Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Vendakka Kara Kuzhambu/South Indian Ladies Finger/Okra curry

For a long time I have been trying to master kara kuzhambu. Every time my friend Anitha would bring the same in her lunch box, I would say to myself "Now, this is one dish I need to master.". My aunt's maid in Coimbatore used to make really good Kara Kuzhambu/Vatha Kuzhambu. I miss that. Finally, today after viewing this link, and with a few modifications of my own, voila, I got the perfect kara kuzhambu. It was truly delicious certified by Pras as well as Latha, the owner of the house which we've rented. Latha is an excellent cook and she too, like me, keeps experimenting and trying out new dishes. We keep sharing our recipes and food :) I did borrow some tips that she had given me for this yummy kara kuzhambu.

This curry has the sweetness of the fennel seeds, the bitterness of the methi/fenugreek and the sourness of the tamarind - get the proportion right and you won't stop licking those fingers.

Ingredients
Ladies finger/okra - 20 cut into 1 inch sized pieces
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fenugreek/methi seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 tbsp oil
1 medium sized onion chopped
1 tomato chopped
1 and 1/2 cups of tamarind juice (soak a lemon sized tamarind ball in hot water and extract the juice)
2 tbsp sambar powder
1 red chilly
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Water as needed
1 country tomato (optional)
1/2 tsp garam masala powder

To grind into a fine paste after dry roasting:
10 shallots or 1 small sized onion chopped
5 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp coriander seeds/powder - I did not have seeds to directly used powder at hand
1/2 cup of grated coconut
4 red chillies (adjust as per spiciness desired)

Steps to get that yummy kara kuzhambu:
1. Dry roast the ingredients which need to be ground into a paste. This takes some time and should be done on low heat until the coconut starts to brown. This adds to the colour of the dish. Cool and grind to a fine paste. Add water as needed. If you are one of those who do not like fenugreek seeds, please add them after about 5 minutes of roasting and powder along with the rest. I prefer adding them to the tadka.
2. Heat one tbsp of oil. Fry the okra pieces till you can see them beginning to brown and keep aside. Do this with care so as not to break the okra pieces.
3. Heat the other 2 tbsps of oil. Add the mustard and fenugreek seeds(Skip this if you've added it to step 1). Let the mustard splutter. Add the red chilly and fennel seeds.
4. Add the onions and fry till translucent.
5. Add the tomato and fry till cooked and mushy.
6. Add the paste and fry for about 5 minutes on sim.
7. Add turmeric powder, chilly powder and sambar powder.
8. Add in the tamarind juice and boil away - may be for about 15 minutes.
9. By this time the fat should've separated - you can see small rounds of oil floating on top. Add salt, the okra, garam masala powder. Adjust consistency. Add a little more water.If you do have the country tomato, chop it into 4 quarters and drop them in - this gives it a more restaurant look. Boil for 5 minutes and voila - it is ready.

I served it with hot rice and popadams.

Tips :
1. Wash the okra and wipe them dry with a cloth or tissue. Lesser the water on them, the lesser the sliminess while cooking, meaning easier cooking.
2. The longer this cooks the better.
3. You could replace okra with drumstick/brinjal/garlic.
4. Since this dish contains coconut, it may get less spicy, so I suggest not reducing the red chillies.
5. The basic trick is to get the tamarind to sambar powder ratio right. That makes all the difference. Keep adding sambar powder a little by little to the tamarind water and keep tasting, you will hit the G spot.