The inspiration for this recipe came from one of my students who was presenting a lecture demonstration on a diet for diabetics using bitter gourd. Bitter gourd is popularly known to be good for diabetes (it isn’t!) which is why she used it, but she sprinkled sugar all over it! I pointed out that this would not be suitable for diabetics to which she responded cheerfully that bitter gourd by itself is, well, bitter, and the sugar would make it palatable. I had to lower her marks as she had missed the point totally, but I came up with an interesting idea for a Sweet and Sour Bitter Gourd Curry.
The unique flavour of prawns lends itself to be combined with different kinds of vegetables. I have already posted a few such recipes (Prawn and Colocasia Curry, Prawn and Cabbage Curry, Prawn and Snake Gourd Poriyal). Another advantage in combining prawns with vegetables is that it has no skin or bones, and the flavour does not vary with the type of prawn. I created this recipe combining prawns with capsicum and a different combination of spices from the others.
Shark is a very strong-smelling fish and is therefore used primarily to make pittu and cutlets. In my family we use it only to make pittu, and we never make kuzhambu (gravy) using it. My mother preferred to use a small variety of shark known as pal sura, but it is not available round the year, and therefore I use the more regularly available larger variety. The pittu recipe I have used comes from my great-grandmother and is very different from the sura pittu prepared in Chennai.
Another prawn and vegetable combo! This time the vegetable I have chosen to go with the prawn is cabbage. Cabbage is available plentifully throughout the year in Tamil Nadu. The variety that we get is locally known as Muttai Kose, referring to its round shape, but nothing to do with egg. The masala (spices) I have used here is different from the usual of combination of spices used in Tamil cooking. This is a very mild and delicately flavoured dish which can be served with Potato Pulav, Peas Pulav, , biriyanis, and Indian breads such as Khamiri Roti, Naan, Pooris, and chapathis.
I was very fond of vendaikai/lady’s finger because I was told that I would excel in mathematics if I ate it. Liars! I used to ask my mother to prepare vendaikai pachadi because I liked the taste of it. My mother used to make vendaikai pachadi with tamarind and coconut. I discovered that if I cooked it with unripe mango instead of tamarind for the sour taste and left out the coconut from the recipe, I arrived at the most delicious salad (fried) of lady’s finger and mango.
In Thirunelveli, stuffed eggplant is known as Ennai Kathirikai, which actually means eggplant fried in oil. This dish is considered to be exotic, maybe because the masala is roasted and ground and the brinjal is stuffed with it. It is usually served in vegetarian feasts. The leftover stuffing is fried in the leftover oil and in the tamarind juice used for cooking the eggplant and served along with the stuffed brinjal, and therefore nothing is wasted during the preparation of the dish.
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.