Chettinad Kara Kuzhambu (Tamarind Based Curry)

I have tried several times to describe the magic of kara kuzhambu (tamarind based curry) – but have never been successful. That’s because the taste of kuzhambu is really unique. It lifts the spirit up. It transports you to a different plane altogether.
We made this simple kara kuzhambu (there are several of these) yesterday. When the taste hit me, I did not know whether I was coming or going. I did not expect it to taste so outstanding and authentic.
The traditional recipe has loads of oil – sesame oil. It is quite a challenge to prepare this without a drop of oil. And achieve the same outstanding taste. As a friend of mine, who is vegan, often tells me, she is unable to adopt a WFPB lifestyle because she is addicted to the flavour of sesame and coconut oils. I can understand this. But is seems to me that the taste is more for the oils and less for the actual dish. Sesame oil is kara kuzhambu lends it a distinctive taste that is difficult to achieve without the oil. The challenge is to make the oil-free dish so tasty that the oil is not missed. That is exactly what Hari achieved yesterday. I am so, so delighted!

Chettinad Kara Kuzhambu

The Masala
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (sabut methi dhana, venthiyam)
2 tsp coriander seeds (sabut dhania, kothamalli varai)
1 tsp fennel seeds (saunf, perunjeeragam)
2 dried red chilis
1/2 cup grated coconut
2 tsp sambar powder (recipe under “Chutneys & Powders” in this blog)
Unrefined salt to taste
Other Ingredients
1/4 tsp mustard seeds (sarson, kadugu)
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 onion, chopped
2 eggplants, chopped
1 drumstick (the vegetable), cut into 2″ pieces
2-3 tbsp of tamarind paste (or juice extracted from a lemon sized ball of tamarind)
1 tsp date paste
Unrefined salt to taste
Heat a wok and add the fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and red chilis
Roast till the spices are aromatic, a couple of minutes
Add the grated coconut and roast for a couple of minutes more
Switch off the flame
Add the sambar powder and salt
Mix well and set aside for a couple of minutes
Transfer to a blender
Add 1/2 cup water and grind to a smooth paste
Set aside
Heat a pressure cooker and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves
When they begin to splutter, add the onion
Sauté for a few minutes till the onion is translucent
Add the tomatoes and cook till they are mushy
Add the eggplants and drumstick
Add 1/2 cup water
Add the ground masala, tamarind paste, date paste and salt
Cover and cook for 2 whistles
Let the steam release naturally
Open the lid and transfer to a serving bowl
Serve hot with steamed red/brown/millet rice

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