week.

Ingredients (for 10 bread pizza):

For the pizza sauce:

  1. 6 medium-sized tomatoes
  2. 1 medium-sized onion
  3. 5-6 cloves of garlic
  4. Salt to taste
  5. Red chilli powder to taste
  6. 2 tablespoons jaggery powder or to taste
  7. 1/2 tablespoon mixed Italian dried herbs or as needed

Other ingredients:

  1. 10 bread slices
  2. 1 small capsicum, chopped length-wise
  3. 1 medium-sized onion, sliced length-wise
  4. 1/2 cup sweet corn kernels
  5. About 2 tablespoons pitted and sliced black olives
  6. 1 tablespoon sliced red paprika
  7. 100 grams paneer, cut into cubes
  8. 3 cubes of cheese or as needed
  9. Mixed Italian dried herbs, as needed

Method:

Let us first prepare the pizza sauce.

1. Chop the tomatoes roughly, and add to a mixer jar. Peel the onion, chop roughly, and add to the mixer jar. Peel the garlic cloves and add to the mixer jar too. Grind together to a puree.

2. Transfer the puree to a pan, and place on high flame. When the puree starts cooking, reduce flame to medium and cover. Cook covered on medium flame for 4-5 minutes or till the puree thickens and reaches a spreadable consistency. Stir intermittently to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan. Switch off gas.

3. Add salt and red chilli powder, jaggery powder and Italian herbs. Mix well. Your home-made pizza sauce is ready.

3. Allow the pizza sauce to cool down fully. If you don’t plan to use it immediately, transfer to a clean, dry, air-tight container after cooling. Store refrigerated.

Here’s how to make the Tawa Bread Pizza.

1. Place a grill pan or thick dosa pan on high flame. Drizzle a little oil all over it. Let the pan get nice and hot.

2. When the pan gets hot, place 2 slices of bread on it or as many as you can accommodate without overcrowding the pan. Turn flame down to medium.

3. Let the bread slices get crisp on the bottom and slightly brown. Take care to ensure that they do not burn. Then, flip the slices over, using a spatula.

4. Cook on medium flame for a minute or so, till the bread slices get crisp on the other side too. Transfer the slices onto a plate.

5. We will now assemble the Tawa Bread pizza. Meanwhile, turn the flame down to the lowest and toast 2 more slices of bread similarly, till crisp on both sides. Simultaneously, spread some pizza sauce on the two bread slices you already toasted, then top with chopped onion and capsicum, olive and red paprika slices, paneer cubes, sweet corn kernels and grated cheese, all as needed. Drizzle some mixed Italian dried herbs on top.

6. When the second batch of bread slices is done toasting, transfer them to a plate.

7. Place the assembled bread pizza on the pan. Cook covered on low flame till the cheese melts and the veggies are slightly cooked, 1-2 minutes. Take care to ensure that the pizza doesn’t burn. Once done, serve the Tawa Bread Pizza immediately.

8. Alternate between toasting bread slices, assembling the pizza and then cooking the assembled pizza till all slices are used up.

Notes:

1. I prefer using the more flavourful country (Nati) tomatoes to make the pizza sauce, over the ‘farm’ variety.

2. The garlic in the pizza sauce can be avoided, if you don’t prefer it.

3. Sugar can be used in place of jaggery powder, in the pizza sauce.

4. I have used slices of whole wheat bread to make the pizza. You can use any variety of bread you prefer instead too.

5. I have used cubes of Amul processed cheese here. You can use any other type of cheese you like, too.

6. I have used the veggies we prefer, as a family, in the pizza toppings. You can use the ones you like – babycorn, mushrooms, potatoes, jalapenos, tomatoes, pineapple, eggplant, carrot..the list is endless. Let your imagination run wild!

7. You can use as many or as few veggies as you like, for topping the pizza. Similarly, adjust the quantity of cheese you use depending upon personal taste preferences.

8. The above quantities yield close to 3/4 cup of pizza sauce. Use as much of the sauce as you prefer, in the bread pizza. Any leftover pizza sauce can be stored in a clean, dry, air-tight container. Refrigerated and used hygienically, this sauce stays well for about a week. The sauce can be used to make pasta too.

9. I don’t blanch or roast the tomatoes for preparing the pizza sauce.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

Vendakkai More Kozhambu| Okra Cooked In Curd Gravy, Tamilnadu Style

More Kozhambu is the South Indian version of kadhi, if I may, a flavourful preparation using curd. In Tamil, this literally translates into ‘buttermilk (more) gravy (kozhambu)‘. Unlike the sweetish Gujarati kadhi or the delicious Punjabi pakodewali kadhi though, More Kozhambu is made fragrant with ingredients like green chillies, dry red chillies, coconut, ginger, cumin and coriander seeds. Vegetables like ash gourd, okra or ladies’ finger, drumsticks and brinjal often figure in More Kozhambu, as do lentil vadas. Today, I am going to share with you all our family recipe for Vendekkai More Kozhambu, i.e. more kozhambu made using okra.

With crispy okra cooked in a fragrant and flavourful curd mixture, this Vendekkai More Kozhambu makes for a beautiful accompaniment to piping hot steamed rice, with a dollop of ghee added in for good measure. It also goes well with adai, delectable savoury lentil pancakes made Tamilnadu-style. The more kozhambu isn’t very tough to prepare either – with a little bit of prior preparation, it takes only a few minutes to put together.

Different families prepare more kozhambu in different ways, with minor variations in cooking techniques, the basic ingredients remaining more or less the same. This is the way Vendekkai More Kozhambu has always been made in our family, the way I learnt making it from Amma. This is a vegetarian recipe, one that can easily be made gluten-free just by omitting the asafoetida used in the tempering.

I’m sharing this recipe for the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge, a group of food bloggers cooking dishes from a different part of India every month. The participants are paired up, and each pair exchanges two ingredients secretly, which are then used to cook a dish from the state of the month. This month, the members of the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge group are exploring food from the South Indian state of Tamilnadu, and I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to showcase on my blog one more beautiful recipe from the rich culinary legacy my home state possesses. I was paired with the very talented Poonam of Annapurna for the month, who has an awe-inspiring collection of traditional Maharashtrian recipes as well as well-researched procedures for foods from across the globe. Poonam assigned to me the two secret ingredients of ‘chana dal‘ and ‘dry red chillies’, and this Vendekkai More Kozhambu is what I chose to use them in. You must visit Poonam’s blog to check out the gorgeous dish she made using the ingredients I gave her!

Let’s now go through the recipe for Vendekkai More Kozhambu without further ado.

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  1. 8-10 okra aka ladies fingers
  2. 1/2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon oil
  3. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  4. A pinch of fenugreek seeds
  5. 2 pinches of asafoetida
  6. 2 cups of thick curd
  7. Between 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water or as needed
  8. Salt to taste
  9. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  10. 1 sprig fresh curry leaves

For the spice paste:

  1. 1 tablespoon chana dal
  2. 2 dry red chillies
  3. 1 green chilli
  4. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  5. 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  6. 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
  7. 1 tablespoon fresh grated coconut

Method:

1. Soak the chana dal, dry red chillies (broken roughly), cumin seeds and coriander seeds in a little water, for 20-25 minutes. This is to soften these ingredients to help make the spice paste easily.

2. Meanwhile, add the 3/4 cup of water or as needed to the curd to bring it to a thick-but-runny consistency. Add in salt, curry leaves and turmeric powder. Whisk gently to mix the ingredients well together. Keep aside.

3. Wash the okra well under running water. Pat dry using a cotton cloth. Remove the tops from the okra. Chop into 1-1/2 inch long pieces. Keep aside.

4. When the ingredients we soaked are soft enough, transfer them to a small mixer jar, along with the little water we used for soaking. Peel the ginger, chop roughly and add to the mixer jar. Chop up the green chilli roughly and add to the mixer jar. Add in the fresh grated coconut too. Grind everything together to a coarse paste.

5. Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a thick-bottomed pan. Add in the okra pieces, along with a little salt. Cook on medium flame for 2-3 minutes or until the okra is cooked.

6. Now, keeping the flame on medium, add the curd mixture to the pan. Add in the spice paste we ground earlier too. Mix well. Cook on medium flame for 3-4 minutes or till the mixture comes to a boil. If the consistency is too thick, you may add in a little water at this stage.

7. At this stage, reduce flame a bit more. Simmer the mixture for a minute or so. Switch off gas.

8. Now, we will prepare the tempering . Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a small pan. Add mustard seeds and allow them to pop. Add in the fenugreek seeds and the asafoetida. Let them stay in for a couple of seconds. Add this tempering to the curd mixture. Mix well.

9. Your Vendakkai More Kozhambu is ready. Keep it covered for at least a few minutes before serving for the dish to absorb the flavours of the tempering. You can serve it hot, warm or at room temperature, with steamed rice and a poriyal of your choice.

Notes:

1. Make sure the okra is well cooked, but not soggy before you add in the curd mixture to the pan. The okra should have lost its stickiness but should not be overly cooked.

2. Be careful while adding salt to the curd as you have lightly salted the okra too.

3. I use home-made thick curd to make the Vendakkai More Kozhambu. You can use store-bought curd instead too.

4. Make sure you keep the flame low while you add the curd mixture to the pan, to ensure that it does not curdle.

5. Adjust the quantity of dry red chillies and green chilli you add in for the spice paste, depending upon personal taste preferences.

6. Adjust the amount of water you use, depending upon how thick you want the Vendakkai More Kozhambu to be.

7. Do not cook the more kozhambu too much after it comes to a boil. Just a short simmer, and it’s done.

8. The Vendakkai More Kozhambu thickens further upon cooling. It is, therefore, best to keep the texture runny when you finish.

9. Some families dry roast the ingredients for the spice paste before grinding them. We soak the hard ingredients, then add in the other requirements and grind everything together. You can choose any one method.

10. I have sauteed the ladies’ fingers in oil till cooked through, before adding the curd mixture to the pan, the way we do it in our family. Alternatively, you may even deep fry the ladies’ fingers.

11. Coconut oil or gingelly oil (nalla ennai) works best in the making of this Vendekkai More Kozhambu. However, you may use any other type of oil you prefer instead, too.

12. Toor dal can be used in the spice mix, too, instead of chana dal. You can also use a mix of chana dal and urad dal.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

Ven Pongal| Khara Pongal

I wasn’t always a fan of Ven Pongal, the peppery rice-and-lentil confection that is so very popular in South India. Growing up in Ahmedabad, it always meant to me boring food for the sick or the elderly, with nothing – absolutely nothing – to its credit. It was only after I moved to Bangalore that I tasted some really well-made versions of Ven Pongal, and realised just how beautiful it can be. My love for this savoury pongal grew with time, helped along by the fact that the husband appreciates it a whole lot. Trial and error taught me to perfect this dish, and it is soul-satisfying comfort food for me today.

Ven Pongal, also called Khara Pongal, is a thing of great joy when made right. No wonder it is such a popular breakfast dish down South (Psst: We love having it for lunch or dinner too!). You will also often come across Ven Pongal being served as ‘tiffin’ in weddings and religious events, in South India. It makes a frequent appearance as prasadam in temples, and in homes as an offering to the Goddess Durga, for Navratri. This is one of the types of pongal prepared for the Pongal festival in January, alongside the sweet version.

We prefer the Khara Pongal runny, moderately spiced with coarsely crushed pepper, slit green chillies and cumin giving it a flavour boost. I don’t use any milk in it, or cashewnuts – we love it in all its simplicity. More so because it is so very easy to prepare and so light on the tummy!

I share below my way of making Ven Pongal, the way my family likes it. I have also included tips and tricks to get the taste and texture just right. Do try it out this festive season – I would love to hear how you liked it!

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

  1. 1 cup rice
  2. 1/4 cup moong dal
  3. 2 tablespoons ghee
  4. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  5. 2 pinches of asafoetida
  6. 2 dry red chillies
  7. 2 green chillies
  8. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  9. 2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
  10. Salt to taste
  11. 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Method:

1. Take the rice and moong dal in a wide vessel. Wash well under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the water.

2. Add 4-1/2 cups of water to the rice and moong dal in the vessel. Place the vessel in a pressure cooker. Cook on high flame for about 5 whistles, or till the ingredients are well cooked. Let the pressure release naturally.

3. Meanwhile, coarsely pulse the black peppercorns in a small mixer jar. Keep aside.

4. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep aside.

5. When the pressure from the cooker has gone down completely, open it and get the cooked rice and moong dal out. Mash them well, using a potato masher. Keep aside.

6. Heat the ghee in a large pan or kadhai. Add the mustard, and allow it to sputter. Now, add the slit green chillies, dry red chillies, asafoetida, cumin seeds and curry leaves. Let the ingredients stay in for a couple of seconds, taking care not to burn them.

7. Now, add the cooked and mashed rice and moong dal to the pan. Also, add in about 1 cup water, salt to taste and the coarsely crushed black peppercorns. Mix well.

8. Turn the flame down to medium. Let everything cook together on medium heat till well integrated and the pongal starts to thicken. If too thick, add some more water. Switch off gas when done – should take 3-4 minutes. Your Ven Pongal or Khara Pongal is ready. Serve hot with a simple coconut chutney, gojju or raita of your choice.

Notes:

1. Sona Masoori or Kollam rice work best in the making of this Ven Pongal. Any non-fragrant variety of rice would work.

2. Don’t skimp on the ghee. A good amount of ghee is a must in Ven Pongal.

3. Some people dry roast the rice and moong dal till fragrant, before proceeding to make the Khara Pongal. We don’t.

4. You may use a little less moong dal if want the Ven Pongal to be a bit less sticky. I prefer the above proportion of rice and moong dal. Some people prefer using 1/2 cup of moong dal for 1 cup of rice.

5. Some people prefer using whole peppercorns in Ven Pongal, while some others prefer using coarsely crushed cumin and peppercorns. I like keeping the cumin whole, but coarsely crush the peppercorns.

6. Adjust the quantity of water you use, depending upon the consistency of the Ven Pongal you require. The above recipe yields runny pongal, the way we like it in our family. Please do keep in mind that the Ven Pongal thickens considerably upon cooling – hence, it is best served hot.

7. Age-old Ven Pongal recipes do not suggest the use of green chillies or dry red chillies. They use only black peppercorns for spicing up the pongal – either whole or coarsely crushed. I, however, like adding in green chillies and dry red chillies.

8. Slivers of coconut, broken cashewnuts and finely chopped ginger can be added to the tempering too. I usually avoid these.

9. Make sure the rice and moong dal are well cooked and mashed, before proceeding to make this Khara Pongal.

10. Some households cook the rice and moong dal in a mix of water and (boiled and cooled) milk. We usually use only water.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

Nataraja Iyer Rasam| Flavourful Rasam Recipe From A Culinary Legend

In a typical Tamilian household, rasam is comfort food. Piping hot rasam is the antidote for most ills, right from the sniffles to the flu. And why not? Made with ingredients like pepper, ginger and cumin, rasam does have medicinal properties. The tangy flavour that tamarind, tomatoes and/or lemon lend to rasam makes it just the perfect thing to enliven tastebuds that have grown dull. It is very light on the stomach, easy to digest, as well. Rasam is soul food at our place too, with several different versions being prepared from time to time. I bring to you today the recipe for a special kind of rasam, straight from a culinary legend of Tamilnadu – Nataraja Iyer Rasam.

About Nataraja Iyer

Nataraja Iyer is not a new name in the South Indian food industry, particularly in Chennai (erstwhile Madras). He was a stalwart in the field of event catering, a man who started off small but who grew through the ranks. His career had a very humble beginning – he started off serving tables at small eateries in Trichy, when he was but a little boy himself. He came from a family of cooks, and would assist his grandfather, doing odd jobs in the kitchen, while the old man catered for weddings and other occasions.

Soon enough, Nataraja Iyer came into his own, both in terms of cooking and catering. In the 1940s or so, he started catering events on his own, business growing by leaps and bounds as more and more people started talking about the brilliant food he dished up. So great was his draw that people would immediately agree to be guests at a wedding when they would come to know that the food was to be catered by Nataraja Iyer. He catered for several celebrity weddings in Chennai, in the course of which VV Giri (former President of India) bestowed upon him the title of ‘Arusuvai Arasu‘ i.e. king of all the six tastes that constitute good food, namely sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter and astringent.

Arusuvai Arasu Caterers – started by Nataraja Iyer, now run by his children after the legend’s passing away in 2018 – remains a well-respected establishment in Tamilnadu till date. However, in spite of his huge achievements in the culinary field, having served at over 75,000 events spanning his career, Nataraja Iyer stayed a humble man till the end. He believed in sharing his knowledge, and started writing a column in the famed Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan with just that end in mind. He shared recipes for some of his signature dishes – rasam, vattalkozhambu, milagu kozhambu, kadappa, rasavangi and paal payasam, for instance – in his column to make sure they reached the masses. There’s much to learn from the life of this great man, indeed!

Nataraja Iyer Rasam

One of the most delicious rasam versions ever, Nataraja Iyer Rasam is a big-time favourite in our household. I remember my grandmother making this rasam – thanks to Ananda Vikatan I suppose – to much adulation. The recipe passed down in our family, and I occasionally prepare it too.

Nataraja Iyer Rasam does not call for any pre-made spice powder. Freshly ground cumin and black peppercorns flavour it, with spiciness also coming from the ginger, dry red chillies and green chillies that are added in. The bit of jaggery used in the rasam gives it a sweet tinge, which beautifully balances out the tang from the tomatoes and tamarind. Quite interestingly, there is a wee amount of fenugreek seeds used in the tempering, probably for inducing slight bitterness, a la ‘Arusuvai Arasu’.

This is a completely vegetarian recipe, suitable to those who follow a vegan or plant-based diet. It can be made entirely gluten-free simply by avoiding the asafoetida used in the tempering.

How to make Nataraja Iyer Rasam

Without further ado, let me now share the recipe for Nataraja Iyer Rasam. Try it out, and I’m sure you will fall in love with it too!

I share this recipe for #RasamRaaga, the theme for the week at Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme was chosen by me so as to celebrate the very versatile rasam, also keeping in mind the chilly weather these days. September 2019 marks the first death anniversary of Nataraja Iyer, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to him than this post.

So, here we go.

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

  1. 1/4 cup toor dal
  2. 2 medium-sized tomatoes
  3. A small lemon-sized ball of tamarind
  4. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  5. 2 green chillies
  6. 2 sprigs of fresh curry leaves
  7. 4-5 dry red chillies
  8. About 3/4 tablespoon jaggery powder
  9. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  10. 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  11. Salt to taste
  12. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

For the tempering:

  1. 1/2 tablespoon ghee
  2. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  3. 2 pinches of asafoetida
  4. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  5. A pinch of fenugreek seeds

For the garnishing:

2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander

Method:

1. Wash the toor dal well under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the water. Add in enough fresh water to cover the toor dal fully. Pressure cook the toor dal for 6-7 whistles on high flame, or till it is cooked thoroughly. Let the pressure release naturally.

2. Soak the tamarind in a little hot water for 10-15 minutes or till it softens. Allow it to cool down enough to handle.

3. Chop the tomatoes finely. Keep aside.

4. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep aside.

5. Peel the ginger. Chop very finely. Keep aside.

6. In a small mixer jar, grind the cumin and peppercorns together, coarsely. Keep aside.

7. When the pressure from the cooker has fully gone down, get the cooked toor dal out. Mash it well. Keep aside.

8. Adding water little by little, extract all the juice out of the tamarind. You would get about half cup of tamarind water, approximately. Keep aside.

9. Heat a pan and add the chopped tomatoes and finely chopped ginger to it. Add in about 2 tablespoons of water and a little salt. Cook on high flame till the tomatoes turn mushy.

10. Add the tamarind water, salt to taste, dry red chillies (broken), slit green chillies, turmeric powder and curry leaves. Cook on high flame till the raw smell of the tamarind goes away, 2-3 minutes.

11. Now, add the cooked and mashed toor dal to the pan. Also add about 1-1/2 cups water, the jaggery powder and the coarsely crushed cumin and peppercorns. Mix well. Taste and adjust salt if needed.

12. Cook on high flame till the mixture comes to a boil. Then, reduce flame to medium and simmer for a couple of minutes. Switch off gas.

13. Now, we will prepare the tempering for the rasam. Heat the ghee in a small pan. Add mustard, and allow it to pop. Lower flame to medium. Add the cumin seeds for the tempering, asafoetida and fenugreek seeds. Let them stay in for a couple of seconds, taking care to ensure that the ingredients do not burn. Switch off gas. Add this tempering to the rasam.

14. Add the finely chopped coriander leaves to the rasam. Mix well. Your flavourful Nataraja Iyer Rasam is ready to serve! Serve it hot, with hot steamed rice and a South Indian-style poriyal on the side.

Notes:

1. Adjust the quantity of tamarind and jaggery you use, as per personal taste preferences.

2. A few cloves of garlic, crushed, can be added in to the rasam while it is simmering. This adds a beautiful taste to it.

3. Adjust the quantity of water you use, depending upon the consistency of the rasam you desire.

4. Do not use too much of fenugreek in the tempering, as this will make the rasam overly bitter.

5. Country (nati) tomatoes are best for making this rasam, rather than ‘farm’ ones.

6. Oil can be used in the tempering, instead of ghee.

7. I used a mix of the spicy Salem Gundu and the not-so-fiery Bydagi dry red chillies to make the rasam.

8. Make sure the toor dal is well cooked and mashed, before using it in the rasam.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!