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.
Bitter gourd is a vegetable which, in spite of its bitterness, is cooked in different ways and served almost every week in Tamil Nadu because it is widely believed that it lowers the blood sugar level. I do not consider this to be true because I’ve always found holes in research which claimed this effect. My mother used to make this very simple preparation but not very often because of the labour involved in removing the seeds from the small bitter gourd, which was the only variety available then. Now that the larger variety is available throughout the year, it has become much quicker to make this poriyal.
In India it is believed that eating bitter gourd will cure a person of the metabolic disorder diabetes mellitus. Many native medicine books claim the beneficial effects of bitter gourd. This has not been validated by properly tested methods, but still it is eaten widely hoping that it will effect some magic cure. When my mother made this preparation I was not very fond of it, but later on I devised a method of reducing the bitterness without losing the very small amount of nutrients that are present in it. The addition of sugar towards the end to give a glaze transports this dish to higher levels.
In Tamil Nadu we combine prawns with various vegetables and greens to provide the most delicious and nutritious dishes. Today I have chosen to present prawns cooked with brinjal (eggplant), which is a vegetable available through all seasons. The addition of vegetables to prawns extends the dish so that many people can enjoy it.
When I started school I was told that eating ladies fingers would improve my mathematical skills, and because I disliked mathematics I made it a point to eat as much of ladies fingers as possible. Though it did not make me any better with numbers I love this vegetable and have tried to create different recipes with it. This particular poriyal/fry uses only 4 ingredients apart from the ladies fingers. It is very easy to make and can be dished up very quickly. One can use different curry powders to give variety in flavour.
Pachai Mochai Poriyal is very simple and very easy to make. The recipe has been handed down from my great-grandmother’s kitchen. It makes a very interesting side dish and appears even in wedding feasts. It is also suited for packed lunches as it is a dry preparation.
Tamilians include commonly available vegetables in non-vegetarian preparations to extend the dish and to add vitamins, minerals, and fibre to the diet. Prawns lend themselves to a variety of such combinations. Snake gourd (pudalankai) is a native vegetable easily grown in kitchen gardens and is mostly used in fries (poriyal) and dhal curry (kootu). With the highly priced prawn, the dish is elevated to a higher status, providing a most delicate and delicious combination of flavours.