Cold, rainy days – the first thought that springs to mind in terms of food is something spicy and tangy – something to get the taste buds dancing. One such is that quintessential comfort food that I’m pretty sure every South Indian is familiar with – Vettal Kuzhambu.
Usually, this is something that is prepared in households when one runs out of vegetables ;-). No time to go over to the market for fresh veggies – it is indeed Vettal Kuzhambu to the rescue. Kuzhambu means a liquid gravy (though people who hail from Palghat usually tend to call it Kootan) and Vettal means dried, preserved berries.
Vettal Kuzhambu and plain white rice is a marriage made in heaven. They pair up beautifully and leave people wanting more. A simple dry vegetable on the side or better still some fried or roasted pappadum equals foodie paradise.
The recipe is quite simple, the cooking process – even simpler. The end product – pricelessly divine J.
Ingredients (for the masala powder)
2 tbsps coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
8-10 red chillies (depending on how fiery one wants the gravy to be)
1 tsp black peppercorns
Dry roast the above ingredients and once cooled, powder all the above in the mixer into a fine powder.
(This quantity should be enough for one batch of VettalKuzhambu but usually, in many households, this gets powdered in large quantities and stored in jars. It keeps well and can be used for rasam or poricha kuzhambu as well).
Ingredients (for the gravy)
1 small cup of masoor or tuvar dal (I normally soak the dal for 4-5 hours)
1 lemon size ball of tamarind (soaked in warm water for about half hour)
Masala powder (recipe above)
Asafoetida powder – ½ tsp
Salt to taste
A small piece of jaggery
1/8th tsp turmeric powder
A few curry leaves
Mustard seeds, udad dal (lentils) for tadka (seasoning)
Dry Vattal (can use any dry vattal – we normally use chundakkai (also known as turkey berry) or what we call marathangalikkai (am not aware of its English name). In the absence of these, one could also use dry, preserved bitter gourd or parikkai vettal.
1. Mash up the tamarind and strain the pulp out. Add some more water to the strained pulp and repeat the process. This can be done one more time, by which time only the fibre of the tamarind would remain.
2. Pressure cook the dal and turmeric powder until it is of mashable consistency. Soaking the dal for 4-5 hours prior to cooking shortens cooking time considerably.
3. Pour the dal into a cooking pot and add the tamarind water.
4. Add the masala powder, salt, jaggery and the asafoetida and let simmer on low fire until the mixture thickens to the desired consistency. Simmer on slow fire because that lets the spices really seep through into the dal. By this time, the entire house will be filled with the aroma of the VettalKuzhambu.
5. Once it reaches the required consistency, turn the heat off.
6. Season/tadka – with mustard seeds, udad dal and curry leaves.
7. The vattals have to be fried (on low fire) and added to the gravy just before serving.
8. Serve with hot plain white rice and a dry vegetable or pappadums on the side.