Kozhambu in Tamil usually refers to a gravy made without lentils (dal) in it. While it often refers to a tamarind based gravy like Puli kozhambu or Poondu kozhambu, it also includes the buttermilk based gravy - Mor kuzhambu. And though some think of it as sambar without dal, I prefer to think of sambar as kozhambu with dal in it - after all tur dal came to South India much later and it was tamarind which ruled the roost for a long time.
Depnding on what we are used to calling "kozhambu" at home, a thin spicy meen kozhambu (tamarind based fish gravy) may be what it recalls for some, while others will associate it with the thakali kozhambu (tomato curry) their mother used to make with idlis for breakfast.
My mother is an expert at the correct spices and tempering to be used for various kozhambus, while I am still learning as I go. But when I yearn for "something" after a particularly nasty bout of viral flu which seems to have deadened all your olfactory senses, then a nice spicy tangy kozhambu is just the ticket to open up that stuffed nose and heavy head!
And my favourite is the one made with okra in it; this vegetable which has an (undeserved I may add) reputation for stickiness when cooked on its own, somehow plumps up into juicy fingers which go squelch! in your mouth when you bite into them, spilling all the tangy goodness of the kozhambu it has absorbed.
Served with steamed rice, some plain tur dal with the simplest of tadkas and a lovely red potato "roast" - this really made our Sunday lunch a heartwarming affair!
Vendakkai Kozhambu (Okra in Spicy Tamarind Gravy)
Okra (lady fingers/ vendakkai) - 6-8 tender small ones
Tamarind extract from one small lime sized ball of tamarind - 1/2 cup
Onion - 1 big chopped
Tomato - 1 quartered
Garlic - 3-4 cloves
Oil - 1/2 tbsp veg oil, 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Fenugreek seeds (methi) - 1/4 tsp
Asafoetida (hing) - pinch
Curry leaves - 6-7
Red chillies - 4-5
Coriander seeds (Dhania) - 1 tbsp
Fennel seeds (Saunf) - 1/2 tbsp
Fenugreek (Methi) - 1/4 tsp
Peppercorns - 1/2 tsp
Grated coconut - 1/4 cup
1. Wash and thoroughly dry the okra with a kitchen towel. Cut the tops and the ends of the okra, and chop into 1 " pieces.
2. Dilute the tamarind extract with 350 ml water and keep aside.
3. Roast all the ingredients for the masala in 1 tsp of oil (add coconut last) and when browned and aromatic, take off flame and cool. Grind to a smooth paste, adding a little water at a time.
4. Heat oil in a kadai, add mustard and when it pops, add the fenugreek seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves.
5. Put in the chopped onions and saute 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another 2-3 minutes.
6. Add the chopped okra and fry for about 8 -10 minutes on a low flame till it softens.
7. Add the tomatoes and pour in the tamarind extract; mix in half of the masala paste and salt to taste and bring to boil, reduce flame and simmer covered for about 10 minutes till the raw smell of tamarind goes away.
8. Add the remaining masala paste and some more water if needed, bring to a boil and simmer for another 5 minutes.