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.
Keerai Chaarru means greens extract, but it is a misnomer as the juice of the greens is not extracted. It is a simple soup-like curry using very few ingredients – for an Indian recipe 🙂 This is an authentic Thirunelveli preparation. My students, friends, and acquaintances have not heard of this dish at all. Though it is a very simple recipe, one can go wrong in the consistency and sourness as I did when I made it first. I had watched my mother make it but somehow hadn’t registered the proportion of the ingredients. I have now standardised the recipe and get it right every time with this method.
Christmas is the special time of year when people suddenly remember you and drop in hoping for a tasty bite or two 🙂 Carol singers may also pop by to delight you with their enthusiasm if not their talent 😀 This Kari Vadai is my grandmother’s recipe, which I used to enjoy in my Thirunelveli days; it is easy to make and a delight to consume – a guaranteed guest pleaser! It can be served as a snack or as an accompaniment to the Christmas feast along with onion rings and lemon wedges.
The Northeast monsoon is expected to commence towards the end of October. That means there will be days when one will not be able to set out shopping. My mother used to make vattral of vegetables (sun dried at home) and also stock dried fish as even my father would not be at home to go shopping. My mother would make this Karuvadu Kuzhambu when it was raining heavily outside and serve it with Urullaikizhangu Pittu (and with white rice).
The vegetarians of Thirunelveli prepare this Ennai Kai Kuzhambu as a speciality dish. The name Ennai Kai is derived from Ennai Kathirikai because the same masala is used. The flavour is very grand and delicious compared to Vendhaya Kuzhambu. It is served only with white rice, though the name may suggest being served with biriyani (biriyani goes better with Khatte Baingan or Sweet and Sour Brinjal Masala). I usually serve this with keerai kootu or Urullaikkizhangu Pittu.
Back in the day, a Christian wedding in Thirunelveli would last 3 days: the day before the ceremony, the day of the ceremony, and the day after the ceremony. Only vegetarian food was served on the first two days, with meat being reserved for the day after the ceremony. Guests sat on jamakkalams (Tamil Nadu cotton carpets) laid on the floor, and the vegetarian feast was served on a plantain leaf. Generally, the salt is always served first, and a tablespoon of this dhal is served after it. The other vegetables, pickles, appalams, etc., are served only after these two. When sambar is served for the rice, this dhal is again served in large quantities. The first tablespoon of dhal is served as a nod to its significance as an important source of protein in a vegetarian diet, and is therefore served immediately after salt even though its actual role in the meal comes later.
The tiny freshwater fish Ayirai is made only into a kuzhambu, or curry. It is the most delectable fish curry I have tasted. My grandmother used to prepare it especially for me when I visited Palayamkottai during summer vacations. Though my mother did not record this preparation, I have reconstructed the recipe from my evergreen – and ever hungry 🙂 – memory of this delicious treat. It was always served with Keerai Kadaiyal.