Rediscovering Soul Food

   One of the nicest things that happened in 2010 was meeting up again with a cousin after nearly 10 years.  She is the youngest among 6 cousins from my paternal side, and I have always looked upon her like the baby of the family. Now she has a 2 year old of her own, and a baby on the way, and I am getting to know her in a whole new different way. I have to admit that I have to consciously resist the urge to still treat her like a kid though!   A few months ago while I was hanging about in her kitchen, waiting to inhale yet another cup of filter coffee, I stumbled upon this cookbook “Samayal: The Pleasures of South Indian Vegetarian Cooking” by someone called Viji Varadarajan. And a whole lot of old memories tastes and sounds came flooding back. Inside those pages I found recipes to dishes cooked by my grandmothers, aunts and mom. Food I had grown up eating but have lost totally lost touch with after I moved out of home.

Viji Vardarajan

    So in a rather greedy desperate fashion, I borrowed the book and spent the next few days feverishly writing down recipes to dishes like Mor Keerai (spinach cooked in buttermilk, a preparation my paternal grandmother was an ace at), ‘Paaraka Pitlai” (one of the few bitter gourd dishes I like), Paruppu Usili (French beans and crumbled dal) and ways to make the many podis or powders which go into the various types of rasams and sambaars.  Even the technique for the perfect mulgapodi or gunpowder. MTR and Madras Café can go take a walk now!

    I first took a shot at making paruppu usili and I have to say it was pretty good. It’s a simple, traditional Tam dish and goes great with any dish.  I just had to share it here.
    Soak tur dal and red chillies in half cup water for about 20 minutes.  Drain the water and grind this with with a pinch of asafoetida till it becomes a crumbly consistency. Steam this mixture for about 15 minutes. Cool this and break into into small pieces.
   Top and tail French beans and chop into small pieces. Then put into boiling water. I like it a bit crunchy so I don’t cook it for too long.
   Take a bit of oil; splutter a teaspoon of mustard seeds. Add urad dal and brown. Then mix the beans, the dal mixture and the seeds.
  The paaraka pitlai though was not such a success. My husband said it was a bit heavy on the tamarind. Maybe some dishes are best left to mothers!

  Thanks to a friend, I have a copy of another book by Viji on Tamil cooking called Cooking with Yoghurt. Sounds even more exciting!

2 thoughts on “Rediscovering Soul Food

  1. Sounds like a simple south indian recipe which north indians like me can also try (bravely because my dosas never turn out the way they should). Before I try it out, tell me how do you steam the dal?

  2. Ahh, now THIS is something v close to my heart! Food. Authentic. Traditional.After Dad left us, our cuisine gradually shifted to a more north indian fare.Imissed the Andhra n Karnataka khana so much, I kept Calling Amma for recipes of pudis n avial n batata adibajhis.Will invest in this book too.Slurp Slurp to a vethakalumbo!

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