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 😀
I am celebrating my 250th recipe on this blog! I wanted to follow Indian jubilee traditions by posting a recipe of a sweet but I then thought of creating something which is unique in using a minimal number of spices and with a short cooking time. I also wanted it to be low fat with minimum wasted nutrients. The result is this fried chicken which is mouth wateringly delicious, quick and easy to make, saves fuel, and is good for health – it sounds impossible, but it is true!
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.
When people think of combining vegetables and dhal in Tamil cooking, they primarily think of Aviyal. There is another dish, Saalna that is a complete contrast to aviyal both in the type of vegetables and spices used. Saalna does not use strong flavoured vegetables like drumsticks and cluster beans. It also uses cloves and cinnamon, instead of cumin and garlic like aviyal. It may not be as famous as aviyal, but is no less delicious. It is an ideal dish to celebrate the harvest and can be served with Venn Pongal.
The coolest month of the year for Tamilians is January, and we are very happy to get the freshest of vegetables during this period. This concept of combining prawns with vegetables is new to my family because we made only two prawn dishes – Fry and Moli. My friend Jacintha, who is a Burmese repatriate, gave me this recipe though she said it isn’t a Burmese recipe but just a family favourite. I have used the same ingredients and quantities she gave, but have made the procedure simpler and easier. I serve it with Naan, Peas Pulav, and Mushroom and Capsicum Pulav.