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:

VegetablesBerriesFruitsSpices
Cluster beans
(kothavarangai)
Turkey berry
(sundakkai)
MangoGreen chillies
Broad beans
(avarakai)
Black nightshade berries
(manathakkali)
Lemon
Bitter gourd
(pagarkai)
Citron
Ladies finger
(vendakkai)
Brinjal
(kathrikai)
Ivy gourd
(kovakkai)
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

Ingredients:

  1. Manathakkali vathal – 2 tbsp
  2. Tamarind – as desired (to be extracted in 400 ml water)
  3. Sesame oil – 2 tbsp
  4. Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
  5. Asafoetida powder – ¼ tsp
  6. Jaggery – as desired
  7. Curry leaves – 1 sprig
  8. Red chilli powder – 1 tbsp
  9. Coriander seeds powder – 1 tbsp
  10. Salt – ½ 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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