Vatha kozhumbu’ is a favourite amongst most Tamilians, with little variations from house to house. It is hot and sour like its Chinese counterpart, but is not a soup. It fills the gravy part of a South-Indian meal and is taken with rice with a dry side dish or chutney.
Vatha kozhumbu is a colloquial term for ‘vatral kozhambu’. Vatral meaning chips made of preserved vegetables. Vegetables would be dried when in season and preserved for later use, and these would be used in making the curry or ‘kozhambu’. But these days most vegetables seems to have crossed the seasonal barrier and are available all the year long so we use fresh ones.
My favourite vatha kozhumbu comes from one of my mother’s repertoire of recipes handed down by her mother, enriched by the culinary trends of her own generation. I love it best made with shallots. The kozhambu is very easy to make and pairs best with ‘thogayal’.
The parippu thogayal’s granular texture and ‘hummus-ey’ taste compliments the spicy and sour soup very well. I am not sure whether you can handle vatha kozhumbu by itself – I certainly cannot! I have noticed that some of my friends add a touch of jaggery to impart a sweet-sour taste to the soup but you know how I am – I need to be clear about food. I will have it either sweet or sour. That leaves no room for jaggery.
We often hear that Indian dishes can be very hard to photograph. Well, this dish definitely had me in twists.
It tastes finger-licking good and I promise I will look the other way when you do that.
Recipe: Vatha kozhumbu ~ South Indian hot and sour soup with parippu thogayal (recipe follows below)
Yield: Serves about 1/2 a litre
Thick tamarind pulp – 1/4 cup
(Or pulp extracted from a golf sized ball of dark tamarind)
Shallots or red onions, roughly chopped – 1/2 cup
Sambar powder – 1.5tbsp.
Water – 1 cup + extra
Fine rice flour – 1tbsp.
Sesame oil (no other would do!) – 3-4 tbsps.
Mustard seeds – 1tsp.
Bengalgram dal / Chana dal – 1 tbsp.
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Dried red chillies, broken into two or three pieces – 2
Fenugreek seeds / Methidana – 1/8tsp.
Asafoetida / Hing – 1/8tsp.
Red chilli powder – to taste
Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp.
Heat oil to moderate. Splutter mustard seeds, followed by bengalgram lentils, dried red chillies, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds and asafoetida. Saute lightly till dal turns pink.
Add the chopped onions and saute till translucent. Add sambar powder, turmeric powder, chilli powder and saute further on low heat till the powder turns to a dark shade. Do not burn.
Add tamarind pulp diluted with half a cup of water. Cook till the raw smell of tamarind disappears, about ten minutes on low flame.
Dissolve the fine rice flour in one cup of water and add to the liquid. Cook till the soup thickens. If water is added, followed by rice flour, lumps will be formed, hence it is advised to dissolve the rice flour before adding to the soup. Adjust water to bring the liquid to the consistency of thin soup. Adjust salt levels according to taste. The soup is intended to taste sour and spicy.
Serve on top of a ladle of hot, steamed rice with a tsp. of sesame oil. Thogayal on the side makes it just perfect.
Recipe: Parippu thogayal
Yield: One bowlful
Split, husked, mung bean / moong dal – 1/2 cup
Fresh, grated coconut – 1/2 cup
Dried red chillies – 2 or to taste
Tamarind – 1/4 tsp. (if pulp) or 1/2 inch of dry tamarind
Water – To grind into a thick paste
Dry roast mung beans in a heavy skillet or wok, on low fire till pink and aromatic. Set aside to cool.
Grind to a paste using water sparingly – just enough to move the ingredients around. The consistency should be similar to that of hummus. Adjust salt and grind to a soft, almost-fine, but lightly grainy texture. You want a soft chutney but you want to retain some mouthfeel, so you do not want to grind it very coarse or very smooth.