Generally, South Indian dhal curry is always associated with Sambar, but in Thirunelveli (a southern district of Tamil Nadu) dhal curry or kuzhambu is made using ground coconut and fresh green spices like green chillies. There are several variations of this kuzhambu, but I am presenting the paruppu kuzhambu which has been made in my family for generations. We use red gram dhal, green chillies and coriander leaves, and select South Indian vegetables. It is always tempered with fenugreek seeds along with mustard seeds. We also use unripe mango to give sourness or tamarind extract when mango is not available. I have added fenugreek powder also to enhance the flavour.
Tamil Nadu is famous for the Paruppu Urundai Kulambu, which is steamed dhal balls cooked in a savoury curry. My mother had a recipe using Bengal gram dhal for the balls, but the curry she had suggested was very vague. When I prepared her recipe at home, it was not popular and we also had attacks of flatulence. In my eternal search for recipes, I found many using either red gram dhal or a combination of the two dhals. I chose to use only red gram dhal because it is the least digestively offensive. The curry that I have used is a combination of ideas taken from several recipes.
Kootanchoru is a speciality of Thirunelveli cooking. In feudal times the labourers/workers were paid in kind i.e., rice, dhal, and whatever vegetables were grown in the farm. All these were cooked together to form a one-dish meal (kootu – everything together; choru – rice). Later on the landowners added groundnuts and maybe other pulses which were available to make it rich. Kootanchoru is not a vegetable fried rice. The rice, dhal, and vegetables are all cooked together and the dish must be soggy and mushy. It is usually served with pickle and fried appalam; the crisp appalam is a wonderful contrast to the soggy rice.