Vatha Kuzhambu - Traditional and a staple recipe of South India. A tamarind based gravy. Super spicy and tangy. Served as a main course with rice.
Vatha Kuzhambu is one of the traditional dishes of South India. A spicy tangy dish that is made with tamarind extract and mostly shallots or even sometimes veggie. It is served with rice and some mild curry as a side. Since vatha kuzhambu is a spicy hot dish, it is generally paired with something that is mild and less spicy to balance the heat. One such pairing is Keerai kootu (recipe in the next post) made with green leaves (like spinach and amarnath leaves) and lentils. Even though this kuzhambu has simple ingredients, it takes time to perfect it. I am not discouraging but this has a tendency to go the wrong way easily. The quality of the tamarind pulp (see my notes below), the time you allow it simmer and the sambhar powder plays a major role in bringing out the exact flavour of this dish. But once you get hold of these ingredients, this is quite a breeze.
The base for the dish is tamarind water and nothing else. It is simmered until it thickens and is reduced to half. Measuring the exact amount of tamarind is intricate. It depends on the quality and the age of the tamarind. This has a significant effect on the taste of the final dish. Aged tamarind like wine, tastes better. It is less acidic (sour) and its slightly sweet making it a good choice for these kinds of dishes. Sometimes you can differentiate the old one and the new one by colour, the older one being darker. Yet most of the time you can get the exact amount by trial and error.
When you buy tamarind pulp, buy it in bulk or try buying the same brand. This way after a couple of times, you know how much amount to use each time for that particular batch. This would avoid the confusion of measuring it right every time you get a new pack of tamarind pulp.
My hubby's great grand-mom is an excellent cook. She eye-balls the ingredients and it always turns out to be the exact amount of measurement required and she also had a great sense of cooking time. It seems that she would keep things on the stove, then goes to do other household chores. Even in the middle of other works, she exactly knows when the dish would be done or if it is the perfect time to season it etc... So is her cooking skill.
Everyone admired her for that and at the same time feared to enter the kitchen thinking that they would eventually disappoint her when trying to help. Whenever I hear stories about her, I wish I could cook like her one day. She always said that one who makes the perfect rasam (a south Indian soup dish) is indeed the best cook. It is such a simple dish and does not have many ingredients. It is made with tamarind extract and mashed lentils. Yet it is hard as it is little difficult to handle tamarind. You should know the right proportion of ingredients to balance the tangy flavour of the tamarind.
But when you prepare it in the right way, it is one of the best and most comforting food. So Kudos to anyone who can make that very scrumptious. This dish is in every way similar to this. A simple and an easy dish that can speak wonders. A dish to die for I would rather say. You can check out other kuzhambu varieties here.
Traditional and a staple recipe of South India. A tamarind based gravy. Super spicy and tangy. Served as a main course with rice.
- Gooseberry sized Tamarind soaked in a cup of water (1)
- 3-4 cups of Water
- 3 tablespoon sesame Oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 2-3 dry red chillies
- ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- Few Curry leaves
- ½ cup chopped Onions 2
- 2 tablespoon heaped Sambhar Powder
- ½ tablespoon rice flour
- Salt to taste
- Soak the tamarind in warm water for about 10 minutes. (3) Extract the juice from the pulp by adding about 3 cups of water.
- Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds. Once they splutter add red chillies, fenugreek seeds and curry leaves.
- Add the onions (or veggies) and sambhar powder. Sauté them for a couple of minutes. Make sure not to burn the sambhar powder.
Then add the extracted tamarind concentrate, and allow it to boil for about 15-20 minutes; until the raw smell of the tamarind is gone.
- The tamarind concentrate would have reduced almost to half the quantity. Add ½ tablespoon of Rice flour (4) and another cup of water and boil it for another 2-3 minutes and turn off the flame.
- Measuring the exact amount of tamarind is intricate. It depends on the quality of the tamarind. This has a significant effect on the taste of the final dish. Aged tamarind like wine, tastes better. It is less acidic (sour) and its slightly sweet making it a good choice for the dishes. Sometimes you can differentiate the old one and the new one by colour, the older one being darker. Yet most of the time you can get the exact amount by trial and error. When you buy tamarind pulp, buy it in bulk so that you know how much to use. This would avoid the confusion of getting the measurement right every time you get a new pack of tamarind pulp.
- Vengaya Vatha kuzhambu is more common in the Indian household. Wow! the very name of it makes me drool. 🙂 But also you can use veggies like ladies finger, yellow pumpkin and drumsticks. Sometimes sundakkai vathal (dried turkey berry), manathakali vathal (black nightshade or wonder berry) is also used. Fried papad can also be used.
- Soaking the tamarind pulp in warm water loosens the pulp and helps in extracting the juice easily. Extract a thick concentrate. This helps to cook and lose the raw flavour of tamarind faster. You can add water in the end and dilute the gravy if it is too thick.
- Rice flour is added to thicken the gravy.
- If you feel the gravy is very tangy, you can add kari powder or chilli powder.
- Add a little jaggery if the gravy is too spicy.
- Do not skip sesame oil. That's what gives this dish an added taste.
P.S: Updated post with new pictures.