It’s Navaratri time, if you have grown up in South India and settled elsewhere now, nostalgia strikes you big at this time of the year,
all the “Pattu Mami’s” (South Indian Brahmin ladies are affectionately called so) come floating in your dreams with their amazing silks,Bommai Golu’s/Doll festival’s, yummy dishes and sweets that goes without saying as part of the festive season.
When I spotted the garden fresh Vendakai/Okra/Bhendi in the market, I quickly put it in my shopping cart, it’s not one of my favorite vegetables, yet it looked so fresh, I did not have the heart not to savor it in some dish or the other.
When you slice the vegetable, it gets a little slimy, perhaps why I never much cared for this one, so I try to cook various dishes out of this veggie where you do not get to bite on that slimy slippery piece, but a more firmer crunchy fresh veggie. Keeping that in mind, I googled around for recipes, I could almost hear my neighbor back home ,an authentic Pattu Mami at that, say,”En athulae, nekku poricha vendaka kuzhambuna padu ishtamakkum” meaning “in my home my favorite dish is Vendakai/Okra Poricha Kuzhambu.” Right then, I decided, that will be it, same recipe at my home today , this being Navaratri time , every beautiful memory was linked with the Pattu Mami’s skill sets !
What is Kuzhambu/Kulambu/Kolambu :
People call it by various names, yet they all mean the same thing, it is a liquid curry like a broth when it is thin & of flowing consistency, it is thick like a gravy when fried coconut is added as a base, in which case it is called Poricha/Fried Kuzhambu. People in South India, especially Tamil Nadu, add fresh vegetables to the Kuzhambu or Vathal (sun dried vegetables )….
…..in which case it is called Vathal Kuzhambu, either way it tastes yummy, Vathal Kuzhambu is mostly prepared around this season when the weather outside gets cold or during monsoons when sun dried stored vegetables come in handy.
Kuzhambu is a liquid dish made with spices, unlike “Sambar” it is not made with a dhal base, hence it is not of a creamy consistency. It contains mainly tamarind/Puli, shallots and fenureek seeds a must(since it negates the sour taste of Tamarind),some fried vegetables and a handful of spices.
Frying the main ingredients like coconut, Vendakai/Okra, shallots and garlic gives the dish an extra punch. Kuzhambu is usually, the next dish served after sambar, if you have ever tasted a complete South Indian meal. It is of a much lighter flowing consistency, coz the Tamilian food habits teach us that as the food is served in a sequence, the accompanying curry that goes with the piping hot rice gets lighter in consistency since it aids in easy digestion. So ideally a meal starts with Keerai/Spinach gravy, then Sambar, Kuzhambu, Rasam and Thayir/Yogurt to go with rice, along with accompaniments of stir fried vegetables called Poriyal, spicy pickles, pappadam or rice crackers, all on a plantain leaf. Every meal begins with a sweet dish, the belief is to sweeten the bond between the host & the guest, a little salt is added to the corner of the plantain leaf as an indication for all the hard work that went into making the dish ( thru the salt of their sweat, so to speak !), so as to always remain grateful for the hand that serves food…..so many beautiful meanings hidden in a feast served with love ! Thus our Kuzhambu forms an integral part of any meal.One can add any vegetable of their choice, I used Vendakai/Okra/Bhendi for my Vendakai Puli Kuzhambu.
Vendakai/Okra/Bhendi – 10- 12 tender
Tamarind or Tamico paste – 1tbsp
Sambar powder – 2 tsp
Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
Sesame oil / Oil – 2 tbslp
Salt – As needed
Garlic – 3 flakes
To sautee in oil and grind
Shallots (Small onion) – 12
Tomato – 2
Coconut – 1/2 cup
Oil – 2 tblsp
Mustard – 1 tsp
Fenugreek seeds / Vendhayam / Methi – 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves – 1 sprig