In Tamil cooking, potatoes are fried in large chunks and used in Pulavs and biriyanis. I wanted to make a rice dish that was different from the traditional cuisine. I came up with this Double-Fried-Potato Fried Rice which gives a lovely contrast of crunchy potatoes with the soft texture of rice. My fried rice includes spices used by the Chinese, and therefore it is very mild. I served this along with Murgh Makkanwali, and it was a smash hit! Though the double-frying takes a bit more time, it is very easy to make and the results are worth it 🙂
I first enjoyed these Vengaya Pakodas in Madurai in 1955, where there were known as Udhiri Pakodas (Crumbly Pakodas). We were served these when we visited my aunt Cynthia on weekends, which she bought from a nearby hotel. When we moved to Chennai, the Udhiri Pakoda had metamorphosed into Onion Pakoda and tasted even better. I tried for decades to replicate the recipe and finally arrived at my own method which gave the same flavour.
Paruppu Usili, a dry dhal curry, is combined with finely chopped vegetables such as cluster beans, beans, etc. It is a special and auspicious vegetarian preparation which features in wedding feasts in Tamil Nadu and is the first to be served on the plantain leaf along with pickle and salt. There are different versions of usili, but I created this version with radish tops because of the many medicinal values attributed to them, some of which I myself have benefitted from. The traditional combination of red gram dhal and Bengal gram dhal results in a lot of flatulence and discomfort, so I have used only red gram dhal. I have also left out the curry leaves because the radish tops have a very pronounced flavour which clashes with the curry leaves. Usili can be packed as a side dish along with rice in a lunchbox (as it is dry), and I eat it as a snack because of its high satiety value combined with enticing flavour 🙂
I’m always tempted to prepare snacks in the non-stick kuzhippaniaram mould to reduce the consumption of oil. March is when we get good quality tomatoes in Chennai, especially the country variety – these are very sour and quite popular in Tamil cuisine. I decided to use pulsed tomato to prepare the batter. Needless to say the tomato flavour invites a lot of spice in the preparation, so I used chilli, garlic, mint, curry leaves, and onion (of course!). I chose maida and rice flour which give a mild/neutral flavour so that the tomato and the spices will not be smothered. This dish makes an excellent spicy snack that can be served without an accompaniment, and it can also be served as an intriguing side dish to the typical Tamil festive meal.
I came across the concept of combining dhal with celery, as Celery Sambar, in a North Indian cookbook. It was a misnomer, as the dish was not a sambar because it did not have either the ingredients or the procedure that makes a sambar a sambar and gives it its distinctive flavour. This recipe was just a curry. It still appealed to me, though, as celery is not used in Tamil cooking, and it tickled both my curiosity and my taste buds. After several attempts I have retained the ingredients but changed the procedure to make it quick and easy. I have also pressure cooked the celery because my son complained that the celery stalks were too crunchy 😀