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.
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.
Bajji are nothing but the fritters common in every cuisine. Generally crispy fritters are prepared using the batter made of corn starch & all purpose flour. But we, South Indians, prepare fluffy fritters by deep frying the slices of locally grown vegetables dipped into the batter using Bengal gram (chickpea). Nevertheless people with sensitive stomach prefer to avoid taking these fritters as gram flour causes flatulence & indigestion. So I have added powdered ajwain (omam seeds) that are commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat stomach ache, indigestion, gastritis & flatulence. Besides, I have replaced baking soda with dosa batter that aids in digestion of gram flour and is useful to make the fritters fluffy. I have also added little ghee into the batter for the delicious aroma.
We serve Chitrannam, a platter of rice dishes, as a lunch meal for the Aadi Perukku festival that we celebrate on the 18th day of the Aadi month of the Tamil calendar. Traditionally, we prepare tamarind rice (puliyodharai), lemon rice (elumichai sadam), coconut rice (thengai sadam), and sweet Pongal (Sarkarai Pongal). You can also check out my traditional chitrannam recipes here. Nevertheless, I prefer my chitrannam platter to be colorful and flavorful. So I have prepared spicy red tomato rice, aromatic green mint rice, nutty brown sesame rice, sweet yellow candied rice, and creamy white curd rice. Besides, they are easy to prepare with commonly available ingredients and we can even pack these rice dishes for children’s lunch boxes.
Interestingly Indian Biryani & Italian Risotto share some similarities: Seeraga samba rice & arborio rice are of same texture and they are cooked al dente in both the recipes. Seeraga samba rice is a quintessential ingredient of biryani in south India for its wonderful flavor, it also absorbs the flavors of all the spices used in it, and it does not gather into thick lumps.
According to people living in Tirunelveli kichadi is a side dish for idli or dosa prepared with vegetables, but for others kichadi is a main dish using whole grains and/or lentils. Kathirikai kichadi (brinjal/ eggplant gothsu) is one of our favourite accompaniments for idli & dosa. It is a very unique gothsu with spicy and tangy flavors. We usually prepare this delicious side dish for breakfast on Sundays.