Pink yam is one of the few seasonal produce available here merely for a couple of weeks during Pongal festival every year. Generally we include a whole array of locally grown seasonal tubers & vegetables into the preparation of our traditional repast to celebrate this harvest festival. So I use a few pieces of pink yam for the festive meal, and save the remaining for preparing delicious kootu, kofta & fries later.
It is a centuries-old custom still practiced on the day of Vijayadasami that the teachers or parents introduce the syllables of the first language to the kids. We guide them to write the alphabet on a bed of sands as a tradition. Furthermore, we encourage the children to enroll in music, dance, or other art schools on this auspicious day. Now I do feel as if this were the first post when I resume my blogging after a lull of quite a few months. So I have shared a simple Chettinad recipe for a rich and intriguing keerai masiyal. I relished this dish when we dined at a restaurant in Madurai a few months ago before the onset of the pandemic.
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.
Moringa trees are the most common trees grown in almost every house here in South India. Despite the facts that moringa trees attract pests and they are so fragile that they can not withstand strong winds, we grow this tree mainly to enjoy the benefits of nutritious leaves, flowers & pods. Normally, we don’t allow the children to go near this tree as woolly caterpillars found on it may cause itchy skin hives when contact with their strands. Also it is a common phenomenon that branches of drumstick trees break apart and falling down during windy or rainy season.
I am grateful to the creator of the well renowned TV series, The Popeye show, for motivating my son, a picky eater, to have a liking for an insipid spinach even at his tender age. Though he did not like to take spinach with rice, he enjoyed taking plain spinach just like his hero, the great Popeye, gobbled it up! This cartoon show successfully conveyed a profound theory, “we are what we eat”, even to the kids. Hence it made my job easier to convey the importance of taking all the greens including Chinese spinach.
Onions & bitter gourds (bitter melons/ Balsam pears) share a similarity. They both have strong flavors when taken raw, but they lose their flavors when cooked. Onions have strong pungency but they turn mildly sweet when stir fried. Likewise, bitter gourds are bitter when taken raw, its bitterness is reduced by half when cooked, it is mildly bitter when deep fried in hot oil, and the bitterness can be totally eliminated when stir fried at low temperature for a long time. It is actually a myth that bitter gourds are always bitter. So we can prepare delicious dishes using these nutritious melons. Here I have prepared stir-fried balsam pear liked even by the kids.
It is really challenging to prepare piquant poriyal using mildly sweet earthy-flavored beetroots. I tried various beetroot poriyal recipes by adding different ingredients to mask the sweet flavor and make it more palatable. Incidentally, I found that we can add a burst of flavor by sauteing beetroot along with garlic in coconut oil and spicing it up by adding pepper. I have also added nicely fluffed up yellow lentils along with deep red beetroot chunks for adding beautiful color and delicious texture.
Generally, we prefer to welcome every new beginning with sweets, but we follow a unique tradition of preparing an elaborate meal of different flavours (arusuvai virudhu) on the occasion of Chithirai Vishu (New Year) celebrated on the 14th or 15th of April every year. It is actually an Ayurvedic tradition to stimulate all the parts of our palate by taking a nourishing meal of six flavours like sweet, sour, bitter, astringent, salt & pungent. This also encourages us to embrace each season, or every change in our life gracefully. So we never miss to include the bitter ingredient, neem flower that blooms plentifully in this season, into our New Year feast (Vishu sadhya). We prepare the traditional veppampoo pachadi, a confluence of all the six tastes, using neem flowers and many other ingredients.
It is really challenging for every mother to cook vegetables that don’t have distinct flavor. Yard long beans (karamani) is one such insipid vegetable full of nourishments compared to the commonly used green beans. So it is hard to ignore the properties of these native beans and include tender green beans often instead of fibrous long beans. Now I have prepared a delicious poriyal using native beans commonly known as yard long beans or pachai karamani.
Appalam making is a leading cottage industry prevalent in my maternal grandfather’s village. As a kid I was completely awestruck watching women & girls in our neighbourhood kneading mountainous dough, rolling appalam at lightning speed, and stacking dried appalam like a tower. Whenever I felt bored I used to run to one of those houses. I spent endless hours there watching them making appalam and enjoying their warmth & their food. During my mother’s recent visit there, they fondly remembered my childhood favorite appala-poo and prepared them along with appalam specially for me, even though they are not into this business currently.
Indian medicine systems recommend all the ingredients that have an astringent flavor such as banana blossoms (vazhaipoo), pomegranate, red gram (toor dal), Indian blackberry (naval pazham), etc. for women’s health as they keep our uterus strong & healthy. Consuming cooked banana blossom with curd or yoghurt is believed to be one of the most efficient ways of treating excessive bleeding during menstruation as it increases the level of progesterone. So it a good practice to serve vazhaipoo paruppu usili (lentil crumble) with yoghurt curry (mor-kuzhambu).
Since moringa trees (murungai maram) are primarily grown for their seed pods (drumsticks), moringa flowers (murungai poo) are hardly available in the market. So we prepare murungai poo poriyal in small quantity exclusively for a lactating mother in our family. We need to cook the buds & young white blossoms gently, so we can use them in salad, soup, or use them as garnishes for a curry. Nevertheless, we don’t recommend women to take these nourishing flowers during pregnancy as it may lead to miscarriage.
Ridge gourd (Luffa acutangula/ peerkangai) is a native vegetable that grows plentifully around us in South India. Both the mildly-sweet flesh and the fibrous peel of ridge gourds are edible, so we prepare ridge gourd kichadi as a side for idli & dosa and ridge gourd kootu for rice using the flesh, and also prepare a chutney (dip) using the peel.
Cassava (yucca/ manioc) plants are widely grown in India. The roots (tapioca root) are used for culinary purposes & the leaves for medicinal properties. These roots are known as maravalli kizhangu in the northern districts of Tamilnadu & yezhilai kizhangu (meaning seven leaves) in southern districts. We prepare cassava root poriyal and serve this either as a salad or as a side dish for rice.
Since bland white cabbage has always been my family’s bête noire, I find vibrant purple cabbage/ red cabbage the best alternate. So I have prepared cabbage poriyal using purple cabbage and served with radish sambar as below.
Generally children prefer to take stir-fried vegetables like poriyal or varuval, and they give least importance to the steamed or boiled vegetables like kootu. So we can encourage them to take kootu by making it spicy and flavourful. Here I have shared chettinad style masala kootu liked even by the kids who refuse to take vegetables. This is one of our favorite kootu recipes, so I would like to prepare masala kootu with the vegetables like cabbages, native melons & gourds that are not liked by my family.
Mango pachadi is a sweet, sour & spicy jam prepared to welcome the Tamil New Year. It is a delicious side dish for rice and goes well with any kuzhambu or rasam. Also we serve this dish with the traditional ulutham paruppu sadam or black gram rice.
Paruppu usili (vegetable lentil crumble) is one of the most popular south Indian side dishes served along with rice & kuzhambu. We can also serve this dish as a mid-morning snack to weight watchers, or pack it for school children. It makes them feel full and it contains protein, fiber, vitamins & minerals required for an active mind & body.