Poondu Kuzhambu (Garlic Curry)


Aaaah…..Diwali is fast approaching. Next week, I would be whipping out traditional diwali sweets and savories , going through pounds of sugar and gallons of oil. I thought I would post one simple, healthy recipe before jumping into the Diwali binge. I know I will make this curry again a few days after diwali, when I am not high on sugar and my stomach craves for a detox 🙂

Poondu (Garlic) Kuzhambu (curry) is a very simple and a very basic recipe. No fancy ingredients, no fancy cooking techniques, takes less but delivers more. The garlic flavor is very subtle in the curry , so no need  worry about ogre breath after eating this :).

  • You will need :
  1. Garlic – 15 -20 cloves
  2. Curry leaves – few
  3. turmeric – 1 tsp
  4. vellam / jaggery/ brown sugar – 1 tbsp
  5. tamarind water – soak 1 tbsp of tamarind in water and extract the juice
  6. salt to taste
  7. Sesame oil – 1 tbsp

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  • To make the masala paste , you will need :
  1. Pearl onions – 10 (use shallots otherwise, but no large onions)
  2. Tomatoes – 1 large or 2 medium
  3. Curry leaves – few
  4. Black pepper – 1.5 tsp
  5. Dry red chillies – 2
  6. cumin – 1.5 tsp

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Grind the above ingredients to a paste. To get a smooth paste, first pulse the dry spices and add the onions and grind for 30 seconds and then add the tomatoes.

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  • In a wok, heat 1 tbsp of sesame oil and fry mustard seeds and then saute the curry leaves and the garlic.

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  • When the garlic cloves turn slightly golden, add the ground masala paste. (If you used large onions , the raw pungent smell of onions would be unpleasant, so only use pearl onions or shallots.)

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  • Dilute with half cup of water and to the curry add turmeric, brown sugar and salt.

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  • Taste the curry and see how much acid you will need and according to that add the tamarind water. Often while making tamarind based curries, we tend to go overboard with tamarind and then to compensate it we add more heat and more salt and unintentionally end up with an intense curry. It is wise to add the tamarind after adding all your seasonings, so that you will be better able to judge how much tamarind is needed.

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  • Allow the curry to boil and reduce. Cook until the garlic cloves are tender. Traditionally, 3 or 4 tbsp. of oil is used and the curry is cooked until all the oil separates and floats on top. But I always make this curry light and simple, and less oil does not lessen the taste in any ways.

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The approximate cooking time will be 15 – 20 mins.  You can put rice to boil, start making this curry and while it is cooking, make a simple vegetable stir fry on the side. So a complete meal in thirty minutes…. most days , that is all the time we get to prepare a meal, right ? 🙂

The garlic cloves that are cooked and soaked in the curry will melt in your mouth….

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Spicy Potatoes (Potato Poriyal)


This is pure indulgence. I just posted an oil free rasam recipe few days back and here I am posting this potato side recipe that takes a little more oil than normal vegetable sides. I  L.O.V.E. this traditional, simple potato poriyal so much so, while growing up.. we had it two or three times a week. Now I always pair this poriyal with rasam or yogurt rice , so that the fat content of the entire meal is at bay. This may not be how you want to make the poriyal always, but once in a while it is okay to dive into the indulgence :).

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  • Boil and peel the potatoes and cut them into big pieces. Sometimes when I am in a hurry I microwave the potatoes (Heat a medium size potato for 3-4 mins without water in the microwave) also.

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  • You will need :
  1. One small red onion or half of a medium onion
  2. curry leaves – few
  3. Garlic – 2 cloves crushed with peel (optional)
  4. Turmeric powder – 1 tsp
  5. Sambar powder – 3 -4 tsp
  6. Salt to taste.

Also you will need mustard seeds or cumin for initial seasoning which is also optional.

[Sambar Powder is readily available in all Indian grocery stores. Most of the available brands are good. If you do not have sambar powder you can replace it with cayenne or red chilli powder.]

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  • Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wok, and fry mustard seeds or any of your preferred seasoning like cumin or fennel or cloves and cinnamon… I used mustard seeds and urad dal . Then saute the onions and curry leaves.

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  • Once the onions turn slightly brown, add the turmeric, sambar powder and salt directly to the oil. This will cook the masalas in a flash. Reduce the heat and make sure not to burn the sambar powder.

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  • After 30 seconds, add the potatoes to the wok and mix well. This method of adding the masalas to the oil directly, ensures that the potatoes get evenly coated with the spices.

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  • Cook for a minute and then add the crushed garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

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  • The dish as of now is ready. But you can leave the potatoes in the wok for another few minutes to crisp.

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Once you have the boiled potatoes ready, this will be done in five minutes. As I mentioned earlier, this is usually served as a side for rice, but it can also be used as filling for wraps or sandwiches. These potatoes are crispy, spicy , garlicky……and you will like everything about them 🙂

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Rasam (Clear Lentil Soup)


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Whether we had been eating out for three days in a row or had been feasting on festival foods or had been down with cold and stuffy nose, the next morning I wake up with only one thought “Make Rasam”.  Rasam (pronounced russ-um) is a clear soup and is commonly present in a south Indian lunch menu. Usually eaten with rice, rasam is also served as soup or used as a base for other recipes like “rasa vadai”.  If you didn’t already know, you may be surprised to  that rasam is the original “muligtwany soup“. “Muligtwany” comes from two tamil words “Molagu (black pepper) Thanni (water)”.  🙂

There are many versions of rasam. This recipe is of “Paruppu Rasam”, rasam made with ‘paruppu’ or ‘dhal’ or lentils. Having been a meat eater once has its advantage, I can pin point what is missing in the vegetarian version of a recipe. Soups are definitely not the same when you replace chicken stock with vegetable stock. But you can get the warm taste in vegetable soups by adding dhal water. I guess its the protein :).

Though rasam is a very common food, a well made rasam is not that common 🙂  Even experienced cooks make very simple mistakes, I still remember my bad rasam days. But over time, I have found my fool proof rasam recipe that is also quite easy to make. And here it is for you.

  • I use Thur Dal for rasam. (Thur dal is the dried and split pigeon peas). Take about 1/4 cup of Thur dal.

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  • You’ll also need :
  1. Plum tomatoes – 3
  2. Curry leaves – handful
  3. Cilantro – a good bunch
  4. Lime – 1/4 (You will need more or less according to the acidity in tomatoes)
  5. Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  6. Asafoetida – 1/4 tsp (Common mistake 1 : heavy hand with asafoetida, results in a bitter rasam. A pinch is plenty.)
  7. Vellam / brown sugar – 2 tsp
  8. salt to taste

(Usually tamarind water is used in rasam. But I am replacing it with tomatoes and lime)

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  • For the spice blend :
  1. Black pepper – 2 tsp
  2. Cumin – 2 tsp
  3. coriander seeds – 1 tsp
  4. Garlic cloves – 2 (crushed with the peel)

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  • Crush black pepper, cumin, coriander seeds and garlic coarsely. Crush them enough to break to release flavor. Do not make it into a fine paste /powder.

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Common mistake 2 : Using store bought rasam powder. I am not against pre-made powders. I have devoted a section of my pantry for pre-made masala powders. But for rasam, strictly no pre-made stuff. And it is so easy to make the spice blend instantly.

  • Wash thur dhal, add a cup of water, add turmeric and asafoetida to the water and also add the tomatoes. Cook until dal is soft. I use a pressure cooker as it cooks dal fast and retains nutrients.

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  • Once the dal is soft , mash the tomatoes and dal with the back of a spoon or ladle. If your dal doesn’t mash easily, you need to cook a little longer.

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  • Add 4 – 5 cups of water to the mashed dal and tomatoes. Add salt to taste. Also add half of the curry leaves and cilantro.

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  •  Add 2 tsp of vellam/brown sugar and bring to one good boil. (If you choose to add tamarind water instead of lemon, you should add it now.If you added tamarind water, boil enough until the raw smell of the tamarind goes away).

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  • After one good boil, reduce heat and stir in the spice blend.

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  • After you’ve added the spices, the rasam should not be brought to a boil at all. Simmer until foams appear on the surface and turn off the heat.  Allow it to rest for 5 minutes and squeeze in the juice of quarter lemon. Adjust the quantity of lime juice according to how sour the tomatoes are. Also add the remaining curry leaves and coriander leaves. Cover with lid and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Common mistake 3: Over boiling the rasam. After adding the spices , when you let rasam boil , the flavors become pungent and gives a bitter after taste.

  • Did you notice zero oil was used in this recipe ? Isn’t that awesome ? However, usually rasam is tempered with mustard seeds and dried red chillies for additional flavor. But it is optional. If you choose to temper, heat 1/2 tsp of ghee in a pan, fry 1/2 tsp of black mustard seeds and 1 dried red chilli (cut in small pieces) and pour in the rasam.

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Comon mistake 4 : Using too much oil to temper rasam. It is so unapetizing to see rasam with oil floating on its surface. It kills the lightness of it.

It is very important to cover the pot with lid and let the rasam sit for at least ten minutes before serving. After ten minutes when you open the lid, you will have your zen moment, thanks to the aroma from curry leaves, cilantro and the spice blend, all married into one aromatic rasam.

Eat with rice or drink it as soup, or eat it as rice soup 🙂 It will never let you down.

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Apple Chutney (Apple thokku)


Is it raining apples in your place ?? It is….in mine 🙂 Though I love apples in any form, shape and color, be it red delicious, gala, fuji, empire…I am a die-hard granny smither 🙂 The perfectly tart , mildly sweet, crunchy party in my mouth. A sprinkle of salt and red chilli powder on the slices of  a granny smith can take me back to my school days, when breaks were about devouring the green mango wedges generously rubbed with salt and chilli powder.  So, I was thinking , why not make the traditional “Manga thokku” using green apples. Few years back I learned to make Green Mango thokku from a friend’s mother-in-law. I extended that recipe to the green apples now and it turned out awesome… !

Thokku is usually served with yogurt rice or dal rice. The spicy and tart thokku compensates for the mild rice. However, it can also be used as a spread for breads and wraps. I made mine super spicy and super tart, if you would prefer a milder version, reduce the spices and use a less tart apple.

  • I used two granny smith apples and an 1 inch piece of ginger.

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  •  Peel and grate the apples. Also grate the ginger.

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  • To season, you’ll need :
  1. Turmeric – 2 tsp.
  2. Red chilli powder – 3 or 4 tsp.
  3. Garam Masala – 2 tsp (Pumpkin pie spice mix can be used otherwise)
  4. Ground black pepper – 1tsp.
  5. Brown Sugar (vellam) – 1 tbsp.
  6. Grated ginger – 2tsp.
  7. Salt to taste

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  • Heat 2 tbsp. of oil in a pot and fry the grated ginger.

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  • Then add the grated apples and saute.

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  • Saute for a minute and when the juices come out add all the spices.

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  • Mix well and continue to cook until the raw smell of the masalas go away and the chutney thickens and becomes glossy.

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This is a flavor packed multi-purpose chutney, just one drop is sure to awaken all your taste buds.

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Podimas (with green plantains)


Every state in India has its own version of thali meal. A thali meal is a complete meal with many components, including rice, lentils, curries, soups, stir fries, deep fried sides, desserts and pickles. Tamilnadu’s meal looks something like this :

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Picture Courtesy : http://boffinnews.blogspot.com/2012/02/tamilnadu-special-foods-meals-special.html

The thali meal cooked at homes on regular days usually has 2 or 3 vegetable sides and on special days the meal is prepared with 4 or 5 vegetable sides and the wedding thali meals come with about 7 or 8 sides. Bigger the occasion, more the number of sides. The beauty of the meal is that each side is cooked by a different method of cooking.  There are thorans (stir fries), koottu (vegetables cooked with lentils), varuvals (vegetables shallow or deep fried with jacked up spices), aviyal (a wet mix of a combination of vegetables cooked in a yogurt and coconut base) and then the podimas or puttu (steamed and shredded vegetables with coconut seasoning).

Here is the method of preparation for podimas (which is also called as ‘puttu’ sometimes). I have used raw plantains for this recipe, this can also be done with potatoes or carrots or yam. This is a very simple recipe, but the trick is to get the texture right.

  • I am using “naattu vazhakkai”, the unripened plantains that we get in Indian stores. Any green plantain can be used.

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  • Steam the plantains with their skin on, either in a steam basket or in an idli maker. You can also drop them in boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. If the plantains are overcooked, the dish wont turn out that great. Once the plantains are steamed , allow them to cool down completely , peel off their skins and grate them. If you are using potatoes, shred the steamed potatoes with hands instead of grating, and avoid using the potato masher.

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  • For seasoning , you’ll need :
  1. Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
  2. Urad dal – 1 tsp
  3. channa dal – 1 tsp
  4. cumin – 1 tsp
  5. fennel – 1 tsp (optional)
  6. onions – 1 medium , chopped
  7. green chillies – 4 or 5 (use red pepper flakes instead)
  8. minced ginger – 2 tsp
  9. curry leaves – few
  10. grated coconut – 3 tbsp

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  • In a pan, heat 2 tbsp of oil and splutter the mustard seeds, fry channa dal and urad dal to golden, fry the cumin and fennel. Saute the ginger, onions, green chillies and curry leaves.

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  • Once the onions brown lightly, add the grated coconut, toast for a few seconds and turn off the heat.

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  • Add the grated plantains to the pan and mix gently with the seasoning. Make sure the heat is off while you are doing this. The shredded plantains are delicate as they are already steamed, continuing to heat or going hard with the spatuala can easily mush them. This is the most important step in the recipe. Gently mix everything together, and then turn the heat back on to warm the podimas.

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And now your podimas is ready to be served as a side to rice and curry. This goes well with any curry like sambar or rasam , but my favorite way to serve this is to pair up

with super spicy curries like vattha kuzhambu, kara kuzhambu or pulusu.

As I said already, this is just a method pf preparation, try to cook your favorite vegetables this way and let me know how it goes 🙂

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This is a very mild side. If you are looking for a spicy plantain recipe check out Spicy Plantains.

Guacamole


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There are countless Indian movies with story lines in which boy meets girl, girl hates boy, boy tries to woo the girl over and over and finally the girl falls head over heels for the boy and they live happily ever after 🙂 . Happened in my life too, except that the boy was the sexy green avocado. Long long ago, so long ago after listening to so many stories about the awesomeness of guacamole, finally came the day when I could actually taste it.  “Disappointment” doesn’t begin to describe how I felt that day. All I tasted was the avocado baby food, completely mashed with no identifiable flavors, I kept searching for some acid to cut the creaminess but in vain. I couldn’t help but wonder if there is something wrong with my taste buds as I was unable to appreciate this widely popular dip. I was cautiously staying away from it for a long time. But luckily it was one of those “first day, worst day” kind of deals. Since then, every guacamole I tasted has been better than its previous version. Over time I figured out the DNA for a good guacamole : chunky texture, lots of acid, spicy kicks and crunchy onions , and most of all, keeping it pure and not contaminating with sour cream and similar stuff.

I am always looking for new guacamole recipes and the latest one I tried was Alton Brown’s recipe. The cumin made me curious, I tried it , loved it and here it is 🙂

  • To add to the avocados , you’ll need :
  1. Red onions – 1 medium, finely chopped
  2. Plum tomatoes – 2 medium
  3. green chillies – 2, finely chopped
  4. Jalapeno – 1 , cut thin
  5. Lime – 1 (more if you like more acid)
  6. minced garlic – 2 tsp
  7. chopped cilantro

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  • The above quantities are for two ripe avocados. Scoop out the flesh of two ripe avocados.  Add the juice of 1 lime. Crush 2 tsp of black pepper and 1/2 tsp of cumin and 1/2 tsp of fennel (fennel is my two cents 🙂 ) and add to the avocados and also add salt.

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  • Gently mash the avocados with a fork (no baby food 🙂 ) and add the other ingredients to the avocados. Gently mix and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

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Thus, the guacamole I couldn’t stand once became my favorite dip for chips. I find tomato salsa to be too acidic , while guacamole offers the perfect balance of acid and creaminess.

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Wondering how you can use the familiar guacamole in a novel way ??  Check out MyFoodTapestry’s yummy guacamole sandwiches 🙂 .

Vermicelli Upma (A lazy day meal :) )


I am sure you have days when you don’t want to do much of anything. Just a “take it easy”, “keep it simple” kind of  day.  I am sure you have an arsenal of quick recipes to survive such days…. you can add this one to that list too 🙂

If you have tried vermicelli before and have hated it, it is highly likely that you didn’t like the texture. Vermicelli is very unforgiving when it is overcooked. Al dente is a must, else it becomes gummy and not very appealing. Hope this quick recipe helps you to fall in love with vermicelli.

  • I am using roasted vermicelli – 1 cup. If you have only  the plain vermicelli, all you have to do is heat a tsp of oil in the skillet and toss the vermicelli in the oil for a minute in low heat, until it becomes golden brown.

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  • Veggies that you’ll need :
  1. onions – 1 small or half medium (sliced thin)
  2. carrots + green beans (french cut) + green peas – 1 cup
  3. minced ginger – 1 tsp
  4. chopped cilantro
  5. grated coconut – 2 tbsp
  6. lime juice – 1 tsp (optional)
  7. slit green chilles – 3 or 4  (replace with red pepper flakes)

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  • In a pot, heat a spoon of oil, and fry seasoning of your preference. I fried mustard seeds and urad dhal as I like the nutty flavors they bring. You can use cumin instead or garam masala (cloves, cinnamon and cardamon). Then saute the onions until translucent, and then the green chillies and ginger and the finally add the carrots, beans and peas. Add salt to sweat the veggies.

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  • When the vegetables soften, add 1.5 cups of water to the pot.  [ 1 cup of vermicelli : 1.5 cups of water] Usually the package says to add 2 cups of water, but 1.5 cups of water gives the right texture. Add salt to the water as needed and bring the water to boil.

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  • Add the roasted vermicelli to the boiling water and keep stirring. Reduce heat to medium.

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  • I timed it and it took exactly 3 minutes to cook 🙂 .

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  • Turn off the heat and add the chopped cilantro and grated coconut. You can add a tsp of lime juice for acid but its optional.

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And its done. The most time you will spend is in cutting vegetables, if you had pre-cut frozen vegetables , this becomes even quicker.

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Some variations :

1. You can add garam masala, ginger garlic paste and mint leaves to make it into vermicelli pulav

2. You can add shredded cabbage, soy sauce and green chilli sauce and make a chinese version of this.

3. You can add turmeric powder and lemon juice.

4. If you choose to add tomatoes, reduce the amount of water.

5. You can add toasted cashews or peanuts.