It was a myth widely circulated in the 80s that coconuts are the main sources of cholesterol causing artery blocks. Nevetheless my mother started reducing the use of coconut meat greatly, used coconut milk sparingly, and stopped using coconut oil once for all. But my grandmothers continued to use coconuts profusely, and they even found a dish insipid if coconut meat is scantily added into it. In those days coconut meat was used in almost every vegetable preparation, coconut milk used for making scrumptious payasam, and coconut oil for frying crunchy snacks like thattai, murukku, banana chips, etc. We relished theeyal mostly in our grandmother’s house as this recipe calls for good lashings of coconut meat fried in coconut oil.
Channa kulambu was one of the few curries I enjoyed during my childhood days. In those days it was prepared using small black chickpeas and white chickpeas were sparingly used for the reasons still unconvincing to me. Eventually I switch to large white chickpeas for their soft, melt-in-mouth texture and prepare even more delicious kulambu (curry), or sundal (salad). Nowadays I like to prepare chettinad style aromatic channa kulambu using white chickpeas, drumstick pods & eggplants to savour the beautiful aroma of drumsticks & delicious flavor of channa.
It is a common practice in the most parts of the world that people preserve bountiful seasonal fruits and vegetables by freeze-drying them in a freezer and use them all through the year. But on the contrary we, Indians living in a tropical climate, preserve them by drying under the sun as it shines here almost all the days of a year. Sun-dried (dehydrated) products have been used by us for both culinary and medicinal purposes for over 1000 years. Even the medicines recommended by Ayurveda, Siddha, or other Indian medicine systems have been traditionally formulated by sun-dried herbs or fresh herbs; fresh herbs are mainly used for external applications, or for making decoctions, etc., whereas dried herbs are used for making powders and tablets (chooranam).
As a child I hated few things imposed by my grandparents during our visit every summer. It was disgusting to find all our clothes reeked of bitter neem oil as they were washed using neem detergents. We also disliked to gobble up extremely bitter balls made of neem leaves paste forcibly given by our grandmother. But now I have been yearning for such eco-friendly chemical-free detergents suitable for my washing machine, and also I feel guilty to give de-worming tablet to my son as I am unable to persuade him to take the home-made herbal substitute available plentiful around us. Nevertheless I feel contented that I can prepare delicious soup using neem flowers that possess almost same properties as that of neem leaves.
Kadamba sambar is a traditional flavorful curry prepared with assorted (kadambam) vegetables & tubers. Kadamba sambar is popularly known as idi sambar (meaning pounded sambar) in Tirunelveli & Kanyakumari regions, as the spice powder was earlier prepared by pounding in a large stone mortar (ural) using a 3-feet long metal-tipped wooden pestle (ulakkai).
Sodhi is an exotic Sri Lankan curry prepared with lentils and vegetables stewed in coconut milk. Although sodhi is not a spicy curry, it has grown popular among the people living in & around Tirunelveli who usually enjoy spicy curries. Meals with sodhi served at the wedding feasts in our family is a lavish spread of creamy sodhi, pungent ginger chutney, spicy potato fries, crunchy appalam, scrumptious coconut milk dessert (payasam), sweet boondhi and fresh yoghurt as below. Wedding in our family is usually hosted by bride’s family. However bride’s family is treated with a sumptuous meal with sodhi the day after marriage, and it is a unique custom prevalent here to signify the confluence of both the families.
Radish (mullangi) sambar tastes as delicious as shallot (chinna vengayam) sambar as they both absorb the flavors of all the spices used in sambar. Hence I like to savour mullangi sambar not only with hot steaming rice but also with idli or dosa.
Puli Kuzhambu or Tamarind Curry is a traditional south Indian curry prepared using garlic & shallots. We can enjoy its taste to the fullest only when the flavors of all the spices are completely infused into the curry. So this curry can be used for 2 or 3 days without being refrigerated (used for 15 days when refrigerated). Puli kulambu tastes divine when served with soft idli or spongy dosa/ uthappam/ appam the next day.