Pulikachal is a quintessential part of a Tam-Brahm kitchen, something that is almost always around. For the uninitiated, it refers to a paste made using tamarind and various spices. This paste is quite handy, as you will soon see.
A closer look at the Pulikachal
‘Puli‘ is Tamil for ‘tamarind’, while ‘kachal‘ means ‘to boil’. ‘Pulikachal‘ thus means tamarind that has been boiled and reduced. Sesame oil, peanuts, several roasted and ground spices, jaggery and many other ingredients are added to the tamarind while it is reducing, and the end result is this delicious, delicious confection. Well-made Pulikachal is a thing of beauty, really.
Once prepared, Pulikachal can be stored for a couple of months at least. Mix this paste with some cooked and cooled rice and you have Puliogare or Puliodharai, aka ‘tamarind rice’, that staple of South Indian families while picnicking and travelling. It is also a saviour on those days when one does not want to indulge in elaborate cooking. Pulikachal also makes for a wonderful accompaniment to curd rice, another staple in the Tamilian kitchen. We also love having it with our idlis and dosas. We love it with toasted bread too! See just how multi-purpose this paste is?
Pulikachal is sometimes also called ‘Puliogare Gojju‘.
Variations to the Pulikachal
There are several different variations to the Pulikachal. Some versions use ginger and green chillies, while some have a generous amount of pepper added in. Some include coconut in it, while some add in a bit of mustard. Different states in South India make Pulikachal or Puliogare Gojju slightly differently.
Here, I have shared my family recipe for Pulikachal, the way we have always been making it. This is the Tamil Brahmin style of making it.
The A-Z Recipe Challenge
This recipe is brought to you in association with the A-Z Recipe Challenge.
The A-Z Recipe Challenge is undertaken by a group of passionate food bloggers who share use ingredients in alphabetical order from A-Z to develop recipes, one every month. The letter for this month is T, and I chose ‘tamarind’ as my star ingredient. I decided to share this tried and tested family recipe for the theme.
How to make Pulikachal
Here’s how we make Pulikachal.
Ingredients (yields about 1 cup):
To roast and grind:
- 1/4 cup coriander seeds
- 1/4 cup chana dal
- 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 5-6 Salem Gundu dry red chillies
- 5-6 Bydagi dry red chillies
- 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
- 1/2 tightly packed cup of tamarind
- 1/4 cup peanuts
- 2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
- 2-3 dry red chillies
- 2 + 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1/8 teaspoon asafoetida
- 2-1/2 teaspoons of salt or to taste
- 3 tablespoons jaggery powder
- 3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1. Soak the tamarind in a little boiling water, for 15-20 minutes, for it to soften. Allow it to cool down enough to handle.
2. Measure out the ingredients required for roasting – coriander seeds, chana dal, fenugreek seeds, Salem Gundu dry red chillies and Bydagi dry red chillies. Measure out the black and white sesame seeds separately.
3. Wash the curry leaves well, to remove any traces of dirt on them. Dry them completely using a cotton cloth.
4. On a medium flame, dry roast the peanuts in a heavy-bottomed pan for 3-4 minutes or till they get crisp. Take care to ensure that they do not burn. Transfer the roasted peanuts to a plate and allow them to cool down fully.
5. In the same pan, add in the chana dal and dry roast for about a minute on medium flame. Then, add in the coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds and both varieties of dry red chillies, and roast for 2-3 minutes or till the lentils get nice and brown. Now, add both types of sesame seeds to the pan, and turn the flame down to low. Let the sesame seeds sputter. Then transfer all the roasted ingredients to a plate and allow them to cool down fully.
6. When the soaked tamarind has cooled down completely, extract all the juice from it. Add water little by little, to help with the extraction. Keep the extract a bit thick and not too watery.
7. When the roasted ingredients have completely cooled down, grind them together to a powder. The powder should not be too fine, just slightly coarse.
8. Now, we will start making the Pulikachal. Heat 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the mustard seeds, and allow them to sputter. Then, add in the asafoetida, 2-3 dry red chillies, curry leaves and the roasted peanuts. Let these ingredients stay in for a few seconds.
9. Add the tamarind extract to the pan now, along with salt to taste and turmeric powder. Turn the flame down to medium. Cook on medium flame for 3-4 minutes or till the raw smell of the tamarind has completely gone.
10. Still keeping the flame at medium, add in the powder we ground earlier. Add it in while stirring constantly, so there are no lumps.
11. Add in the jaggery powder and mix well.
12. Continue to cook on medium flame for 3-4 minutes or till the mixture thickens. Stir intermittently. Switch off gas when it reaches a spreadable consistency.
13. At this stage, drizzle 2 tablespoons of sesame oil on top of the cooked paste. Mix well. Your Pulikachal is ready.
14. Allow the Pulikachal to cool down fully, then transfer to a clean, dry, air-tight bottle. Store refrigerated and use as needed, with a clean and dry spoon.
Tips & Tricks
1. The colour of the Pulikachal will depend upon the type of tamarind you use. Aged tamarind works best in this recipe.
2. Sesame oil – ‘nalla ennai‘ in Tamil – works best in this Pulikachal.
3. If the tamarind you use has seeds or impurities, filter the extract before you use it in making the Pulikachal.
4. Do not be intimidated by the long list of ingredients and the lengthy proceedure outlined above. The making of Pulikachal is an easy process, though one that requires a bit of patience. I have merely mentioned everything in great detail, to clearly explain the process to one and all.
5. Make sure the ingredients do not burn while dry-roasting. Let them cool down fully before grinding.
6. Do not grind the dry-roasted ingredients to a fine powder. Keep it a little coarse. This gives texture and more flavour to the Pulikachal.
7. Use a heavy-bottomed pan to make the Pulikachal, for best results.
8. Do not skip the jaggery powder. It makes the Pulikachal more flavourful.
9. I have used a mix of the more spicy Salem Gundu and the less hot Bydagi dry red chillies here. You can adjust the number of dry red chillies as per personal taste preferences.
10. The Pulikachal is supposed to be a bit high on sweetish, sour, salty and spicy tastes, on its own. When it is mixed with rice, the flavours even out.
11. Allow the Pulikachal to cool down fully before transferring it to a clean, dry bottle. Stored refrigerated and used only with a clean, dry spoon, it lasts for at least a couple of months.
12. I have used a mix of white and black sesame seeds here. The black ones are slightly more concentrated in flavour and a bit more bitter than the white ones. You may use 2 tablespoons of either the white or black sesame seeds.
13. This Pulikachal recipe is completely vegetarian and vegan, suited to those following a plant-based diet.
14. To make this Pulikachal gluten-free, simply skip the asafoetida used in the tempering. Most Indian brands of asafoetida do contain wheat flour to a lesser or greater extent and are, therefore, best avoided when one is following a gluten-free diet. However, if you can find 100% gluten-free asafoetida, do go ahead and use it.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!