Manathakkali vathal kuzhambu(Vathakuzhambu)

I asked the usual question of ‘What should I make for lunch today?’ and recieved the usual answer of ‘whatever, is fine’. You see, open questions are very difficult around here, and so I came up with choices: A. pulav of some kind B. kulambu and vegetable or C. Chapati/roti kind, and he picked B.

Having made sambar a few days back, I resorted to a spicy kulambu variety. A peek in the fridge and I didn’t find any kulambu worthy veggies in there. Whenever tamil cooking is in such a cinch, there comes the vathal to the rescue. Vathal is a generic term referring to any and all sun dried vegetables used in the kitchen. As everyone knows, India is a hot country and if not anything else, we have an abundance of sunlight, scorching so to speak. To make use of it in summer, and to also make use of the abundance in fruits and veggies available in the season, the chosen method of preservation and probably the easiest was to dry them in the sun. Either as is, or salted and brined in buttermilk, the dried veggies have a flavor of their own.

I always bring such sundried goodies with me, when I go for my vacation in India. This time around, I brought manathakkali vathal(Dried Wonder berry), sunda vathal(Dried turkey berries) and kothavaranga vathal(Dried string beans). This particular vathakulambu, I chose to make it with manathakkali vathal, and the english term Wonder berry is no joke. It is a very medicinal plant. Its leaves are eaten as a keerai, similar to spinach, to ease mouth ulcers. The boiled extracts of leaves and berries are also used to alleviate the patient’s discomfort in liver-related ailments, including jaundice. Chinese experiments confirm that the plant inhibits growth of cervical cancer.

Having set the rice in the electric rice cooker, I started the vathakulambu.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp manathakkali vathal

1 golf ball sized tamarind

1 onion chopped

1 tomato chopped

4 garlic cloves sliced

2 tbsp gingelly oil

1 tsp sambar powder

2 tsp coriander powder

1/4 tsp pepper powder

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1/4 tsp cumin powder

1/4 tsp curry leaves powder

salt to taste

Seasoning:

1/2 tsp mustard

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

2 tsp thalippu vadagam

curry leaves

Method:

Heat the gingelly oil in a wide mouthed skillet, over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds. Let it splutter. Add the fenugreek seeds, let it get golden brown, but take care not to burn it. Add the thalippu vadagam and manathakkali vathal and wait until it fries. Add the curry leaves. When all of the vathal is fried well and puffed up, remove the pan off the fire and use a slotted spoon to remove the seasoning and the vathal out of the oil and into a small bowl. Be careful as you are dealing with hot oil here. The oil would have changed color at this point. It is fine.

Return the pan to the heat and add the onions, garlic and the turmeric powder. Saute until the onion is soft and golden brown. The traditional vathakulambu does not use any onions or garlic, but I like the tamarind soaked onion flavor, so I add it. Add the tomatoes and salt, and cook until they turn mushy. Meanwhile, soak the tamarind in a cup of water and extract its juices. Add the tamarind extract to the tomatoes when they are cooked. Add the spice powders – sambar powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, pepper powder and curry leaf powder. Let the mixture come to a steady boil. Let it simmer until the raw smell of the spices has gone, and the kulambu thickens. Return the fried vathal and spices to the kulambu and cook for a couple more minutes. Enjoy with steaming hot rice.

Verdict: The kulambu was spicy and fiery with the rice. The bitterness of the manathakkali was beautifully countered by the tangy tamarind.It tasted even better with the microwaved papads and also poured on top of curd rice. You would never notice that the vegetables are missing in this kulambu.

This is my second entry to the Think Spice – Tamarind event hosted by ‘Seduce Your Tastebuds’.

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