Thirunelveli meat curries are always extended with vegetables such as drumsticks, brinjals, broad beans and, of course, potatoes. This is a family recipe my mother used to make with mutton and radish; we used to love the strong flavour. Now I make this with beef instead of mutton as the rich flavour of beef blends better with radish. I have also simplified the recipe extensively, using a pressure cooker to cook all the ingredients in one shot. I use white radish because that is freely available in Chennai, but in Thirunelveli, my mother used pink radish. This curry is usually served with rice and chappatis.
Though colocasia is not a favourite, like potatoes, it is used in a variety of preparations, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. I call this dish varuval because it is deep fried, though it is not crisp and doesn’t crackle like chips. The carbohydrate in the colocasia is slimy in nature and also very soft. Usually, colocasia is sliced thin and deep fried, giving it a chewy texture. I have cut the colocasia only into 2 chunks, making the outside of the deep fried colocasia crisp and the inside soft. I have also created the masala by adding roasted and powdered sombu to the usual turmeric and chilli powder mix to add a bit of wallop to the flavour.
In 1984, we attended a Marathi wedding. In the wedding feast, a dish of brinjal and mochai (field beans) was served, and I was impressed by the taste and even asked for a second helping. My daughter, who was only 10 years old at that time, still remembers that incident. I tried to recreate the dish, but I could not get the exact flavour and consistency. A few months ago a Facebook friend, Vandarkuzhali Rajasegar, who is also an Assistant Professor in Foods and Nutrition, posted that she had made a dish of brinjal and white channa (whole Bengal gram/white chickpea). I immediately asked her for the recipe. Though she gave me a mere skeleton of the recipe, without amounts, I knew immediately that I had hit upon that 1984 dish. I standardised it using mochai, and I got the exact flavour after all these years 😀
In Tamil Nadu, the term Chenna Kunni refers to tiny shrimps. These are salted and dried in their shells. There are 2 varieties: small and very small. For this pickle I have chosen the very small variety so that it will blend easily with the other ingredients. I love to make sweet pickles, and I decided to try it with chenna kunni. The spice mix I have used is not the usual combination found in prawn pickles. Additionally, it gets its unique sweetness from the caramelisation of sugar, unlike other pickles where the sugar only adds a conventional sweetness to the taste. To my delight I arrived at a product which is new and most delectable.
When I was leafing through the book Cuisine from Coorg, I was intrigued to see a different combination of spices in the making of Yarchi Pulav (yarchi means meat in Coorg). The method of making this pulav was in the traditional way of straining the rice when three-fourths cooked, then adding to the gravy for further cooking. I feel that this method is very tedious especially when you do not have a very large kitchen. Therefore I changed the cooking method to boiling the gravy and water, and then adding the rice to it. In this way, you shorten the cooking time and avoid a mess in the kitchen. I have used spice powders because they are easily available now. I have also introduced curds to marinate the meat to tenderise it. This has made this recipe much easier to prepare.