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.
Channa kulambu prepared using small black chickpeas was one of the few curries I liked to relish during my childhood days. In those days my mother never used large white chickpeas, perhaps it was available only in specific places. Nowadays I switch to large white chickpeas for their soft, melt-in-mouth texture and prepare even more delicious channa kulambu. I like to prepare chettinad style aromatic channa kulambu using white chickpeas, drumstick pods & eggplants (brinjal) to savour the beautiful aroma of drumsticks & the delicious flavor of channa.
The larger population of the world generally prefers to preserve their bountiful seasonal fruits, vegetables & other fresh produce by freeze-drying them. But we, Indians, prefer to sun-drying our fresh herbs, berries & spices. We have been using sun-dried (dehydrated) ingredients for culinary and medicinal purposes for over 1000 years. Ayurveda, Siddha, and other Indian medicine systems prescribe medicines prepared using sun-dried herbs or fresh herbs. We use dried herbs for making powders & tablets (chooranam) and fresh herbs for external applications, or for making decoctions, etc. We also prepare delicious vatha kuzhambu, a traditional South Indian kuzhambu, using sun-dried vegetables, berries, or fruits and serve with rice.
As a child I hated few things imposed by my grandparents during our visit every summer. It was disgusting to find all our clothes reeked of bitter neem oil as they were washed using neem detergents. We also disliked to gobble up extremely bitter balls made of neem leaves paste forcibly given by our grandmother. But now I have been yearning for such eco-friendly chemical-free detergents suitable for my washing machine, and also I feel guilty to give de-worming tablet to my son as I am unable to persuade him to take the home-made herbal substitute available plentiful around us. Nevertheless I feel contented that I can prepare delicious soup using neem flowers that possess almost same properties as that of neem leaves.
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).
Sodhi is an exotic Sri Lankan curry prepared with lentils and vegetables stewed in coconut milk. Although sodhi is not a spicy curry, it has grown popular among the people living in & around Tirunelveli who usually enjoy spicy curries. The banana leaf platter served at our family wedding feasts is a lavish spread of creamy sodhi, pungent inji pachadi, spicy potato fries, crunchy appalam, scrumptious coconut milk dessert (payasam), sweet boondhi and fresh curd as shown below. Wedding in our family is usually hosted by bride’s family. However bride’s family is treated with a sumptuous meal (maruveetu sappadu) with sodhi the day after marriage, and it is a unique custom prevalent here to signify the confluence of both the families.
Hot, sweet & sour rasam can be revelled as a comforting soup on a rainy day or winter nights. Usually south Indian rasam is prepared with tomato or lemon and also using dried neem flowers for Tamil New Year. But adding pineapple into rasam makes such a humble dish even more palatable as it lends a pleasant sweet & sour flavour.
Radish (mullangi) sambar tastes as delicious as shallot (chinna vengayam) sambar as they both absorb the flavors of all the spices used in sambar. Hence I like to savour mullangi sambar not only with hot steaming rice but also with idli or dosa.
Omam kuzhambu is a traditional kuzhambu prepared using aromatic spices with medicinal properties. Omam is beneficial to treat indigestion or flatulence. Hence I like to prepare omam kuzhambu when we return home from a vacation, or after attending a wedding ceremony for few days. I usually serve it with hot steaming rice & roasted papad (sutta appalam), when we crave for a home-cooked food that soothes our stomach. Now I have prepared a meal with omam Kuzhambu, dal (paruppu), stir-fried ladies finger (vendakai poriyal), spicy veg gravy (chettinad masala kootu) & sutta appalam and served for lunch.
Mor kuzhambu is a traditional South Indian yogurt curry. We prepare this curry using sour curd (yogurt), thus enriched with probiotic organisms. Hence, yogurt curry is not only a delicious curry but also a nutritious curry, and we can serve this to everyone young or old. Usually, we serve mor kuzhambu with plain rice or keerai sadam (rice with mashed greens). It is also a perfect side dish for paruppu adai.
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.
Rasam is a traditional South Indian soup served with rice. Earlier rasam was known as milagu thannee (literally meaning pepper water). During the colonial period this recipe was tweaked a little and known as mulligatawny soup. Even today, every south Indian finds this soup as a comfort food, and our lunch is incomplete without taking rasam. We prepare a different varieties of rasam using various spices, fruits, and lentils. Lemon rasam is one of the easiest rasam recipes and also one of the most delicious rasams.