My father’s youngest sister, Jeyanthi, relocated to Erode from Thirunelveli when she got married. She had picked up several new recipes from her Erode friends and acquired relatives. My mother had enjoyed her cooking and collected a few recipes from her. This Kathirikkai Curry is one of those precious dishes. Kathirikkai is a staple ingredient in Tamil cooking because different varieties of kathirikkai are available throughout the year. I prefer to use the deep purple variety. This curry turned out to be absolutely fabulous, and it can be served with plain rice, Easy Peas Pulav, Potato Pulav, or chappatis.
Manathakkali (Solanum nigrum) greens are known for their medicinal properties due to their high Riboflavin content. Apart from the leaves, the unripe berries are also used for cooking, but only in their dried form or vattral. The dried berries are now commercially available, and I was lucky to get some. They are fried and used in a very strongly flavoured tamarind curry. We add a large amount of coconut ground to a fine paste to reduce the bitterness of the berries. The kuzhambu is served with plain rice and Urullaikizhangu Pittu.
The potato bonda is one of the favourite snacks in South India. It is deep fried boiled and spiced up mashed potato coated with a batter of Bengal gram flour and rice flour. People in Tamil Nadu occasionally use colocasia instead of potato. Though it is never sold in shops, because of colocasia’s sticky and gooey texture, it is made and enjoyed in homes. I wanted to explore bonda without deep frying. Therefore I hit upon using my kuzhippaniaram mould. I also wanted to make it different from the traditional potato bonda. The spice combination that I have used is also different from the potato or colocasia bonda that is traditionally made. It is an interesting dish whose lovely crisp exterior, when bitten into, yields the sticky, gooey colocasia. My daughter and I love this.
My son’s colleague, Akshaya, hails from Mannargudi (a small town 310 kms south of Chennai). She gave us maavattral (dried mango) prepared by her mother and told me that they make a kuzhambu (curry) with it. I asked her for the recipe and found it to be quite similar to the Vendhaya Kuzhambu I prepare, with the addition of dried mango. I was taken aback a little to hear that they don’t add ground coconut to the curry, as that would be an essential ingredient in Thirunelveli cooking. I have prepared this as given by her, but still believe that it could be improved with the addition of a little coconut 🙂 I served it with plain rice accompanied by fried appalams and koozhvattral (dried rice batter vattral) which makes for a delicious meal 🙂
Baking your own bread or rolls is a huge challenge in India, mainly because we are not used to baking in our homes and prefer to buy cakes and breads from bakeries. Most Indian homes only have a microwave oven. My first experience with baking bread was as a college student way back in 1966, where my attempt sat in the bowl like a stone. I never had the confidence to try after that, but now that my daughter is showing a lot of interest in bread making we have been experimenting with baking different types of bread. My daughter found this recipe on YouTube which we then modified slightly to suit the Indian kitchen.
In Tamil literature, the goodness of radish tops in our diets in summer is narrated in poetic verse claiming that it helps to relieve hyperacidity, abdominal pain, oedema, dental issues, kidney stones, and anal fissures. I do know from personal experience (to my astonishment) that it does relieve hyperacidity. The other claims will have to be verified 🙂 Radish tops have very strong flavour (naturally, as radish also has a very strong flavour) and a slightly bitter taste as they are greens. Therefore they have to be combined with other mild spices to please your palate. Combining with dhal also reduces the strong flavour of the leaves. In Tamil Nadu, combining dhal with any vegetable without the addition of tamarind is known as koottu, and that is what I have presented here.
Thirunelveli’s knowledge of kovai kai, in the ’60s, was limited to a story where two men appeared before a judge claiming that a parrot was theirs. The judge asked them to prove it and the parrot’s owner took some kovai kai from his pocket, which immediately attracted the parrot, convincing the judge that the parrot was his. We always believed that kovai kai was only for parrots and it was not available there in stores. For all I know it is still not available. When my father was transferred to Chennai, my mother spotted this in a store and came home and said, ‘They are selling kovai kai which only the parrots eat!’ We didn’t buy it because we didn’t know how to cook it. When my sister got married she found that her in-laws, who had been posted in Andhra Pradesh, cooked kovai kai at home. I had eaten that once in their house and started cooking it once I had my own establishment. I do not know if this is the exact recipe, but it is fairly close to what I enjoyed there.