Meenakshi Ammal has the habit of calling Kuzhambu as a soup in her English translations of her recipes. They are not really soups, but it speaks to the difficulty of translating some of the traditional Indian dishes into something that has meaning to the Western world. Indian authors try to find hooks that have some meaning to non Indian readers, likening dishes to risottos, pancakes, pesto’s, red and green curries, clarified butters. I do it too, resorting to words like broth and gravy.
My personal opinion is that we should respect and maintain the tradition as much as possible, and not find Western-accepted terms to describe dishes. But that is difficult with a dish like Kuzhambu. The best I can call it at this stage is a wet curry or a spicy gravy. It is neither a soup or a gravy, although it has qualities of both. Sometimes it is more gravy like, and sometimes more soup like, but it is neither. It is a beautiful balanced dish, flavour wise, with a wonderful balance of sour (tang), heat (chillies), warmth (spices) and an undefined specialness.
This is one of my favourite kuzhambu dishes.! Enjoy!
You can find recipes for the other Kuzhambus here, including Green Chilli Kuzhambu, Fenugreek Kuzhambu, and Masala Kuzhambu with Gram Flour Vadai. If you are looking for Sambar Recipes, they are here. (The list includes Kuzhambu Recipes.) Or explore our Indian dishes here and here. Other Winter recipes can be found here and here.
Arai Kuzhambu | Slightly Sour Kuzhambu
Source : interpreted from Slightly Sour Kuzhambu in Cook and See Part 1, by S. Meenakshi Ammal
Cuisine: South Indian, Tamil
Prep time: 5 mins or less
Cooking time: 30 mins
Serves: 2 – 3 people depending how you are using it. It makes 2 cups.
Fresh vegetables – for this dish use brinjal (eggplant), or the types of yam called Chenai or Karunai. I used 1 medium eggplant and one potato. It was glorious. You can also use bitter gourd.
Tamarind – enough to make 2.5 cups juice. Use concentrate or traditional tamarind
1.5 tspn salt
1 – 2 Tblspn ghee
1/2 tspn black mustard seeds
2 pinched dried red chillies
2 tspn channa dal or small whole chickpeas
3/4 tspn white urad dal (black gram dal, skinned)
1 Tblspn coconut pieces, (frozen is fine)
1 sambar vadam, pappad or appalam (optional – lovely to have, but leave out if you dont have or cannot get)
10 – 15 curry leaves
2 tspns sambar powder
1 tspn of rice flour
green coriander to garnish
First, prepare your vegetables. Cut the brinjal and potato into small pieces (if using them). If using yam, cut them into big pieces, cook in plain water and peel. If using bitter gourd, cut into small circular pieces, boil and add the kuzhambu near the end of cooking.
Heat up to 1 Tblspn ghee in a heavy vessel or kadhi. Fry the mustard seeds. As they begin to pop, add the black gram dal, asafoetida, chillies, channa dal and fry till a reddish colour. Add the coconut pieces and fry a little. Add the curry leaves and turn over once or twice.
Add the sambar powder and fry a little. Pour in the tamarind juice, add the salt and put in the vegetables. Keep on a good simmer and cook for some time, allowing the soup to reduce to about 2 cups.
Mix the rice flour in a little cold water until freely flowing. stir through the kuzhambu and allow to cook out; it thickens the liquid. It will take a couple of minutes to cook the rice flour out.
Remove from the heat. Fry small pieces of broken appalams and/or curryvadams in 1 tblspn ghee and add to the kuzhambu (optional).
Garnish with chopped green coriander.