Friday, 7 June 2013

Iyengar-style Arachuvitta kathirikkai vattral kozhambhu

Kuzhambu is a common South Indian curry usually made with vegetables and served with rice. Most of these Kuzhambhu varieties use dals (lentils) of some kind except for vattral/vatha kuzhambhu and koddu kuzhambhu. Vattral/vathal is a special way of preserving fresh vegetables by soaking in brine and drying them out in the sun to remove any moisture content. Such preserves can be stored for months and sometimes even years without spoiling. This was (& is) a great way to saving seasonal vegetables to use during the rest of the year. Vattral kuzhambhu incorporates these preserves/vattrals in a curry and makes them the star of the dish and avoids using any dals/lentils that could overpower the taste. Such a kuzhambhu is tangy, salty and spicy and is perfect with hot rice & vegetables & thogaiyals. Vattral kuzhambhu recipes vary depending on the regions, families and traditions. Even among the Iyengars there are two kinds of vattral kuzhambhu, one that uses fenugreek seeds (vendayam) and is commonly called vendhaya kuzhambhu and the other kind is arachu vitta (ground masala) vattral kuzhambhu. It is this arachuvitta variety that I miss most since my grand-mum passed away. Some how she made it taste fantastic. Although both my mum & I try and follow her recipe to the "T" it never comes close to doing justice to her's. But I still keep trying :) There is a saying in Tamil that some people have the "hand for flavour" (Kai manam) which some of us can only wish for! This is one such case :)

Another reason for me to make this particular variety of vattral kuzhambhu is because it uses both black pepper and dried red chillies to give the spicy taste. For families with young children, who cannot yet eat spicy food, this is perfect to create the flavour by reducing the red chillies and using black pepper instead which are usually mild. Again, we can always adjust the amount according to taste and add more urad dal & coconut to create milder kuzhambhu for the children. It is one of Anjalie's favourite and she likes "mixing" in her rice with it. I take this opportunity to make this with baby aubergine (kathirikkai) which is her least favourite veggie. I try to make this now and again but not too often since I prefer to give her a balanced nutrition of protein, carbs and veggies. Since this kuzhambhu lack dals (usual source of protein) I serve this with paruppu thogaiyal (lentils chutney), podi-potta kari (veggie with spiced dal), sundal (stir-fried beans) and lot of yoghurt to create a balance. These many dishes take a while to make, so, they do not feature in our family meal often. But when we do have them it is like a big treat for all of us. So here is the recipe

You will need:
baby aubergine/kathirikkai - 5 nos sliced into 8-10 pieces each or you can use your favourite vattral/veggies
salt to taste
1/2 tsp tamarind paste*
300 ml water
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp oil
Curry leaves for garnish
to roast and grind*:
1 tbsp uard dal
1 tsp dessicated/fresh/frozen coconut
1 tsp black peppercorns
1-2 dried red chillies
1 tsp corriander seeds
1 tsp oil

*Again adjust the amount of tamarind and spices depending on your taste. I tend to match them to Anjalie's taste.

I do not get vattrals here in the UK nor do I get much sun to make it the traditional way. So I use the oven to create them :) Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (fan assisted) Wash and cut the baby aubergines. Add salt & oil and mix well. Arrange them in a single layer on an oven proof dish/baking tray.

Roast/bake for 20 mins until pretty dry and brown. If you want to store them then make sure most of the moisture is removed from them. If using it immediately you need not bother about it too much.

Heat oil in a pan and roast the ingredients listed in "to roast and grind" until the dal is golden brown.

grind into coarse powder.

Mix water, tamarind, turmeric powder and salt in a pan and bring it to a boil. Lower to simmer and cook until the raw tamarind smell disappears.
Go a little easy with the salt since the aubergines have been salted already.

Add the ground masala and the roasted aubergine and bring it to a boil. Turn off the stove. Garnish with curry leaves. Serve with steaming rice and vegetables. While, this turned out great and we all enjoyed it, I still miss my grand-mum and her kuzhambhu. Since both Naz & Anjalie were not lucky enough to taste her kuzhambhu, they said that it tasted great :)

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