Some time ago I had a revelation about Indian food. It is this – European food, and those cuisines that derived from Europe, focus on the vegetables (or meat if you are non veg) as the basis of a dish, and on how to incorporate flavours into the base through the use of herbs, some few spices, browning of ingredients, stocks, sauces etc.
However Indian food is the other way around – the basis of a dish is the spice mix, and the vegetables are the carrier of the spices and add texture. Flavours are deepened through the roasting of spices, the use of oil to enhance and prolong the spice flavours, even spices to thicken liquid components of a dish. When you begin to think this way about Indian food your cooking style will change and many flavours will open up for you.
This dish from Cook and See Part 1 by Meenakshi Ammal typifies this, with 4 different spice combinations added to the dish to create a layered flavour profile. The “sauce” or “gravy” for this dish is just water, tamarind and spices. The texture is created through little balls of besan/gram flour, deep fried into vadai which are dumpling-like.
I absolutely love this dish. It takes a bit of preparation to make the spice powder and paste, and the vadai, but from there on it is a breeze. It keeps well and can be reheated.
- Don’t make the soup too thick as the vadai will soak up some of the liquid.
- The vadai are also delicious and great eaten as a snack. You can make them specifically for this purpose – sprinkle them with salt, pepper and chilli powder.
- These vadai are also great for Vatral Kuzhambu as an alternative for the usual vadai.
Here are some left over vadai as a snack:
Masala Kuzhambu with Gram Flour Vadai
12 red chillies, dried
2 Tblspn coriander seeds
1 tspn bengal gram (channa dal)
2 tspn blackgram dal (split urad dal)
8 black pepper corns
12 cardamom pods
1 tspn anise/aniseed seeds
2 cms of cinnamon stick
1 tspn black poppy seeds
2 tspns black mustard seeds
0.5 tspn anise/aniseed seeds
1 or 2 branches curry leaves
1/5 cup ghee
2 cups bengal gram flour / besan/ chickpea flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1 tspn salt
2 tspns chilli powder
1/2 pinch baking soda or eno
oil or ghee for deep frying
2 tspns ghee
tamarind water made from lemon sized piece of new tamarind or use tamarind paste
3 tspn salt
Using a small pan, dry roast the spices individually until golden brown, and then grind them to a powder. (To dry roast, place the spice onto a hot pan, and allow to roast. Shake the pan to move the spices around, or stir often to prevent burning. Do not over-roast. They are done when they are golden brown and a nice aroma arises from the spice.)
Fry off the spices in the ghee, then grind the spices to a paste. Add more ghee or water as required to make a paste.
Take 1/3 paste and set aside for the vadai and leave the remainder for the soup.
Wash the grinder out with a little water and keep this to use in the kuzhambu.
Peel and chop the onions and saute them in the ghee until soft and transparent.
Set aside half of the onions for the vadai, and the rest for the soup.
Mix the vadai ingredients, 1/3 of the masala paste and half of the onions with water to form a thick batter. Heat the oil in a pan. Drop the batter little by little with a spoon into the oil and cook the vadai until golden brown. Remove from the oil and drain.
to complete the dish
Soak the tamarind or use the tamarind paste to prepare 4 cups tamarind water. Add salt and remaining onions. Mix the spice powder and the remaining masala paste together with 1 cup of water. Add the mixture and the water from rinsing out the grinder to the tamarind water. Heat it all in a saucepan.
To make the tadka, heat the ghee in a small pan. Add the mustard seeds and allow them to pop. add the cloves, anise and asafoetida. Then add the curry leaves, but be careful, they will splatter.
When the splattering stops and before the spices burn, pour the ghee and spices onto the soup.
Bring the soup to the boil and allow to boil gently for a few minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add sufficient vadai, and keep the rest to use as a side dish or snack.