Nam Jim| Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce

Nam Jim‘ is Thai for dipping sauce, of which there are many, many versions. There are several types of dipping sauces prepared in Thailand, to go with grilled meat, seafood, chicken, vegetables, hot pot and satay. Though most of these sauces are a mix of hot and sweet, salty and sour, there are variations in the ingredients and techniques used. Today, I am going to share with you all my recipe for a Thai-style dipping sauce – a sweet red chilli sauce.

This Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce is inspired by memories of our holidays in Thailand, what I have learnt of the cuisine by observing and doing. It might not be the most authentic Nam Jim recipe, but I can assure you that it tastes absolutely delicious. This is a sweetish, moderately spicy and sour sauce that goes beautifully with most fried snacks, including samosas, spring rolls, cigars, cheese poppers and pakoras. Try it out, and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

Nam Jim, Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce

A note on the ingredients used

Several Thai dipping sauces contain shrimp paste and/or oyster or fish sauce. However, this Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce is completely vegetarian, made using ingredients commonly available here in Bangalore. It is a vegan (plant-based) and gluten-free sauce, too.

I have used moderately spicy red Fresno chillies to make this sauce, along with tomato to give it more body and flavour. Some ginger and garlic go in, too. Sugar has been used to sweeten the sauce, and a mix of tamarind extract and white vinegar to sour it. There is no corn flour or other thickening agent used.

This Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce is not fermented, as many sauces are. It is an instant sauce, one that can be used immediately after preparation, though I believe the flavours intensify after a day or so of the making.

Red Fresno chillies, which I have used to make this sauce

Other sauce and dip recipes on my blog

You might want to take a look at the other recipes for sauces and dips on my blog:

Nam Jim or Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce recipe

Here’s how to go about it.

Ingredients (makes about 1-1/2 cups):

1. A small piece of tamarind

2. 250 grams of red Fresno chillies

3. A 1-inch piece of ginger

4. 6-8 cloves of garlic

5. 1 medium-sized tomato

6. 1 teaspoon oil

7. Salt to taste, about 1/2 teaspoon

8. 1 cup sugar or to taste

9. 1/8 cup white vinegar or to taste

Method:

Top left, centre and right: Steps 1, 2 and 3, Below top right: Step 4, Bottom right: Step 5, Bottom centre and left: Step 6

1. Soak the tamarind in a little boiling water, so as to soften it. Allow it to cool down enough to handle.

2. In the meantime, remove the tops from the Fresno chillies and chop them roughly, including the seeds. Chop the tomato roughly. Peel the ginger and garlic, and chop them up too.

3. When the tamarind has cooled down, squeeze out all the juice from it. Use water as needed to help with the extraction. I had a little less than 1/2 cup of extract.

4. Now, we will start making the Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, and add in the chopped ginger and garlic. Saute for about a minute.

5. Add in the chopped tomato at this stage. Turn the flame down to medium. Saute till the tomatoes turn mushy, 3-4 minutes.

6. Now add in the chopped Fresno chillies and a little salt. Cook on medium flame for 5-6 minutes or till the chillies are almost done.

Top left and right: Step 7, Centre left and right: Steps 8 and 9, Bottom left and right: Step 10

7. Add the tamarind extract to the pan. Cook on medium flame for 4-5 minutes or till the raw smell of the tamarind is gone and the chillies are cooked. Considering that the skin of Fresno chillies is quite thick, they might not turn completely soft – just make sure they are not raw. Turn the flame down to low at this stage.

8. Add in the sugar and salt to taste. Mix well. Let the sugar get completely dissolved, which should take about 2 minutes. Switch off gas.

9. Mix in the white vinegar.

10. Allow the mixture to cool down completely, then transfer it to a mixer jar. Grind to a smooth puree. Let it settle for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a clean, dry, air-tight bottle. Keep the Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce refrigerated and use as needed with a clean, dry spoon.

Related event: Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge

This recipe is brought to you in association with the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge, a group of passionate food bloggers that I am part of.

For the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge, we participants post every month, based on a pre-determined theme. The participants are paired together, and every pair exchanges two ingredients secretly without the knowledge of the rest of the group. These secret ingredients are used by each participant to create a dish that fits into the theme of the month. A picture of each dish is then shared in the group, and the members try to guess the two secret ingredients that went into it.

The theme for September 2022 was ‘Chutneys and Condiments’, suggested by Preethi of Cakes & Curries. You guys have to check out the gorgeous Onion Jam she has prepared for the theme!

I was paired with Renu, the author of Cook With Renu, for the month. I suggested that Renu make a condiment using ginger and salt, and she came up with a unique recipe for Pickled Nasturtium Seeds – head to her blog to read the detailed proceedure! She assigned to me the secret ingredients of ‘tamarind’ and ‘garlic’, and I used them to make this Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce.

Tips & Tricks

1. You can use any variety of red chillies you prefer – adjust the quantity depending upon how hot they are. If they are too hot, you might want to remove the seeds before using them in the sauce. Adjust the quantities of other ingredients according to the spice level of the red chillies.

2. I prefer using red Fresno chillies (commonly available at Namdhari’s) as they are moderately hot and perfectly suited to our tastebuds. I do not remove the seeds. I do not need to wear gloves, but you might want to.

3. The tomato balances out the heat of the chillies and gives some body to the sauce. I use Nati (country) tomatoes for this purpose. Do not use too many tomatoes, which will make the sauce taste like tomato ketchup.

4. Adjust the quantity of tamarind as per personal taste preferences. Using white vinegar in addition to the tamarind gives the sauce just the right amount of acidity, fragrance and flavour. This also helps to retain the beautiful red colour of the chillies – using too much tamarind might darken the sauce.

5. Regular granulated sugar goes best in this Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce, but you may use jaggery or coconut sugar instead. Adjust as per taste.

6. I prefer grinding the sauce smooth, but you can keep it chunky if you so prefer.

7. You may add some onion and/or lemongrass to give more flavour to the sauce. I typically don’t.

8. When bottled and refrigerated, this Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce stays for up to a month. However, since it is made without any preservatives, it is better used sooner rather than later.

9. You may pass the sauce through a strainer before bottling it, but I prefer not to.

10. You can grind the chillies, ginger, garlic and tomato first and then cook the mixture to a sauce. However, I prefer doing it the way I have outlined above.

11. This sauce turns out quite thick, and does not need any thickening agent like cornflour. If you want to use it as a dipping sauce, take a small quantity in a bowl and dilute it with water as needed.

12. The flavours of this sauce intensify about a day after it is made. So, it is best prepared at least 24 hours before it is supposed to be used.

13. Be very careful while salting the sauce. Ideally, this sauce is supposed to be sweet and moderately spicy, with just a little salt to balance it out. About 1/2 teaspoon of salt in total should be good.

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

Seeni Sambol| Sri Lankan Caramelised Onion Relish

Seeni Sambol is a beautiful condiment from the island nation of Sri Lanka, made using onions.

I made a batch of Seeni Sambol recently for a blog challenge I am participating in, and it turned out so, so good! I am glad I found an authentic recipe on the Internet, and made it with some little deviations. In today’s blog post, let me share with you all how I went about making this flavour bomb of a condiment, or relish if you want to call it that.

Seeni Sambol – it’s finger-lickingly delicious!

Exploring Sri Lankan cuisine

Sri Lankan cuisine is robust and flavourful, with ample use of fragrant spices, curry leaves, rice, coconut, tropical fruits, seafood, poultry. meat and local vegetables. Many assume that Sri Lankan food is just the same as Indian food, but it is definitely not – Sri Lanka has a distinct, unique and wonderful cuisine all of its own. Parippu (dhal) Curry, Polos (baby jackfruit) Curry, Kiribath (milk rice), Idiyappam (string hoppers), Appam (rice and coconut milk pancakes), Mallung (stir-fry), Wambatu Moju (eggplant pickle) and Pol Pani (coconut pancake) are some traditional vegetarian dishes from Sri Lanka. Different types of dry condiments (called ‘Sambol‘) are also an integral part of Sri Lankan cuisine – Pol Sambol (made with coconut), Amu Miris Sambol (made with green chillies), Lunu Miris (using red chilli), Gotukola Sambol (made using Asiatic pennywort), Karapincha Sambol (made with curry leaves), Katta Sambol (which is tangy) and Seeni Sambol (which is sweet and spicy) are a few examples.

Aided by a colleague of the husband’s, who is more like a friend, I have had the chance to try out some lovely Sri Lankan dishes, such as this Dhal Curry and Pol Sambol I made some time ago and absolutely adored. I am no expert in the country’s cuisine, but I love how this exploring brings me a little bit closer to the place and makes me feel what it would be like to visit some day!

What is Seeni Sambol?

Any dry condiment or chutney is called ‘sambol‘ in the Sinhalese language, and ‘Seeni Sambol‘ means ‘sambol that is sweet’. The sweetness comes from the slow caramelisation of onions, and along with the sour and spicy flavours that are added in, the Seeni Sambol is quite a force to reckon with.

Seeni Sambol is quite a popular thing in Sri Lanka, from what I understand. It is a hugely versatile condiment that is not just a great accomplishment to meals, but can also be used in several other ways. The Seeni Sambol can be stuffed into buns and sandwiches, and also in burgers. It goes well with rice, string hoppers and toasted bread alike. We polished off most of the sambol I made with dosas – it tastes so good that way too! – and then put the rest into sandwiches, along with some cheese.

The Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge

I am sharing this Seeni Sambol recipe in co-ordination with the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge, a group of passionate food bloggers. We cook based on a pre-determined theme every month – we decided to explore Sri Lankan cuisine for the month of August 2022, and that’s how this post came about.

For the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge, the participants are divided into pairs. Each pair exchanges two ingredients secretly, unknown to the rest of the group members. These ingredients are to be used by each member in preparing a dish that fits into the theme of the month. A picture of each finished dish is posted in the group, and everyone tries to guess the two secret ingredients that have gone into them. It’s super fun and challenging, and an incredible learning experience!

Narmadha, fellow food blogger at Nams Corner, loves Sri Lankan food, and she suggested we explore the same in August 2022. She has quite a few Sri Lankan dishes on her blog already, and you should definitely check out the droolworthy dessert Dodol she has dished up for the challenge!

I was partnered with Kalyani of Sizzling Tastebuds for the month, and suggested she make something using chickpeas and Sri Lankan curry powder. She used them in this beauty of a dish, Haath Maluwa or a Sri Lankan 7-vegetable curry. Can’t wait to try out your recipe, Kalyani! 🙂

Kalyani gave me ‘tamarind’ and ‘curry leaves’ as my secret ingredients, and I used both of them in Seeni Sambol.

Seeni Sambol recipe

Here is how I made the Seeni Sambol. I have adapted the proceedure from Top Sri Lankan Recipe, with a few little changes.

Ingredients (makes about 1 cup):

1. 3 medium-sized onions

2. A small piece of tamarind

3. 1/2 tablespoon oil

4. 2 green cardamom

5. A small piece of cinnamon

6. 1 sprig fresh curry leaves

7. Salt to taste

8. Red chilli powder to taste

9. 1 tablespoon jaggery powder or to taste

Method:

Top left, centre and right: Steps 1, 2 and 3, Bottom left, centre and right: Steps 4, 5 and 6

1. Soak the tamarind in a little boiling hot water for 15-20 minutes. Allow it to soften.

2. Meanwhile, peel the onions and slice them thinly.

3. When the tamarind has cooled down enough to handle, extract all the juice from it. Keep the tamarind extract thick and not too watery.

4. Now, heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the green cardamom, cinnamon and curry leaves. Let them stay in for a few seconds, without burning.

5. Add the sliced onions to the pan now, along with a little salt. Mix well. Turn the flame down to medium.

6. Saute the onions on medium flame for 3-4 minutes. Stir intermittently. By this time, the onions would have become soft.

Left top and bottom: Steps 7 and 8, Right top and bottom: Steps 9 and 10

7. At this stage, add in salt and red chilli powder to taste. Add in the jaggery powder as well. Mix well.

8. Saute for a minute on medium flame.

9. Add the tamarind extract to the pan. Mix well.

10. Cook on medium flame for 4-5 more minutes till the raw smell of the tamarind has gone. Switch off gas when the ingredients come together into a homogeneous mixture and get a nice dark brown colour. Your Seeni Sambol is ready to use. If you are not using it immediately, allow it to cool down completely and then bottle it up. Store refrigerated.

Tips & Tricks

1. I have used regular red onions here. From what I understand, these onions work best in this recipe.

2. You can use sugar in place of the jaggery I have used here. I prefer the jaggery.

3. I have used moderately spicy red chilli powder here. You can use red chilli flakes instead, too.

4. Remember to keep the tamarind extract thick and not too watery. Adjust the quantity as per personal taste preferences.

5. Use a heavy-bottomed pan to make the Seeni Sambol. It is crucial to cook the mixture on medium heat, so the onions cook evenly and caramelise nicely, without burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan.

6. Some recipes suggest mincing the onions for the Seeni Sambol. I prefer finely slicing them, the way I have done here.

7. Some add a piece of pandan leaf and/or a lemongrass along with the whole spices. I have not used these ingredients as I did not have them.

8. You can add a few other whole spices like bay leaves, star anise and cloves too. I stuck to cinnamon and green cardamom only so as not to overpower the dish.

9. Keep the Seeni Sambol refrigerated when not in use, in a clean, dry, air-tight bottle or box. Use a clean, dry spoon only. This way, it stays for up to 2 weeks, but it is best to use it sooner rather than later.

10. This is a completely vegetarian recipe that is vegan (plant-based) as well as gluten-free.

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

Vengaya Kose| Chettinad Onion & Potato Gravy

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.

Vengaya Kose, served with dosas

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):

To grind:

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

Other ingredients:

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

Method:

Top left and right: Step 1, Below top right and bottom right: Step 2, Bottom left: Step 3

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.

Top left, centre and right: Steps 4, 5 and 6, Below top right: Step 7, Bottom right, centre and left: Steps 8, 9 and 10

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!

Methi Zunka| Jhunka

Zunka is a popular tea-time snack in Maharashtra, as well as in the bordering region of North Karnataka. It refers to savoury squares made using gram flour (besan), which are lightly sweet and sour and absolutely flavourful! Today, let me take you through the recipe for Methi Zunka, where fenugreek greens are added to these squares, making them all the more delicious.

Methi Zunka, healthy and delish!

What constitutes Zunka?

Zunka, also often referred to as Jhunka, is a rather simple thing to make. Gram flour is mixed up into a sort of slurry, with water and a few other ingredients, which is then cooked till thick. This mixture is then poured into a greased plate and cut into squares. It is typically served garnished with fresh grated coconut and finely chopped coriander leaves, sometimes sesame seeds too.

Sugar is used to add a hint of sweetness to Zunka, while tamarind is used for sourness. A freshly made paste of ginger and green chillies adds the spice punch.

It is believed that Zunka originated from the need to create a snack out of a very lean pantry that had limited or no vegetables in stock. That is why the typical Zunka is made plain, with no vegetables. However, sometimes, as a variation, vegetables or greens like onions, coriander, spinach, fenugreek leaves and cabbage are added to it. Like I was saying earlier, I have made mine with fenugreek greens aka methi.  I have also added in some garlic here, as it goes really well in Zunka.

A closer look at Zunka

Tamilian households prepare an accompaniment for idlis and dosas using gram flour, called Bombay Chutney. This chutney is believed to have its roots in Pitla, a runny dip from Maharashtra which is made using gram flour too, but with slightly different ingredients. When Pitla is cooked further, giving it a consistency similar to Rava Upma, it becomes Zunka.

Some people steam the Zunka, similar to the Khaman from the state of Gujarat. Some deep-fry the pieces after it cools down and hardens. We prefer Zunka cooked to ‘cake’ consistency, as in this recipe, neither steamed nor deep-fried.

This version of Zunka can be eaten as a snack, on its own, or with a cup of tea on the side. It is also part of full-fledged thali meals in Maharashtra and North Karnataka, where it is paired with rotis made from jowar or other millets. I still remember the distinctly beautiful taste of the Zunka that was part of the North Karnataka-style Jolada Rotti Oota we ordered in from Kamat Yatri Nivas, during the lockdown last year.

The Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge

This recipe for Methi Zunka is brought to you in association with the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge, a group that I am part of.

The Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge is run by a bunch of passionate food bloggers, who share recipes based on a pre-determined theme every month. The group members are divided into pairs, with each pair exchanging two ingredients secretly, unknown to the rest. Each pair then uses these two ingredients to prepare a dish that fits into the theme of the month. The other group members then try to guess the two secret ingredients that have been used in each dish – it’s a very challenging and fun exercise!

The theme for the month of July 2022 was ‘Maharashtrian recipes’, as suggested by Poonam of Annapurna. Maharashtra is Poonam’s home state, and she has several traditional recipes from the cuisine on her blog. I have been drooling over her gorgeous Misal Pav for long – I should try it out soon. 🙂

I was paired with Preethi, the versatile blogger behind Preethi’s Cuisine, for the challenge. Preethi suggested I make a dish using ‘tamarind’ and ‘methi greens’ as my ingredients, and I decided to use them to make this Methi Zunka. I suggested ‘green chillies’ and ‘peanuts’ as her secret ingredients, and she used them in this delectable Hirvi Mirchi Cha Thecha.

How to make Methi Zunka

Most of the Maharashtrian recipes on this blog are inspired by my Paati, my paternal grandmother. She spent a large part of her life in a Maharashtrian colony, and it was here that she learnt how to prepare several dishes from the cuisine.

My Paati’s Tendli Masale Bhat, Aambe Dal, and Shevgyachi Shengachi Amti are huge favourites in our family. For this Methi Zunka recipe too, I turned to my memories of Paati dishing up some wonderful Maharashtrian treats for us, things that she had learnt from her friends and neighbours, me sitting beside her and watching her cook. Paati would usually prepare the Zunka without any vegetables, while I commonly add in some or the other greens to fortify it.

Here is how to go about making Methi Zunka.

Ingredients (serves 4):

1. 1 cup gram flour (besan)

2. Salt to taste

3. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

4. A small piece of tamarind

5. 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons of sugar

6. 1 loosely packed cup fenugreek (methi) greens

7. 4-5 cloves of garlic

8. A 1-inch piece of ginger

9. 2 green chillies or as per taste

10. 3/4 tablespoon oil + some more for greasing plate

11. 3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

12. 2 pinches of asafoetida

13. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander

14. 1 tablespoon grated fresh coconut

Method:

Top left and centre: Steps 1 and 2, Top right and below: Step 3, Bottom right: Step 4, Bottom centre and left: Steps 5 and 6

1. Soak the tamarind in a little boiling water for at least 15 minutes. Let it get cool enough to handle.

2. In the meantime, wash the methi leaves thoroughly under running water, to remove all traces of dirt from them. Place in a colander and let all the water drain out.

3. Peel the ginger and chop roughly. Remove the tops from the green chillies and chop roughly. Grind the chopped ginger and green chillies together to a paste, using a little water, in a small mixer jar.

4. When the tamarind has cooled down enough, extract all the juice from it. Keep aside.

5. Peel the garlic cloves. Chop them finely. Keep aside.

6. After all the water has drained out of the methi greens, chop them up finely. Keep ready.

Top left and centre: Step 7, Top right: Step 9, Bottom left: Step 10, Bottom centre and right: Step 11

7. Take the gram flour in a large mixing bowl. Add salt, sugar and turmeric powder. Add in the tamarind extract and 1 cup of water. Mix well to form a runny lump-free batter. Keep this ready.

8. Grease a medium-sized plate with a little oil and keep it ready.

9. Now, we will begin preparing the Methi Zunka. Heat 3/4 tablespoon oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the mustard seeds and allow them to sputter. Next add in the asafoetida and the finely chopped garlic. Saute for about a minute for the garlic to cook.

10. Now, add the green chilli-ginger paste to the pan. Reduce flame to medium. Saute for a minute.

11. Add the chopped methi leaves to the pan. Add a little salt and water. Saute for about 2 minutes or till the greens are cooked.

Top left: Step 12, Top centre and right: Step 13, Below top right: Step 14, Bottom right and centre: Steps 15 and 16, Bottom left: Step 17

12. At this stage, add the gram flour mixture to the pan, stirring with one hand. Continue to keep the flame at medium.

13. Stir constantly for 4-5 minutes or till the mixture thickens up. It should not be overly thick, but not very runny either. Turn the gas down to low. 

14. Close the pan with a tight-fitting lid. Let the mixture cook on low heat for 2-3 minutes or till it no longer tastes raw. Switch off gas at this stage.

15. Immediately transfer the cooked batter to the greased plate. Smooth out the top using the back of a small bowl (katori).

16. Sprinkle grated fresh coconut and finely chopped coriander evenly over it. Let it sit undisturbed till it cools down fully.

17. Once it has completely cooled down, cut into square pieces using a knife. Your Methi Zunka is ready to serve. Serve it as a snack on its own or as part of a full-fledged Maharashtrian meal.

Is this a vegan and gluten-free recipe?

This recipe is completely vegetarian and vegan, suited to those following a plant-based diet.

However, it is not gluten-free due to the use of asafoetida. Most Indian brands of asafoetida do contain wheat flour and are, hence, best avoided when one is following a gluten-free diet. If you want to make this Methi Zunka gluten-free, simply skip the asafoetida used in the above recipe.

Tips & Tricks

1. For best results, use fresh gram flour that is free of any odour.

2. Use methi greens that are very fresh, for best results.

3. Adjust the quantity of green chillies, tamarind, salt and sugar as per personal taste preferences.

4. Jaggery powder can be used in place of the sugar.

5. Make sure all impurities and seeds are removed from the tamarind extract, before it is used in the dish.

6. You can dry roast the gram flour for 2-3 minutes, before using it in this recipe. This helps it cook faster, but it is not really required to do so.

7. Do not overcook the gram flour mixture. When it has thickened up and is past the ‘runny’ stage, switch off gas and pour into the greased plate.

8. You may skip the garlic if you do not prefer using it.

9. Allow the Zunka to cool down completely before cutting it into pieces. It will harden up somewhat on cooling, making the process of cutting easier.

10. Spinach (palak) or fresh coriander can be used in place of the methi greens used here. You can even make Zunka Vadi without the addition of any greens.

11. Do not use more than the specified amount of methi greens, as that might make the Methi Zunka bitter.

12. Use a greased plate of the right size for the perfect Methi Zunka. If you use a very small plate, the vadi will be too thick. If you use a very large plate, the vadi will turn out too thin.

13. A non-stick pan works best for making this Methi Zunka. If you don’t have a non-stick pan, a regular pan will work, but some of the batter will stick to the bottom – you need to be prepared for that.

14. The batter will get thick really fast, once it is poured into the hot pan. So you will need to work quickly with it.

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

Mambazha Sambar| Ripe Mango Sambar

Mambazha Sambar is a summer-time delicacy in many Tamilian households. It refers to sambar made using ripe mango, usually with a freshly ground spice paste. With its mildly sweetish, sour and spicy tastes, this sambar surely is a flavour bomb. The mango-ey smell that fills the air when this sambar is cooking is absolutely heavenly, too!

This Mambazha Sambar is a recipe from my husband’s side of the family – we make more of raw mango sambar in my mom and dad’s side. I learnt how to make this after I got married and, now, the extended family loves the way I make it. We usually make a big batch of this Mambazha Sambar for lunch, to go with hot rice, and have the leftover with idli or dosa for dinner – a lovely combination either way!

Let me share with you all, today, how we go about making this dish at home. Do make it while ripe mangoes are still in season!

Mambazha Sambar, quite the flavour bomb!

You might also want to check out my recipes for Thai Sticky Rice With Mango, Mambazha Pulissery and Mango Lassi. Also, do check out our family recipe for Pala Kottai Sambar, another traditional Tamilnadu summer delicacy i.e. sambar made with jackfruit seeds.

What is sambar?

Sambar‘ refers to a sort of stew from South India that is typically made using vegetables and lentils. It acts as an accompaniment for rice and tiffin dishes like idli, dosa and vada. There are variations to the sambar made in different states of South India – in fact, there are a few variations that exist within each state itself. Here’s a recipe for Udupi Sambar, which is commonly served in the darshinis of Bangalore.

Tamilnadu sambar can be broadly divided into two categories:

  1. One made with a freshly ground paste consisting of coconut, dry red chillies, chana dal and other ingredients. This type of sambar is called Arachuvitta Sambar, which literally translates into ‘sambar containing a ground paste’.
  2. One made with sambar podi, which is a dry powder made using various roasted and ground spices. This version is called ‘podi potta sambar‘.

While sambar is typically made with toor dal, there is a variety we make using moong dal too, called Pasi Paruppu Sambar. Here’s our family recipe.

What goes into Mambazha Sambar

Like I was saying earlier, Mambazha Sambar is made with ripe mangoes and a freshly ground spice paste. It, therefore, falls under the category of ‘arachuvitta sambar‘.

The spice paste gives the sambar body and flavour, and is made using ingredients like fresh coconut, coriander seeds, chana dal and dry red chillies. Cooked toor dal is also used to add texture to the sambar. Tamarind extract and a bit of jaggery are used to balance the sweet-sour taste of the mangoes.

The Mambazha Sambar is tempered with fenugreek seeds and dry red chillies apart from the usual mustard, asafoetida and curry leaves.

Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge

I am sharing this recipe in association with the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge, a 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 group members are divided into pairs. Each pair exchanges two ingredients secretly, unknown to the rest of the group. The pairs then use these secret ingredients to prepare a dish that fits into the theme of the month. The other group members try to guess the secret ingredients, after seeing a picture of the dish. It’s quite a fun challenge!

The theme for May 2022 was ‘mango-based dishes’, suggested by Mayuri ji, author of Mayuri’s Jikoni. She suggested we prepare any dish of our choice using either ripe or raw mangoes, and I chose to showcase this family favourite Mambazha Sambar. Mayuri ji prepared this delectable Fajeto or Gujarati Ripe Mango Kadhi for the challenge.

I was paired with Radha of Magical Ingredients for the month. She gave me two versatile ingredients to work with – salt and curry leaves – which fit right into this recipe. 😊 I suggested she make something using flour and butter, and she prepared this amazing Mango Melon Pan.

How to make Mambazha Sambar

This flavourful sambar is not very difficult to put together. The proceedure is outlined below in detail.

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

For the spice paste:

1. 4-5 Bydagi dry red chillies

2. 2-3 Salem Gundu dry red chillies

3. 2 tablespoons coriander seeds

4. 1 tablespoon chana dal

5. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (jeera)

6. A pinch of fenugreek seeds (methi)

7. About 1/4 cup of fresh coconut pieces

8. A few drops of oil

Other ingredients:

1. 1/2 cup toor dal

2. A small ball of tamarind

3. 3 small ripe mangoes

4. Salt to taste

5. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

6. Red chilli powder as needed (optional)

6. 1 tablespoon jaggery powder or as needed

Tempering and garnishing:

1. 1 tablespoon sesame oil

2. 3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

3. 2 pinches of asafoetida

4. 2 sprigs of fresh curry leaves

5. 2 dry red chillies

6. 2 pinches of fenugreek seeds

7. 1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander

Method:

Top left and right: Steps 1 and 2, Below top right: Step 3, Bottom right and left: Steps 4 and 5

1. Wash the toor dal well and drain out all the water from it.

2. Take the washed and drained toor dal in a wide vessel. Add in enough fresh water to cover the dal completely. Place the vessel in a pressure cooker and cook on high flame for 7-8 whistles. The toor dal should be well cooked and soft. Let the pressure release naturally.

3. Soak the tamarind in boiling water, for it to soften. Let it cool down enough to handle.

4. Peel the mangoes. Chop the flesh into large pieces. Scrape off all the flesh from the seeds too. Collect any juice that flows out.

5. Measure out all the ingredients needed to make the spice paste.

Top left, centre and right: Step 6, Bottom left, centre and right: Steps 7, 8 and 9

6. Now, we will prepare the spice paste. Heat a few drops of oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and add in the Bydagi dry red chillies, Salem Gundu dry red chillies, coriander seeds, chana dal, cumin and fenugreek seeds. Turn the flame down to medium. Roast the ingredients on medium flame for 3-4 minutes or till the lentils turn brown – take care to ensure that they do not burn. At this stage, add in the coconut and roast for just 2 seconds. Transfer the roasted ingredients to a plate immediately and let them cool down completely.

7. When the pressure from the cooker has completely gone down, get the cooked toor dal out. Mash it thoroughly and keep aside.

8. Extract all the juice from the tamarind, once it has cooled down. Use water as needed to help with the extraction. Keep aside.

9. When the roasted ingredients have cooled down completely, grind everything together to a smooth paste in a small mixer jar, using a little water. Keep aside.

Top left: Step 10, Top centre and right: Step 11, Bottom left and centre: Step 12, Bottom right: Step 13

10. Now, we will start preparing the Mambazha Sambar. Take the tamarind in a heavy-bottomed pan and place on high flame. Allow to cook for 4-5 minutes or till the raw smell of the tamarind is gone.

11. Add in the mangoes and a bit of salt. Mix well.

12. Next, add the cooked and mashed toor dal and the spice paste we ground earlier. Add in about a cup of water. Mix well.

13. Cook on medium flame for 3-4 minutes or till the sambar starts thickening and coming together.

Top left and right: Step 14, Below top right: Step 15, Bottom right: Step 16, Bottom left: The Mambazha Sambar, ready to serve

14. Add jaggery powder and red chilli powder, if using. Adjust the salt. Mix well. Cook for about a minute, then switch off gas.

15. In a small tempering pan, heat the oil. Add in the mustard and allow it to sputter. Then, add in the asafoetida, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds and dry red chillies. Let these ingredients stay in for a few seconds, ensuring that they do not burn. Now, add this tempering to the prepared sambar.

16. Add in the finely chopped coriander. Mix well. Keep closed for about 10 minutes, after which your Mambazha Sambar is ready to serve.

Vegan and gluten-free

This Mambazha Sambar recipe is completely vegetarian and vegan, suited to those following a plant-based diet.

To make it gluten-free, skip the asafoetida used in the tempering. Most commercially available Indian brands of asafoetida do contain wheat flour, 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.

This is a no-onion, no-garlic recipe.

Tips & Tricks

1. Use mangoes that are juicy and ripe, but not overly so. They should be firm to the touch and a good mix of sweet and sour. I used 2 small Sindhoora mangoes and 1 small Banganapalli.

2. Adjust the quantity of jaggery powder and tamarind depending upon how sweet and sour the mangoes are.

3. For best results, the mango pieces should not be overly cooked. That is why they are added in after the tamarind extract has cooked well and lost its raw smell.

4. I have used a mix of the spicy Salem Gundu dry red chillies and the not-so-hot Bydagi dry red chillies here. You can use any variety you prefer. Adjust the quantity of dry red chillies as per personal taste preferences.

5. The red chilli powder is optional. Use it only when you feel the heat from the dry red chillies is not enough. Ideally, this Mambazha Sambar should be gently sweetish, with just the right amount of spiciness and sourness to balance it out.

6. Adjust the amount of water you use, depending upon the consistency of the sambar you require.

7. Sesame oil (‘nalla ennai‘ in Tamil) tastes best in this sambar. However, you may also use ghee or any other variety of oil for the tempering.

8. Here, I have done the tempering at the very end so the smell of the sesame oil remains intact. You could even do so before beginning to cook the dish.

9. The Mambazha Sambar thickens up even after you stop cooking. Keep it a little runny so that the consistency is perfect when you serve it.

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