Bisi bele bath was a specialty dish prepared in the kitchen of Mysore palace a few centuries ago, and it is still a popular rice dish in Karnataka. It is a hearty meal prepared by stewing rice, lentils & vegetables along with a spice powder in tamarind juice just like sambar sadam, or kadamba sadam or kootanchoru, a counterpart in Tamil cuisine. This Karnataka specialty dish is made flavourful by adding fresh peanuts along with other vegetables, a unique flavorful spice powder made with the distinctly aromatic Marati moggu (kapok bud) as the star ingredient, and also by adding the spices tempered in ghee. It is divine when a spicy Bisi bele bath is served hot (as the name [bisi means hot] suggests) & viscid and hence the perfect meal for cold winter nights.
It was a myth widely circulated in the 80s that coconuts are the main sources of cholesterol-causing artery blocks. So my mother preferred to reduce the use of coconut meat greatly, used coconut milk sparingly, and stopped using coconut oil once for all. But my grandmothers continued to use coconuts profusely, and they found a dish insipid if coconut meat is scantily added into it. In those days, coconut meat was used in almost every vegetable preparation, coconut milk was used for making scrumptious payasam, and coconut oil for frying crunchy snacks like thattai, murukku, banana chips, etc. We relished theeyal mostly in our grandmother’s house as this recipe calls for good lashings of coconut meat fried in coconut oil.
The search for perfect curry powder began in my family when we caught the whiff of mouth-watering parotta salna (flaky flat breads with spicy curry) emanating from the “parotta shop” on our way back home from school. After several trials of various curry powders available in the local market, my brother found Karunanidhi curry masala closely racing behind the one used in parotta shops. It came handy to elevate my mother’s biryani, vegetable kurma, etc. to a whole new level. I still remember the aroma of this curry powder in her kitchen while preparing savoury dishes.
Despite the fact that peanuts can cause ama (indigestion), my father, an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, encouraged us to snack on peanuts even at a young age mainly for 3 reasons: Peanuts are the only legumes that grow underground hence the rich sources of micro-nutrients than any other legumes; they are beneficial to vegetarians for being the greatest sources of plant-based protein; it is possible to rid of ama while taking peanuts. Raw peanuts and roasted peanuts cause ama but not the steamed peanuts, so we can avoid taking raw peanuts altogether. Instead, we can take roasted peanuts along with jaggery, some spices, or herbs that aid in getting rid of ama. Here I have prepared a peanut butter using jaggery and added it into my mug cake.
According to ancient Indian medicine systems Siddha and Ayurveda, tamarind fruits have numerous healing powers. Nowadays, nutritionists recommend to boil the vegetables in tamarind juice instead of plain water to prevent the loss of nutrients, but we have been practising the same for generations. Tamarind is a quintessential ingredient of the traditional south Indian curries like sambar, rasam, or kuzhambu. Besides, we also make pungent tamarind soup (puli thanni) and sweet tamarind juice (panakam) specially on the day of fasting. Obviously, tamarind juice & tamarind soup have excellent detoxifying property and hence they aid in weight loss also.
There were plenty of healthy snacks like boiled peanuts & Palmyra sprouts, roasted corncobs, and locally grown fresh berries & fruits sold in our school canteen. We relished them as much as the deep-fried snacks like puffs, samosa, chips, or sugary snacks like candies, chocolates, ice cream, ice pops, etc. during intervals or at the time of dispersal.
We grew up relishing sweet fruity beetroot pachadi served in every wedding feast, it was an unforgettable experience for us to relish the beautiful reddish-purple puree infused with the flavors of native fruits. Nowadays, this traditional fruit dessert has not been included in the menu prepared for the feasts, and beetroot jam is replaced by vanilla ice cream with fruit salad.
Our traditional method of making pickles using raw mangoes, amla, lemon, etc. is a time-consuming process as these vegetables are left in the mixture of oil, spices & salt for fermentation for few days and hence a longer shelf life. But I like to make instant pickles that can be consumed immediately and has limited shelf life, besides I like to relish melt-in-mouth mango pickle unlike the conventional one made al dente.
At the mere sight of a canister filled with idli-dosa batter inside my refrigerator I feel totally relaxed as it helps my meal planning easier. With this multi-purpose batter I can make simple podi dosa when I feel lazy, or treat ourselves with a sumptuous feast, or give a traditional twist to overcome our meal monotony. It is needless to say that this batter is the quintessential stock inside the refrigerator in every South Indian’s home across the globe.
Kadamba sambar is a traditional flavorful South Indian curry prepared with assorted (kadambam) vegetables & tubers usually served with rice. It is popularly known as idi sambar (meaning pounded sambar) in Tirunelveli & Kanyakumari regions, as the spice powder was earlier prepared by pounding in a large stone mortar (ural) using a 3-feet long metal-tipped wooden pestle (ulakkai).
Thoothuvalai (Solanum trilobatum) is a quickly spreading herb usually props up in our surroundings after a good spell of rain. It is a medicinal plant used in Indian medicines Ayurveda & Siddha to treat respiratory problems like asthma, cough, cold & flu. So we can add these herbs into our diet during winter or monsoon. Here I have prepared thoothuvali chutney that can be used often for breakfast.
Aloo paratha, an Indian bread stuffed with spicy potato, is a hearty meal that can be packed for children’s lunch box. We can serve hot aloo paratha for breakfast or dinner along with spicy garlic-tomato dip (instead of pickle) & refreshing onion raita.
Idli Milagai podi is an indispensable condiment in every south Indian’s pantry. I find idli podi satisfying only when I feel the coarse grits inside my mouth. Hence I prefer to use the gritty home-made podi over the powder-like store-bought idli podi. We use roasted rice for its sandy texture, roasted asafoetida & raw garlic for the wonderful aroma that brings everyone to the kitchen while grinding idli podi.
Indian gooseberries (amla) were mentioned in Sangam Tamil literature 2000 years ago for their anti-aging properties. The king Adhiyamaan of Chera dynasty was famous for his munificence and he was regarded as one of the kadaiyezhu vallal (meaning last seven patrons) in the history of Tamil monarchy. In those days amla was a scarcely available fruit and it was believed to have anti-aging properties to prolong one’s life. The king as a patron of literature offered such a rarest & precious nellikani (amla) to an old poetess Avvaiyar rather than partaking it by himself. Avvaiyar rendered beautiful verses after receiving amla praising the magnanimity of king Adhiyamaan (you may click here to read those lines).
Puli Kuzhambu or Tamarind Curry is a traditional south Indian curry prepared using garlic & shallots. We can enjoy its taste to the fullest only when the flavors of all the spices are completely infused into the curry. So this curry can be used for 2 or 3 days without being refrigerated (used for 15 days when refrigerated). Puli kulambu tastes divine when served with soft idli or spongy dosa/ uthappam/ appam the next day.
Thayir pachadi (raitha) is the most common yogurt-based vegetable salad prepared in almost every part of India. We prepare thayir pachadi using cooked vegatables or raw vegetables and spice it up with black pepper, chopped green chillies or red chilli powder. Generally, we serve raitha as a side for flatbreads like chapathi, stuffed paratha, etc., and also for spicy rice dishes like biryani, tomato rice, etc.
Horsegram or kollu is a humble yet power-packed bean with amazing health benefits. Generally horsegram is recommended by Ayurvedic practitioners for weight loss, to control cholesterol, treat jaundice & menstrual problems and also to keep us warm during winter. The best way to include horsegram into our diet is by adding a teaspoon of horse gram idli powder (kollu podi) into a cup of buttermilk as it helps to reduce the body heat generated by horse gram.
Vallarai keerai (Centella Asiatica) is an amazing herb used by Indian pharmacologists to prepare a food supplement to improve the memory beneficial to children who are preparing for competitive exams and also to old people suffering from diminished memory. Nevertheless it is better to include such fresh herbs into our diet rather than taking them in capsule form. So we can make vallarai thuvaiyal at home to enjoy its benefits naturally. I personally found a significance difference when vallarai keerai thuvaiyal was served frequently to my father and also to my son.