Vengaya Kose is a popular accompaniment for ‘tiffin’ items like idlis, dosas, pooris and khara pongal in Chettiar households. It refers to a delicious gravy made using onions and potatoes, tempered with whole spices like fennel and cinnamon in the typical Chettinad style. In today’s post, I am going to share with you all how to prepare the delightful Vengaya Kose, also referred to sometimes as Vengaya Kosu.
The wonders of Chettinad cuisine
Chettinad refers to a cluster of over 70 villages and two towns in the Sivaganga district of Tamilnadu, with a small part extending into Pudukottai. Karaikudi and Devakottai are the major towns of this cluster, which is majorly inhabited by the Chettiar community, most of whom happen to be bankers and businesspeople. Trading took the Chettiars to foreign shores like Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Burma, the influence of which can be seen in the magnificent architecture and cuisine of this region.
The food of Chettinad is one of the best known among South Indian cuisine. This region boasts of several hearty and flavourful dishes, with the generous use of spices like fennel, cinnamon, pepper, stone flower, cumin, chillies and cardamom. The use of sun-dried vegetables and freshly ground spice mixes is common to Chettinad cuisine. The cuisine is predominantly non-vegetarian, but there are many beautiful vegetarian dishes on offer too.
Vellai Appam, Paal Paniyaram, Seeyam, Urulai Roast, Kola Urundai, Mandi, Kandarappam, Palkatti Chettinadu, Therakkal, Karupatti Paniyaram and Kavuni Arisi Sweet are some examples of vegetarian dishes from Chettinad cuisine. Vengaya Kose is yet another vegetarian Chettinad dish, albeit a lesser known one that is not commonly found on restaurant menus.
It is impossible to talk about Chettinad cuisine and not mention Mrs. Meenakshi Meyyappan. A Chettinad matriarch, Mrs. Meyyappan or ‘Aachi‘ as she is fondly referred to, is the proprietor of The Bangala, a well-known boutique hotel in Karaikudi. She is extremely passionate about preserving her roots and chronicling her heritage, which is how she happened to pen the cookbook The Bangala Table. I have had the pleasure of speaking to Mrs. Meyyappan regarding a trip to Chettinad that we were planning a few years earlier – the visit did not materialise, unfortunately, but the lady’s immense knowledge and direct speech has stayed with me. Some day, I do want to get my hands on the cookbook – I’m sure it is a beauty.
A closer look at Vengaya Kose
On a holiday in Madurai a few years ago, I was able to get a glimpse of the robust flavours of Chettinad cuisine. There is a considerable influence of Chettinad cuisine on the foods of bordering Madurai, which spills over into the latter’s street food, local messes and hotels. We tried out the famous Chettinad Vellai Appam, Tomato Bath and Kara Kozhambu in Madurai. Over the years, I have dabbled in cooking from Chettinad cuisine at home, but Vengaya Kose is something I tried out recently. It turned out fragrant and very delicious, an instant hit with everyone at home.
Like I was saying earlier, Venkaya Kose refers to a gravy served with idlis, dosas and the likes. Onions and thin slivers of potato are cooked along with a freshly ground fragrant spice paste. It is tempered with whole spices, which makes it all the more aromatic. The reddish gravy tastes absolutely delicious, and makes for a nice change from the usual chutney, sambar and gotsu we usually serve with our tiffin dishes. It is a very easy dish to put together too!
I followed this authentic recipe for Vengaya Kose from the blog Chettinad Fiesta. Meena, the author of the blog, is a passionate chef who believes in showcasing the vast range of Chettinad cuisine to the world. She has written about several traditional Chettinad recipes on her blog, including some that are not very well known. I chose to make the Vengaya Kose recipe as jotted down by her, with a couple of minor changes.
The Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge
I am sharing this post as part of the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge, a foodie group that I am part of.
The Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge is run by a group of enthusiastic food bloggers who share recipes based on a pre-determined theme, every month. The theme for July 2022 was ‘Recipes from Chettinad’, for which I zeroed in on this Vengaya Kose recipe.
The group members are divided into pairs, for the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge. Each pair exchanges two ingredients secretly, unknown to the rest of the group. The pairs then use these secret ingredients to create a recipe that fits into the theme for the month. The other group members have to look at a picture of the prepared dish, and try to guess what the two secret ingredients were. 🙂
Kalyani, the versatile blogger at Sizzling Tastebuds, was the one who suggested the theme last month. Her Chettinad Vellai Kurma looks so good, I could eat it straight off the screen! Do check out her recipe.
I was paired with Seema, another talented blogger at Mildly Indian, for the challenge. I gave Seema ‘rice’ and ‘coconut’ as the secret ingredients, and she made the classic Kavuni Arisi Sweet or Chettinad Black Rice Pudding. She suggested I make something using ‘potato’ and ‘coconut’, and they fit right into this Vengaya Kose recipe.
How to make Vengaya Kose?
Here’s how to go about it.
Ingredients (serves 4-6):
1. 4-5 dry red chillies
2. 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (saunf)
3. 3/4 tablespoon fried gram (daliya)
4. 3/4 tablespoon poppy seeds (khus khus)
5. 4-5 cashewnuts
6. 1/4 cup fresh coconut
1. 1 medium-sized onion
2. 2 medium-sized tomatoes
3. 2 medium-sized potatoes
4. 1/2 tablespoon oil
5. 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (saunf)
6. A small piece of cinnamon
7. 2 sprigs of curry leaves
8. 2 pinches of asafoetida
9. Salt to taste
10. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
11. 2 teaspoons of tamarind extract or to taste (optional)
12. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
1. Take all the ingredients listed under ‘To grind’ in a mixer jar. Grind to a smooth paste along with about 1/4 cup of water. Keep aside.
2. Chop the tomatoes roughly. Grind them to a smooth paste without adding any water. Keep aside.
3. Chop the onion finely. Peel the potatoes and cut them into thin slices, dropping them in water to prevent them from getting discoloured. Keep ready.
4. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida. Let them stay in for a few seconds.
5. Now, add in the finely chopped onions. Turn the flame down to medium. Saute on medium flame for 3-4 minutes or till the onions are done.
6. Drain out all the water from the sliced potatoes and add them to the pan. Add about 1/2 cup water, along with the turmeric powder and a little salt. Mix well.
7. Cover and cook on medium flame for 6-7 minutes or till the potatoes are about 90% cooked.
8. At this stage, add in the tomato puree and the spice paste we ground earlier.
9. Adjust salt to taste. Add 1/2 cup more water or as needed to adjust consistency. Mix well.
10. Cook on medium flame for 7-10 minutes or till the raw smell of the ingredients has completely gone. Switch off gas when the mixture is still on the runnier side – it thickens up quite a bit with time.
11. Mix in the finely chopped coriander. Your Vengaya Kose is ready. Serve warm with pooris, rotis, idli, dosa, khara pongal or upma.
Is this recipe vegan and gluten-free?
This Vengaya Kose recipe is completely vegetarian and vegan, suited to those following a plant-based diet.
It is not gluten-free because of the use of asafoetida. Most Indian brands of asafoetida commercially available these days do contain wheat flour, to a lesser or greater extent, and are best avoided when one is following a gluten-free diet. If you wish to make this dish gluten-free, simply skip the asafoetida used in the tempering. However, if you can find 100% gluten-free asafoetida, you can definitely go ahead and use it.
Tips & Tricks
1. I have used a mix of the hot Salem Gundu dry and the not-so-spicy Bydagi dry red chillies. You can use any variety you prefer. Adjust the quantity of dry red chillies depending upon your personal taste preferences. The colour of the gravy will depend upon the variety of dry red chillies used.
2. Adjust the quantity of water you use depending upon the consistency of Vengaya Kose that you require.
3. Use country (aka ‘Nati’) tomatoes, as opposed to the regular ‘farmed’ ones, for the beautiful sour flavour they add to the dish.
4. Adding the tamarind extract is purely optional – skip it if you feel the sourness from the tomatoes is enough. Tamarind is not used in Vengaya Kose traditionally, but I do prefer using it.
5. Remember that the Vengaya Kose thickens up upon cooling. It is, therefore, best to keep it on the runnier side.
6. Other whole spices like bay leaves, cloves and star anise can also be added to the tempering. Some families keep the tempering ingredients to a minimum, and that is what I have done too.
7. The potatoes are typically chopped into thin slices, for this recipe, so that they cook well and evenly. The slices should not be very thin, otherwise they tend to disintegrate in the gravy and become very mushy.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me in your comments!