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 😀
Freshwater fish dishes are relished only in interior Tamil Nadu. People in Chennai are not familiar with the taste of these fish and sometimes even mock those who consume it. But now that even marine fish are cultivated in freshwater lakes and can be bought online, the lake pomfret costs Rs. 300/kg while marine pomfret costs Rs. 800/kg! Therefore I have been developing recipes using freshwater fish. In this recipe I have combined the strong smelling radish with the mild flavoured lake pomfret and also avoided using chilli powder. Instead I have used mustard powder to give it a slight bite. This mild fish curry is a great success in my house – not with my fish hating son of course 🙂 It goes very well with chappatis, unlike the traditional fish curries.
Manappadu is a fishing town in the deep south of Tamil Nadu with a predominantly Catholic population. My husband’s friend, Rex Rodrigo, hails from Manappadu and his grandfather started Thomas Rodrigo & Sons in Chennai to provide worship supplies for the Catholic community here and in Sri Lanka. When I got married, Rex invited us to his house for dinner, and his wife Germaine had prepared this fabulous mutton curry. I was stunned and delighted by its heavenly flavour and immediately got the recipe from her. It has been with me for 50 years and I have tried the same with beef, but I was not satisfied and prefer the mutton flavour.
My father’s youngest sister, Jeyanthi, relocated to Erode from Thirunelveli when she got married. She had picked up several new recipes from her Erode friends and acquired relatives. My mother had enjoyed her cooking and collected a few recipes from her. This Kathirikkai Curry is one of those precious dishes. Kathirikkai is a staple ingredient in Tamil cooking because different varieties of kathirikkai are available throughout the year. I prefer to use the deep purple variety. This curry turned out to be absolutely fabulous, and it can be served with plain rice, Easy Peas Pulav, Potato Pulav, or chappatis.
My son’s colleague, Akshaya, hails from Mannargudi (a small town 310 kms south of Chennai). She gave us maavattral (dried mango) prepared by her mother and told me that they make a kuzhambu (curry) with it. I asked her for the recipe and found it to be quite similar to the Vendhaya Kuzhambu I prepare, with the addition of dried mango. I was taken aback a little to hear that they don’t add ground coconut to the curry, as that would be an essential ingredient in Thirunelveli cooking. I have prepared this as given by her, but still believe that it could be improved with the addition of a little coconut 🙂 I served it with plain rice accompanied by fried appalams and koozhvattral (dried rice batter vattral) which makes for a delicious meal 🙂
I have always been fascinated by the idea of Caramel Chicken. I came across both English and Tamil recipes but I found them to be impractical. I have combined and modified the recipes to make it easier to prepare and reduce wastage. I decided to use country tomatoes instead of the hybrid variety for their acidic flavour. The caramel chicken goes very well with Dinner Rolls, fried rices, and pulavs.
In Thirunelveli, we make two kinds of curries using prawn/fish and coconut milk. I have already posted the recipe for Meen Asadhu using marine fish. Moli uses totally different kinds of spices for seasoning and does not include coriander powder. To me, both taste absolutely divine :), but I prefer moli for prawns. This is a quick and easy preparation if you are using reconstituted coconut milk and also purchase already shelled and deveined prawns. I serve this with either plain rice or chappatis.