When we moved to Chennai née Madras in 1957, the first thing we did was to visit the beach. An integral part of the beach experience is sundal (dried peas snack), which is usually sold by mobile snack sellers who offer it along with many other traditional Tamil snacks. The speciality of the Madras beach sundal is that it is flavoured with coconut and unripe mango and served in a newspaper cone. As a child, the flavour was absolutely divine even with the inevitable sand from the beach. The green chillies made it so spicy that I used to cry into the sundal but still loved it 😀 I have now recreated the beach sundal but made the flavour a lot milder so that you can enjoy it in your living room minus the tears and the sand 🙂
- Kala’s Thenga Manga Madras Beach Sundal
I first enjoyed these Vengaya Pakodas in Madurai in 1955, where there were known as Udhiri Pakodas (Crumbly Pakodas). We were served these when we visited my aunt Cynthia on weekends, which she bought from a nearby hotel. When we moved to Chennai, the Udhiri Pakoda had metamorphosed into Onion Pakoda and tasted even better. I tried for decades to replicate the recipe and finally arrived at my own method which gave the same flavour.
Kala’s Vengaya Pakoda (Onion Fritters)
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 🙂
Kala’s Usili with Radish Tops
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 😀
Celery Dhal Curry
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.
Thirunelveli Vegetable Saalna
Thirunelveli Lime Rice is different from the typical Madras Lime Rice in that it is very mild, and fresh ingredients like onion, green chillies, and coriander leaves are used, and it is also served with Paruppu Thuvaiyal. The acid in the lime juice changes the anthocyanin pigment in the onion to a beautiful reddish pink colour and makes the texture crisp. This makes it a most attractive dish.
Thirunelveli Lime Rice with Paruppu Thuvaiyal (Roasted Bengal Gram Dhal Chutney)
January is the harvest time in Tamil Nadu. Pongal is the harvest festival and is the most important festival for Tamilians. It is celebrated on the first of the Tamil month Thai, which usually falls on January 14th or 15th. Pongal is the name of the dish made to celebrate the harvest and gets its name from the boiling over of the rice. Traditionally it is cooked in the front yard of the house on firewood, in a new mud pot. I modified the traditional recipe for those who do not have front yards, firewood, or mud pots.
Venn Pongal and Thengai Chutney (Savoury Rice with Coconut Chutney)
Pakodas are favourite teatime snacks all over India. There are a variety of pakodas made in different states, but in Thirunelveli, especially in my family, whole wheat flour pakodas were made and served as a breakfast item. It is unique because it combines black gram dhal along with wheat flour to give a softer texture and improve the nutritive value.
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.
Thirunelveli Paruppu Kuzhambu
Kuzhippaniaram is traditionally made with dosai batter. I came up with this recipe one morning when I wanted to make vermicelli uppuma but found I had only one cup of vermicelli. While wondering what to do, I had a brainwave: why not make a kuzhippaniaram with vermicelli? I then extended this concept to include other wheat products, creating this very unique combination of a South Indian dish made with wheat (which doesn’t grow here). This goes extremely well with Vengaya Sambar and Coconut Thuvaiyal.
Kala’s All Wheat Kuzhippaniaram (with Vermicelli)