Vendakai/Okra Puli Kuzhambu

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,

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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.

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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.

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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 )….

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…..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.

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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 ! banana-leafThus 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.

Ingredients :

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

To temper

Oil  – 2 tblsp


Mustard – 1 tsp


Fenugreek seeds / Vendhayam / Methi – 1/2 tsp


Curry leaves – 1 sprig

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Method :
1. Warm the oil in a wok, fry the neatly sliced Vendakai/Okra/Bhendi in it till they turn crisp and golden brown and set aside. Make sure you clean the store bought Okra under cold running water & dry it with paper towels before you take it up for cooking.
2. Now in the same wok, fry garlic , shallots into a light brown color, then add coconut flakes to it and fry it some more till the coconut changes color. Add turmeric powder & tomatoes to this & stir till the tomatoes become soft & mushy. Remove from flame & set aside to  cool before grinding the mix into a fine paste in the blender.
3. Now set the wok on the stove, add some curry leaves or curry leaf powder, mustard, fenugreek seeds & fry for a few seconds before adding the fried Vendakai/Okra to it. Now add the tamarind paste along with some water to soak all the  Okra/bhendi. To this add the sambar powder & let it cook, after adding the blended paste mix & salt to taste.
4. The aroma that emanates from the dish will entice you into having lunch early, what better way to spend a rainy Fall weekend lunch hour with your favorite memories of the season and one of your favorite dish for lunch.
Home is where you are, bring home the memories 🙂
For the many other ways I have used Okra in my various dishes, check the links below :
1. Stuffed Okra Boats :
2.Spiced Okra Buttermilk Curry or Bhendi Khadi :  https://stirringmyspicysoul.com/2012/07/08/okrabhendi-kadhi-spiced-okra-buttermilk-curry/
3. Okra/ Bhendi Masala :

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