Whenever we visit Madras, I make sure we pick up a packet of manathakali berries from the nearest vegetable shop. Back in Bangalore, we don’t get these little, shiny, green and black fruits that are bursting with flavour, fresh. These berries, the fruits of the Solanum Nigrum or the black nightshade plant, are not just supremely delicious, but also loaded with health benefits – they are high in antioxidants and Vitamin A, help relieve peptic and mouth ulcers, and better digestion and gut health, for instance. In fact, the leaves of the Solanum Nigrum, Manathakali Keerai in Tamil, also possess several health benefits. Check out the Manathakali Keerai Kootu I made a while ago!
So, I love using these fresh manthakali berries in vattalkozhambu, an extremely delicious, traditional Tamilian preparation that uses oodles of tamarind. Manathakali Vattalkozhambu is a big favourite of all of us at home, comfort food for everyone around.
The fresh berries don’t last very long, though. They need to be used up immediately, as soon as we have got back to Bangalore and have barely unpacked our bags. They don’t have much of a shelf life. For later use, I always make sure I buy a packet of manathakali vatthal in Madras, black nightshade berries soaked in buttermilk and salt, then sun-dried and packed up to preserve them. These dried berries taste just as good in vattalkozhambu, if not better.
Give me some piping hot steamed rice, a bit of salt and ghee, some cooked toor daal and some well-made vattalkozhambu any day, and I’ll be a happy person. It is joy to eat this meal with your hands, off a steel plate – no fancy cutlery required there. A carefully erected ‘moat’ made with ghee-infused daal rice, with vattalkozhambu poured down in the centre – I grew up relishing this combination of food, and it still gives me great solace. I love eating up any leftover vattalkozhambu with dosas or as a side to roti–sabzi too!
Today, I share with you our family recipe for Manathakali Vattalkozhambu, vattalkozhambu made using dried black nightshade berries. Do try it out, and let me know if it offers you the same level of comfort and bliss that it does to you! Will you?
Ingredients (serves 4-5):
- A big lemon-sized ball of tamarind
- 1-1/2 tablespoons dried nightshade berries aka mananthakali vatthal
- Salt to taste
- 1-1/2 tablespoons sambar powder or to taste
- 1-1/2 tablespoons jaggery powder or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- Red chilli powder to taste
- 1 tablespoon rice flour
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- A pinch of fenugreek seeds
- 2 dry red chillies
- 2 pinches of asafoetida
- 1 sprig curry leaves
1. Soak the tamarind in a little hot water for at least 10 minutes. When it is cool enough to handle, extract all the juice out of it, adding fresh water little by little. You should get almost 1-1/2 cups of tamarind extract. Discard the seeds, fibres and impurities, if any. Keep the tamarind extract aside.
2. Mix the rice flour with about 2 tablespoons of water, making a slurry. Make sure there are no lumps. Keep aside.
3. In a pan, heat the oil. Add the mustard, and allow it to sputter. Now, add the asafoetida, curry leaves, fenugreek, and the dry red chillies. Let them stay in for a couple of seconds.
4. Add the dried nightshade berries to the pan. Saute on medium flame for a minute.
5. Add the tamarind extract to the pan, along with about 1 cup of water. Add salt to taste, red chilli powder, jaggery powder, and turmeric powder. Mix well and cook for a couple of minutes on medium flame.
6. Now, add in the sambar powder and the flour slurry we prepared earlier. Mix well.
7. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Add more water if required.
8. Cook on medium heat for 1-2 more minutes till the Mananthakali Vattalkozhambu thickens slightly and attains a silky consistency. Switch off the gas at this stage. Now, the vattalkozhambu is ready to be served – you can do so hot or at room temperature.
1. Gingelly oil works best in the making of this Manathakali Vattalkozhambu. However, if you don’t have it, you can use any other oil of your preference.
2. For best results, use high-quality vatthal aka dried nightshade berries, tamarind and sambar powder.
3. Adjust the quantity of water you use, depending upon the consistency of the vattalkozhambu you desire. The end result should be a silken liquid that is quite runny, just slightly thickened by the flour slurry we added in.
4. Adjust the quantity of jaggery, red chilli powder and sambar powder as per personal taste preferences.
5. You may add in finely chopped fresh coriander after the Manathakali Vattalkozhambu is ready.
6. Instead of the dried nightshade berries, you can make the vattalkozhambu using a variety of other ingredients – like fresh nightshade berries, beetroot, onion, ladies’ finger, brinjal, drumstick and the likes. Just substitute any of these ingredients for the dried nightshade berries – the rest of the procedure remains the same.
7. I use home-made sambar powder to make this Manathakali Vattalkozhambu. Considering that the powder is not too spicy, I add red chilli powder to taste. However, if you are using store-bought sambar powder that is spicy, you might want to skip using the red chilli powder altogether.
8. In some families, there is a separate masala that is ground, stored and used in the making of vattalkozhambu, in place of the sambar powder. However, we always use sambar powder in vattalkozhambu.
This recipe is for the Healthy Wellthy Cuisines Facebook group that I am part of. The members of this group cook for a particular theme every fortnight. This fortnight, the theme is #LegumeAffairAtHW, wherein all of us are cooking special dishes using different types of legumes. For the theme, I chose to share the recipe for my favourite Manathakali Vattalkozhambu, in which tamarind (a legume) is one of the major ingredients.
Do check out what the other participants have cooked up, for the theme!:
Restaurant-Style Dal Tadka by Seema| Boondi Kadhi by Rosy| Lehsuni Dal Palak by Swaty| Habisha Dalma by Sasmita| Home-Made Peanut Butter by Poonam| Moong Dal Khichdi by Kalyani| Dhaba-Style Kala Chana by Jayashree| Baingan Pakora by Geetanjali| Rajma Masala by Shalu
I’m also sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #263.