Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Puli Kozhambu

Tamarind is the fruit of the Tamarind tree (Tamarindus Indica) and is native to tropical Africa.It reached India a long long time ago and then the Persians and Arabs who called it "tamar hind" or "Indian date".Most of its colloquial names are variations on the common English term. In Spanish and Portuguese, it is tamarindo; in French, tamarin, tamarinier, tamarinier des Indes, or tamarindier; in Malaya, asam jawa; in India, it is tamarind or ambli, imli, chinch, etc
The food uses of the tamarind are many. The tender, immature, very sour pods are cooked as seasoning with rice, fish and meats.The ripened fruit pulp is edible and popular as a spice in Latin American and Asian cuisines.
Above info,picture and more on tamarind from here

My earliest memory of tamarind is when I was about 7 or 8 years old, in my paternal grandfather’s house in Trichy, collecting the seeds so that I could rub them on the floor till they were hot and then press them on an unsuspecting cousin’s hand and quickly run away as they let out a surprised yelp! The same magnificent tree was the one under whose cool shade we used to rest on scorching summer afternoons with our library books.

Tamarind is the base for many South Indian dishes and even to non South Indians who are aware of this, it never ceases to surprise them that there is a dish like this which is based solely on it; no dal added like in Sambar, no ground masala with coconut to balance the sourness – Puli Kozhambu.
In Tamil, Puli means tamarind and Kozhambu is a generic term for curry(gravy) dishes. Well, my Dad had an English translation for this dish which used to annoy my mother to no end – “Ah!Tiger Broth!” he would say, snickering at his own joke – “Puli” in Tamil, pronounced slightly differently means "tiger". It's one of my comfort foods today and I still remember that joke.

Puli Kozhambu (Tamarind based Spicy Curry)


Pumpkin – 100gm, peeled and chopped into 1” squares
Garlic – 6-8 cloves
Onion – 1 big, sliced or 1 cup shallots peeled
Tomatoes – 1 big chopped
Thick Tamarind pulp – about 150 ml (Soak a lime sized piece in warm water, squeeze to extract pulp and filter)
Coriander (dhania) powder – 3 tsp heaped
Chilli powder – 2 tsp
Salt to taste
Veg. Oil – 1 tbsp
Til Oil – 1 tbsp

Tempering (Thalimpu)
Mustard (rai) – 1 tsp
Fenugreek (methi) seeds – ½ tsp
Asafoetida powder (hing) - pinch
Curry leaves – 6-7

1.Cook chopped pumpkin in water till 3/4th done. Peel garlic and crush lightly
2.Heat a kadai(wok) and add both the oils, when it heats up, add mustard.Wait for the mustard to pop,then add the fenugreek seeds and asafoetida , as soon as the seeds change colour, add the washed curry leaves. Reduce heat, add garlic cloves and fry on low for 3-4 minutes.
3.Add sliced onions or whole shallots and sauté on low till translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes and fry till pulpy.(about5 minutes)
4.Add the coriander powder and chilli powder and fry 1 minute. Add tamarind pulp along with 100ml water and salt and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, add the chopped pumpkin and reduce flame to medium. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes till the tamarind is cooked and doesn’t smell raw. Adjust the salt and cook for 5 - 10 minutes more till the gravy is reduced to little more than half.
5.Serve with steamed rice or dosais.

Note: Pumpkin makes this dish a bit sweet which I like because the gravy itself is sour and spicy and that makes for a good mix of flavours. But if you (like my husband) don’t prefer the sweetness to intrude on the spice, you can replace pumpkin with:

-Sticky potato/Colacassia (Arvi)boiled and cut into 1" pieces
-Okra -1" pieces lightly sautéed
-Vadaam – sun dried balls made out of a mixture of urad dal flour,spices and salt with a lot of variations which include onions and ash gourd pieces.Used to be handmade at home, but now is readily available in most grocery stores. They are fried as part of the tempering before adding to gravies and add an instant burst of spice and flavour.


Cynthia said...

Tamarind is prevalent in the Caribbean too and we use it not just in our food but to also make, drinks, achar, sweets etc.

I can tell that your puli kozhambu is tasty.

Miri said...

Oh yes- thanks for pointing that out Cynthia - I seem to remember a few fabulous chutney recipes my mother had, sent by her childhood friend who settled in Guyana after marriage.