Pitlai | Toor Dal with Vegetables

Pitlai is a South Indian recipe using some basic vegetables and cooked in a coconut-based gravy with specific spices that have been fried in ghee. It sits close to Poritha Kuzhambu and Poritha Kootu, but the spice mix varies from these.

South India adores its rice, and so the different cuisines of the South include a huge range of gravy-like dishes that are ladled over warm rice to be mixed and enjoyed. It makes sense, right? Rasam, Sambar, Kuzhambu, Kootu etc are the most common. Pitlai sits in that group too, and some will say it is a type of Sambar and others will say it is a type of Kuzhambu. Meenakshi Ammal sits her Pitlai recipes within her Poritha Kuzhambu and Poritha Kootu section – those with a fried spice mix/ paste. The dish varies slightly from any of the above – in consistency, spices used, and the vegetables that are added – bitter gourd and eggplant are definite favourites. Like the other Poritha dishes, it is the ground paste of spices, the coconut, and the predominance of lentils, that serve to thicken the dish. A tiny amount of rice flour can help if needed.

Pitlai includes coriander and Bengal Gram in its coconut-based spice paste, and this is the difference from the Poritha Kootu and Poritha Kuzhambu pastes. As I say about South Indian dishes – change out one spice and the dish has a different name, a different way of eating, a different time of day to eat it and different vegetables to include in it. 🙂

Pitlai is made all over South India and each region will have its own interpretation of the dish. This is a recipe from the Tamil Brahmin Cuisine.

Are you looking for similar recipes? Try Poritha Kootu with Sambar Powder, Simple Poritha Kuzhambu, Sampangi Pitlai, Poritha Kuzhambu with Chilli and Cumin,  and Poritha Kuzhambu with Amaranth Leaves.

Are you looking for other Kuzhambu? Try Green Chilli Kuzhambu, Masala Kuzhambu with Gram Flour Vadai, and Tomato Kuzhambu.

Why not have a look at all our Kuzhambu dishes, and all Kootu. All of the Sambar dishes are here. Browse the Meenakshi Ammal recipes. Or take some time to explore our easy Early Autumn dishes.

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Arai Puli Kuzhambu | A Mildly Sour Wet Soupy Curry | Eggplant and Potato in a Spicy Gravy

A luscious kuzhambu of brinjal (eggplant) and potato. Enjoy!

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.

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Plain Kuzhambu | Kottu Kuzhambu | South Indian Vegetables with Spicy Gravy

This plain kuzhambu is milder than some others, but is anything but plain.

Meenakshi Ammal’s Cook and See books, has a Plain Kuzhambu (Kottu Kuzhambu) in Book 1 of her 4 book series. The Plain Kuzhambu is milder indeed, but is anything but plain. It is a gravy like dish without the toor dal, and with the addition of vegetables. I used pumpkin. Kottu, meaning plain, indicates the presence of vegetables but without cooked lentils.

This recipe is very similar to Vatral Kuzhambu, but uses fresh vegetables instead of dried ones (vathal).

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 traditional Sambar Recipes, they are here – the list includes the Kuzhambu Recipes. Or explore our Indian dishes here and here. Other Winter recipes can be found here and here.

Continue reading “Plain Kuzhambu | Kottu Kuzhambu | South Indian Vegetables with Spicy Gravy”