January and February are the months when the markets in Tamil Nadu receive the freshest of the so-called English Vegetables. As a child I used to look forward to these months when we used to have peas and cauliflower very often in the menus. The peas are luscious and the cauliflower is so creamy white and crisp. In Palayamkottai (my hometown) Rich Peas Pulav and Muttai Cauliflower used to be prepared every week. My mother had a collection of recipes using these vegetables. One of the favourites was meat cooked along with peas, cauliflower, and, of course, potatoes that are always combined with meat.
I always wanted to make a nourishing one-pot meal that could be prepared easily and provide a family with protein, energy, and vegetables. Potatoes and carrots complement the flavour of beef, and I developed this curry to use a minimum of spices and braised the beef to improve the flavour. I have also used celery salt in this recipe. Celery salt and braising are both unusual in Tamil cooking, but they give this dish an enticing aroma and mouth-watering flavour.
In Tamil cooking vinegar is hardly ever used. It may find its way into a few pickles, but even that is very rare. That is why this recipe is honoured with kaadi (vinegar) in the title. My uncle was in the Indian Air Force, and posted in the North during his service. He used to bring his family in summer to visit the relatives in Thirunelveli, and on the way, they used to make a halt in Chennai and stay a few days with us. In those days, the most convenient train was the Janata Express, which though called express, always came a day late. Therefore, for this journey, my aunt used to make chappatis and this vinegar fry which would keep easily for 2 days without refrigeration.
I discovered a ‘Carpetbag Steak’ recipe when browsing through an old cookbook from my personal library. I was fascinated by the concept of stuffing steaks or fillets and skewering or suturing them with cotton thread before grilling or broiling. But the stuffing that is used in these recipes is not the norm in Tamil kitchens, because we do not combine meat with shellfish (mussels or oysters). So, I use a spicy vegetarian stuffing to add flavour to the carpetbag meat.
Happy Easter everyone! Here is a special meatball curry to help you break your Lenten fast (if you’ve been fasting). This is such an ancient recipe it might as well have come from the Biblical age. I have never seen my mother or my aunt prepare this. I discovered it during an archaeological dig into an old family recipe book with a pencilled inscription saying ‘Aatha’ which would indicate that it is from my great grandmother who was from Thanjavur. Any history beyond that is shrouded in the mists of time 🙂
Urundaikkari Vellai Kuzhambu (Meatballs in White Gravy)
Christmas is the time when people gorge themselves on high protein and high energy food from Advent to New Year. I made these mince packets so that they could be served to guests, and if you are in the habit of receiving carolers hot and spicy mince packets are sure to be welcome.
The Sivappu Kulambu is known for its beautiful red and enchantingly transparent gravy. Despite its deep red colour it can be made mildly flavoured based on the chilli powder used. I have used Kashmiri Chilli Powder which gives it a very subtle touch on your tongue. It goes amazingly well with chappatis and parattas.