Vatha Kuzhambu

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.

vathakulmbumeals Vatha Kuzhambu
Simple & delicious meals with vatha kuzhambu

Benefits of sun-drying fresh produces (Benefits of making vathal):

  1. We can preserve the seasonal produces simply by drying them under the sun and use them all through the year.
  2. Moisture in the fresh produces is completely evaporated when sun dried, so they are safe & free from bacteria.
  3. Dehydrated vegetables are ready to use and there is no need to wash or chop them.
  4. If we keep a stock of dehydrated vegetables, it may be helpful to us during any untoward incidents like natural calamities. This was one of the reasons our ancestors preserved their seasonal produce.

Sun-dried ingredients for culinary use:

Vegetarians preserve & use the fresh seasonal produce and the non-vegetarians preserve fish & other meats for later use by sun drying them. We, esp. South Indians, dehydrate a number of seasonal vegetables, berries, fruits & spices by drying them under the Sun and use them all through the year. We normally soak the vegetables that are pungent in sour curd (yoghurt) to lighten their pungency, or blanch other vegetables before sun-drying them.

sundriedvatral Vatha Kuzhambu
Vathal using vegetables, berries & spices

People living in cold countries may use dehydrator or oven to prepare vathal at home. But we can make use of the Sun that shines here almost 90% of the days in a year. The table below lists down the common ingredients that are sun-dried:

Cluster beans
Turkey berry
MangoGreen chillies
Broad beans
Black nightshade berries
Bitter gourd
Ladies finger
Ivy gourd
Lotus stem
(thamarai thandu)
Ingredients for sun drying

How to prepare manathakkali vathal:

Now let’s prepare vathal using tiny black nightshade berries (manathakkali or milaguthakkali) in the traditional method. Home-made manathakkali vathal have a beautiful ghee-like aroma which we could barely find in the store-bought vathal.

mvatakulmbu-1 Vatha Kuzhambu
Home-made manathakkali vathal
  • Wash and dry the berries under the Sun for a day.
  • Soak them in a bowl of curd and leave aside at indoor for a day (salt may be added for large quantities to increase the shelf life).
  • Take the berries out from the curd and spread out on a large plate.
  • Leave the plate under the sun for 2 days or until completely dried up.

Manathakkali vatha kuzhambu recipe:

Time taken: 10 min

Yields: 250 ml

mvathakulmbu-32 Vatha Kuzhambu
Manathakkali vatha kuzhambu


  1. Manathakkali vathal – 2 tbsp
  2. Tamarind – as desired (to be extracted in 400 ml water)
  3. Sesame oil – 2 tbsp
  4. Mustard seeds – Β½ tsp
  5. Asafoetida powder – ΒΌ tsp
  6. Jaggery – as desired
  7. Curry leaves – 1 sprig
  8. Red chilli powder – 1 tbsp
  9. Coriander seeds powder – 1 tbsp
  10. Salt – Β½ tsp
mvathakulmbu-9 Vatha Kuzhambu

How to prepare vatha kuzhambu:

  • Heat a pan with sesame oil in medium flame.
  • Add mustard seeds into the hot oil.
  • Then add manathakkali vathal into the pan.
  • Now reduce the flame and fry them until fluffed up.
  • Add curry leaves and fry for few seconds.
  • Now prepare a thick solution with chilli powder & coriander seeds powder using little water and pour into the pan.
  • Saute for few seconds in low flame.
  • Pour tamarind extract (400 ml) into the pan and bring it to a boil in high flame.
  • Allow it to simmer for few minutes.
  • Add salt, asafoetida powder & jaggery.
  • Bring it to a final boil.
  • Remove from the heat.
mvathakulmbu Vatha Kuzhambu
Vatha kuzhambu recipe
  • Serve with piping hot rice, paruppu, kootu, poriyal, thayir and koozh vatral.
mvathakulmbu-40 Vatha Kuzhambu
Lunch with vatha kuzhambu, vazhaipoo kootu & carrot-beans poriyal

Tips & Tweaks:

  • If you use store-bought vathal, you may not require to add salt in kuzhambu as they are usually too salty.
  • If you use maa-vathal (dried mango) in vatha kuzhambu, you may have to reduce the quantity of tamarind extract.
  • Some may like to use sambar powder instead of chilli & coriander seeds powders.
  • Instead of adding spice powders directly into the hot oil, I have mixed them with little water to prevent them getting burnt.
  • Sutta appalam shown in one of the above pictures was made by microwaving them for 30 seconds.

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  1. I have a packet of store-bought manathankaali that gets fried when I am making a rice porridge or curd rice. It would be nice to try that for a change. Can we try this with turkey berry (sundakkai)vathal too? Please let me know.

    1. Yes, we can use sundakkai vathal also in the same way, but I really doubt whether the children would like them or not. πŸ™‚ Thanks!

      1. Yes, you are right, the children might not enjoy it. But they sure enjoyed fresh sundakkai that I made yesterday in a tamarind gravy.:) and frankly I was shocked myself.

  2. Honestly, I never tried this recipe, somehow I didn’t even think about it. My mom used to make this. It looks super delicious. With rice and papad, it would be a heavenly lunch for me. Awesome share. πŸ™‚

  3. The sun dried spiced veggies have such a unique flavor, don’t they? I love this mouthwatering recipe Megala!

  4. I absolutely adore vattalkozhambu. It is comfort food for me, with paruppu and rice. πŸ™‚ Your version looks super tempting!
    We make it with sambar powder, though, not with coriander powder. Also, we buy dried vattal from stores on our annual visits to Tamilnadu – we have never made it at home. I should probably try that out.

    1. I’m so glad to see someone a huge fan of vatha kulambu like me. πŸ™‚
      Manathakkali vathal is indeed an easiest vathal to make at home, it won’t take longer time to get dried up. I hope you would enjoy this as much as I did.
      Thank you so much.

      1. I have a question about the curd. Is it a common thing to be found in any supermarket? Is there any specific brand that we should use for drying fruit/food?

        1. Yes, Indian curd or yogurt may be available with Asian grocers.
          I wish to inform that it is required to use curd only for hot chillies or bitter berries to make them mild, but for other vegetables you may just blanch them before sun drying.
          By the way may I know the vegetables that you like to dry them under Sun?

      2. hot chilies and carrots… maybe some radish as well.
        hot chilies sounds fine in sun-dry; however, radish or carrots… I am not sure, so I would like to try. ^^
        I will slice them into thin or small pieces. I hope it works. What do you think?

        1. I think you can soak chillies in vinegar before sun-drying (if you cant find yoghurt), so that you may not feel the heat when chillies are dried.
          Sundried carrot & radish slices, sounds really great. Now I’m tempted to try these as well. πŸ™‚

    1. Most welcome ! Hearty congratulations for being listed as the one among top 10 food bloggers in India !!

  5. Thank you for sharing this traditional recipe, Megala. Vathakulambu is a great standby when you don’t have fresh vegetables and for when you need to make a curry quickly, is it not? Especially great for rainy days too.
    The medicinal value of manathakkali is immense and I loved the way you showed different ways and accompaniments with which it can be served. Its great work that you are doing by sharing these age- old recipes.

    1. Yes, you are right, they are really helpful when our fridge is empty. πŸ™‚
      Generally we are of the opinion that fresh vegetables are healthier than these vathal, but actually vathal can be treated as medicines (adhukkum melae πŸ™‚ ). Siddha medicine believes in “foods are medicines & medicines are food”. So I feel it is time that we need to appreciate our ancient wisdom.
      Your comment makes me feel motivated to share more such recipes, thanks a million, dear Sheela. πŸ™‚

  6. Freezer space is always limited around here, so anything that can be preserved by drying is fantastic! Plus, that process really concentrates flavor and creates something with even more to offer than fresh.

    1. So true, this is the main reason behind sun-drying medicinal herbs here. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

    1. I know it is because your dehydrator drys the herbs faster than the sun. πŸ™‚ Thanks so much Diane.

  7. I remember eating these ripe berries during my childhood days.They use to grow wild when the fields were left empty after wheat harvest.But did not know that these were dehydrated and used like this.Thank you so much for introducing me to such unique dish.

    1. Yes, this humble berry has lots of medicinal properties as well. I’m glad you find this post useful. Thank you so much.

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