Vatha Kuzhambu (“vathal” meaning fried, and “kuzhambu” meaning curry) is one of the star dishes of TamBrahm (Tamil Brahmin) households. It is a curry made solely with tamarind broth, without lentils, and it typically may or may not contain vegetables. It usually consists of a type of “vathal“, like the sundakkai vathal, or manathakkali vathal (as in today’s recipe) or can be made with shallots alone. ‘Vathal’ is the Tamil term for fresh ingredients dried under the sun with salt and buttermilk, which are later fried and added to the curry to bring in more flavor. ‘Manathakkali’ is the Tamil name of black nightshade , or sun berry, which has immense healing properties. The ripe fruit is generally purplish black in colour, and is sweet in taste. It can be consumed raw, and is said to possess cooling properties, capable of curing ulcers. The leaves are used to make several dishes, and the dried berry is delicious in Vatha Kuzhambu gravy, flavoured with tamarind.
This recipe being my maternal grandma’s, brings back so many memories. I remember standing behind her and watching her cook, paying attention to every step, while she always wondered what was so special about making Vatha Kuzhambu 😀 Some of her recipes are very simple, yet insanely flavourful like her famous Tomato Thokku. This one in particular is a very simple, straightforward recipe that can be made with minimal ingredients from your kitchen; my mom always makes it when there are no veggies in the refrigerator. This is again another kuzhambu that tastes a lot better when eaten the next day.
- Shallots/small onions- about half a cup
- Garlic (optional)- 4-5 cloves
- Tamarind- a lemon sized ball, soaked in hot water (makes a cup of extract)
- Tomato- 1 big, chopped
- Turmeric powder- 1/2 tsp
- Sambar powder- 3 tsp
- Salt to taste
- Jaggery, powdered- 1 tsp
- Sesame/Gingelly Oil- about 2-3 tsp for the seasoning
- Oil- 3-4 tsp
- Mustard seeds- 1 tsp
- Fenugreek/Menthya/Vendhayam- 1 tsp
- Channa Dal- 1 tsp
- Urad dal- 1 tsp
- Dry Red Chillies- 2 or 3 broken into pieces
- Asafoetida/Hing- a pinch
- Curry leaves- a few
- Manathakkali Vathal- about a handful
- Start off with the tempering: Heat some oil in a pan. Once hot, add all the ingredients one by one except the Manathakkali vathal. Let the mustard splutter, sauté in a medium flame until the dals turn a slight golden colour.
- Now add your garlic, fry them for a minute or two. Add your shallots. Let them fry well, until all the raw smell disappears and they become slightly translucent.
- Add the tomatoes, fry them until they are slightly mushy. Now, add turmeric powder, and sambar powder and fry for two more minutes.
- This is when you’ll add the tamarind extract (For this, I soaked a ball-sized amount in boiling hot water for 10 minutes. Then, I extracted the juice by hand and strained it, added a cup more of water), and salt.
- Let this mixture boil well for at least 15 minutes. If you find that the curry is getting very thick, you can add a little more water as it is essential that the onions cook until they become tender.
- Then, let the curry simmer down to a gravy-like consistency. Add the jaggery, let it melt and mix well. Now, add the sesame oil and switch off the flame.
- In a small pan, take a teaspoon of oil and fry the Manathakkali Vathal until they turn slightly black and crispy. Add to the Kuzhambu and mix well. Serve hot with rice and ghee.
TIPS AND TWEAKS
- There are multiple ways to this recipe – you do not necessarily need a vathal, so feel free to skip it if you’re adding the onions and garlic and vice versa.
- Adding the garlic is optional as well; the conventional recipe does not call for it, but we always add it as it brings in more flavour and aroma.
- The sesame oil is used more for the flavour than for the cooking, as it tends to foam up and overflow when heated for a long time.
Do try this recipe and let us know how it turned out in the comments below! Happy cooking 🙂