ARACHU VITTA VATHALKUZHAMBU is a delicious spin on the classic version. Where traditionally sambar powder is used to flavor vathalkuzhambu, at the heart of this version lies a ground paste of coconut, red chillies and curry leaves, that lends the dish it’s heady flavors and luscious texture. The seasoning of manathakkali (night black shade berries) adds depth and an additional layer of flavor.
Vathakuzhambu is an electrifying dish, that’ll have you smacking your lips with its intense flavors and rich aroma. It’s a quick fix. Something that you could make at a moment’s notice. It’s just a matter of cooking tamarind extract with some sambar powder, hing, salt, jaggery, turmeric powder and tempering the condensed mixture with mustard seeds, methi seeds, curry leaves and red chilli.
Oftentimes, Sundakkai (turkey berry) or Manathakkali (Black night shade berries) are roasted and added to the kuzhambu. You could add pearl onions and drumsticks and that’d elevate the dish up a few notches. My cousin adds a handful of peanuts while cooking and that makes for a great addition too.
But much like making Rasam, making vathalkuzhambu is an art. One needs to be able to balance the bold qualities of the raw ingredients in order to arrive at a delicious dish. And that’ll take a bit of trial and error, even if you’ve got the best recipe on hand.
Vathalkuzhambu has everything to do with taste and rich flavors and very little to do with nutrition. And so on days that vathalkuzhambu is made, the protein-packed paruppu thogayal and mellow Mathan Kootu (Pumpkin curry) are typically made.
I owe this version of Vathalkuzhambu to my dear friend Anupama. It’s a mellow version of the original dish, but still packs a punch when it comes to flavor!
THIS RECIPE SERVES 4
- Tamarind – Big gooseberry sized ball
- Salt – 1 tsp
- Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
- Jaggery – 1.5 tsp
- Oil – 1 tbsp
- Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
- Channa Dal/ Kadala Paruppu – 1 tsp
- Methi seeds – 1/4 tsp
- Red Chillies – 1
- Curry leaves – 1 sprig
To be roasted and ground into a paste
- Sesame oil – 1/2 tsp
- Hing – a tiny piece or 1/2 tsp
- Red Chillies – 4 -5
- Curry leaves – 2 to 3 sprigs or 1/4 cup
- Coconut – 1/2 cup
- Ghee – 1 tsp
- Manathakkali – 2 tsps
- Soak the tamarind ball in a cup of warm water.
- Heat the sesame oil in a heavy-bottom pan or kadai. Roast the whole hing (if using) until it turns a shade lighter and starts to disintegrate, then add the red chillies and curry leaves (if using powdered hing, add it along with red chillies and curry leaves). Roast them until they release a good aroma. Add the coconut and roast until it turns a light shade of brown. Turn off the stove. Let cool. Grind to a smooth paste adding water as needed.
- In the same pan, heat the remaining 1 tbsp sesame oil. Add the mustard seeds, channa dal and hing. When the channa dal turns a light shade of brown, add the methi seeds, red chilli and curry leaves. Toast.
- Extract the juice from the soaked tamarind. Pour it into the seasoning. Add salt, turmeric powder, jaggery and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 mins or until the raw smell of tamarind is gone.
- Add the ground paste. Mix well. Add more water if it’s too thick. Bring it to a boil.
- While the kuzhambu is coming up to a boil, heat the ghee in a tadka pan. Roast the manathakkali until toasty.
- Pour it over the prepared kuzhambu. Serve hot with rice.
- Traditionally sesame oil is used to prepare Puli Kootan, that is, any tamarind based kootan. But you could use any neutral flavored oil.