The highly developed and sensitive palates of the Tamilians are well chronicled in the Sangam classics. They believe that food should ideally cater to all the six tastes – bitter, pungent, sweet, salty, sour and astringent. Tamil Nadu has a wide variety of delicious food both for the vegetarians as well as the non-vegetarians, though most of it is made of grains, lentils, rice and vegetables. Spices are added to give a distinctive taste. Rice has been the staple diet of the Tamilians, an inculcated habit, due to the large-scale cultivation of the crop in the state. Chettinad cuisine, a speciality in Tamil Nadu, is famous for its hot and spicy non-vegetarian food. A part of the Mudaliar community is non-vegetarians and its cuisine is delightfully spicy without being too hot. Wet masalas are generally used, the main ingredients being fresh coconut paste and ground ginger-garlic. So here is the recipe:
- Split pigeon peas (tuvar dal/arhar dal) soaked 1/2 cup
- Turmeric powder 1/4 cup
- Oil 4 tablespoons
- Tamarind 1 lemon sized ball
- Mustard seeds 1/2 teaspoon
- Whole dry red chillies broken 4
- Fenugreek seeds (methi dana) 1/2 teaspoon
- Asafoetida 1/4 teaspoon
- Green chillies slit 4
- Curry leaves 10-12
- Drumsticks 2½ inch pieces 2
- Sambhar powder 1 1/2 teaspoon
- Salt to taste
- Pressure-cook the dal in two and half cups of water with turmeric powder and one teaspoon oil for three whistles. Open lid once the pressure has reduced. Mash the cooked dal lightly with a wooden spoon.
- Soak tamarind in one-cup warm water, extract pulp and set aside.
- Heat the remaining oil in a thick-bottomed pan. Add mustard seeds. When they splutter add dry red chillies, fenugreek seeds and asafoetida.
- Stir and add green chillies, curry leaves and drumsticks and cook for one minute on medium heat stirring briefly.
- Add sambhar powder, salt and one cup water.
- Reduce heat and simmer for six to eight minutes or till drumsticks are cooked. Add tamarind pulp, boiled dal and simmer for two to three minutes.
- Serve hot with steamed rice.