It is not often that I can get my hands on Manathakkali Kai or raw black nightshade berries. So, when I spotted my vegetable vendor selling these tiny green berries recently, I had to go ahead and pick up some. They went into the making of a delicious Arachuvitta Vattalkozhambu, a heritage Tamilnadu-style tamarind-based gravy with a freshly ground spice mix. Today, I’m sharing with you all our family recipe for this beauty of a dish.
A closer look at Manathakali Kai
Manathakali Kai refers to the raw berries of the Solanum Nigrum plant, which is also called Black Nightshade. These berries are tiny and green in colour when raw, and taste slightly bitter. When they ripen, the berries take on a purplish-black colour and turn slightly sweeter.
These berries are widely used in Tamilnadu cuisine, both in the raw and ripe form. The sun-dried version of these berries – called Manathakali Vatthal – is also commonly used in quite a few dishes. Go here to see the dish I prepared using the dried berries, some time ago.
And, oh, the leaves of this plant – Manathakali Keerai – are edible and popularly consumed too. Both the berries and the leaves possess a number of health benefits. The fruit is rich in iron, phosphorus, calcium, riboflavin and Vitamin C, among other things. They are great for treating mouth ulcers and constipation.
A word of caution, as suggested by Tabula Rasa – there are varieties of the black nightshade that are highly poisonous. In the South of India, however, the leaves and berries of this plant have been consumed since centuries – probably a very edible, harmless variety. So, if you do plan to cook with any part of this plant, do double check that it is a non-poisonous variety.
A bit about Arachuvitta Vattalkozhambu
The term ‘Vattalkozhambu‘ refers to a traditional Tamilnadu recipe, a tangy-spicy gravy made using tamarind. It can be made using a variety of vegetables, or even papads, and is usually flavoured with sambar podi. ‘Arachuvitta Vattalkozhambu‘ refers to a version of this dish made using a freshly ground spice mix, instead of the sambar podi.
The freshly ground spices work their magic on the dish, taking the taste to a whole new level. This is such a delightful gravy, you can have it on its own with rice.
#BitterButGood at Foodie Monday Blog Hop
I am sharing this recipe for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The Foodie Monday Blog Hop is a group of passionate food bloggers who share recipes based on a pre-determined theme, every Monday. We have a very interesting theme this Monday, #BitterButGood, wherein we are showcasing recipes using bitter-tasting ingredients. I chose to showcase this Arachuvitta Vattalkozhambu prepared using the slightly bitter but brilliant Manathakali Kai.
It was Sasmita of First Timer Cook who suggested the theme this week. Her blog is an awesome repository of traditional Odia recipes as well as some unique fusion dishes. Speaking of bitter ingredients, you must absolutely check out her Nimba Kadha Pithau or Odia-style neem patties!
How to make Arachuvitta Vattalkozhambu
In today’s recipe, I have showcased vattalkozhambu in the ‘arachuvitta‘ style, using raw green nightshade berries aka Manathakali Kai.
Ingredients (serves 5-6):
For spice mix:
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 4 dry red chillies
- 3/4 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 tablespoon toor dal
- 1/2 tablespoon urad dal
- 1-1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1-1/2 teaspoons rice
- 1/4 cup fresh grated coconut Other ingredients:
- About 1/2 cup fresh Manathakali berries
- A lemon-sized ball of tamarind
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 sprig fresh curry leaves
- 2 pinches of asafoetida
- 1 dry red chilli
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 3/4 tablespoon jaggery powder or to taste
1. Wash the manathakkali berries well. Place them in a colander and let all the water drain out.
2. Soak the tamarind in a little boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Let it soften.
3. In the meantime, we will roast the ingredients required for the spice mix. Heat 1/2 teaspoon oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, and add in all the ingredients listed for the spice mix except the coconut. Turn the flame down to medium. Roast the ingredients on medium flame for 2-3 minutes or till they start emitting a lovely fragrance. Take care to ensure that they do not burn. Now, transfer the roasted ingredients to a plate and allow them to cool down fully.
4. When the soaked tamarind has completely cooled down, extract a thick juice from it. Add in fresh water little by little, to help with the extraction process. I got about 1 cup of extract. Keep it ready.
5. When the roasted ingredients have completely cooled down, transfer them to a small mixer jar. Add in the coconut too. Grind everything together to a slightly coarse powder, stopping at intervals to scrape down the sides of the mixer jar.
6. Now, we will start making the Arachuvitta Vattalkozhambu. Heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in the same pan we used earlier. Add in the mustard seeds, and allow them to sputter. Now, add in the asafoetida, dry red chilli and curry leaves. Let these ingredients stay in for a couple of seconds.
7. Add the washed and drained manathakkali berries to the pan. Turn the flame down to medium and saute the berries for about a minute.
8. Add the tamarind extract to the pan. Cook on medium flame for 2-3 minutes or till the raw smell of the tamarind goes away.
9. Now, add in salt to taste and the turmeric powder.
10. Also, add in 1 cup water. Mix well.
11. Still keeping the flame at medium, add in the jaggery powder. Mix well.
12. Add the spice mix to the pan. Mix well.
13. Cook on medium flame for 4-5 minutes or till the mixture thickens up. Your Arachuvitta Vattalkozhambu is ready. Serve hot or warm with steamed rice, with poriyal of your choice or fried pappadams.
Tips & Tricks
1. Any vegetable of your choice can be used in place of the manathakkali berries, in case you can’t find them. Pumpkin, drumsticks, beetroot, cluster beans and onion are some things that go well in a vattalkozhambu. You may also use dried nightshade berries instead.
2. I have used a mix of the spicy Salem Gundu dry red chillies and the not-so-hot Bydagi chillies in the spice mix.
3. You can skip the jaggery if you want to, but I would personally not suggest doing so. It adds a lovely flavour to the vattalkozhambu.
4. If you want a spicier vattalkozhambu, you may add in some red chilli powder. I haven’t, here.
5. Keep the tamarind extract thick and not too watery.
6. If you want a thick vattalkozhambu, use lesser water. I have used 1 cup of water here. Also, do remember that the vattalkozhambu thickens up a bit more after cooking.
7. Sesame oil goes best in this Arachuvitta Vattalkozhambu.
8. You can also add in some sambar podi, if you prefer. I have skipped it, here.
9. This is a completely vegetarian and vegan preparation, suited to those following a plant-based diet.
10. To make this gluten-free, simply skip the asafoetida used in the tempering. Most brands of asafoetida available in India contain wheat flour, to a lesser or greater extent, and are best avoided when one is following a gluten-free diet. However, if you can find 100% gluten-free asafoetida, you can definitely use it.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!