Archive for South Indian gravies

Our comfort food: Puzhinikkai Kootu (Winter melon stew)

When I first came to California and saw the shiny,glazed white piece of a cut winter melon in an Indian store, I was overjoyed! This was the veggie with which my mom used to make a yummy savoury stew to go with rice. It is now our one pot meal when I come home tired after a day’s work!! Winter Melon though not widely found in the U.S.A, is very popular in south India especially in Madras, the city I grew up in. It is used in Northern India to make delicious Agra Petha, which is a famous sweet meat.I have to confess that until I decided to participate in the Weekend Herb Blogging(WHB) hosted by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen , I did not have much idea about the nutritional value of this veggie. All I knew from my amma was that it was ‘good for health’ . So I did some research and found some interesting information about it.

The origin of this class of vegetable is supposed to be in South East Asia and is now grown in other parts of Asia too.These are melons grown on plants similar to cantaloupes but without their distinctive odour. They ripen late and are actually grown as fruit but eaten as vegetable. It belongs to the same group of fruits like the Honey Ball, Honeydew, Casaba, Crenshaw and Persian. Another interesting fact is that it is used in Chinese Medicine to regulate blood sugar.It also cools and detoxifies the body, quenches thirst and relieves irritability. It is also called Chinese wax gourd/ large fuzzy melon/ tallow gourd,/wax gourd,/white gourd,/winter gourd/white pumpkin. Here are some pictures of the different varieties of winter melon. The one used in this stew is usually the large round one. Now for the recipe:

This recipe serves 4


one quarter cut piece of a winter melon

1/2 cup moong dal( yellow mung beans)

1/4 tspoon turmeric powder

one or two red chilli pepper

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/4 cup grated coconut

3 tspoons broken urad dal ( black gram dal)

1 tspoon mustard seeds

2 tspoons vegetable oil

some curry leaves cut in to bits

some chopped cilanthro

salt to taste



Wash the moong dal,add a little water and turmeric powder to it. Pressure cook this until two whistles(one can also cook it on the stove top like any other beans) . Cut the winter melon into bite size pieces(discard the green skin and also the seeds) and cook them either in the microwave or the stove top with a little water. You know it is cooked when the pieces become soft and sort of transparent. In the meanwhile, in a flat skillet to 1 tspoon oil, add 2tspoons of urad dal, cumin seeds, red chilli pepper(s),curry leaves and fry in a medium-low flame. When the urad dal becomes golden brown, turn off the flame and add the grated coconut. After the mixture cools, grind in a blender to a smooth paste with about 2 tbspoons of water. Mix this paste with the cooked dal using a ladle.

Now for the finale: In a deep bottomed skillet fry mustard seeds ,after they pop, add the remaining urad dal in 1 tspoon of oil. Add the cooked winter melon(with water; if you have drained the water add about 1/4 cup of water) and sautee a bit. Stir in the coconut-dal mixture and a little salt. Bring the stew to a boil and switch off the stove. Garnish with chopped cilanthro.

Note: It might sound like a lot of work, but most of it is done simultaneously by the pressure cooker and the microwave. It is especially easy if the veggies are cut earlier.

This is my entry for this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging(WHB) which is hosted by Nandita of Saffron Trail

Thanks Kalyn for hosting this event. I learnt a lot about this vegetable because of this. Also thanks to Nandita for hosting WHB.


Comments (27)

Aviyal: A vegetable medley in a coconut-chilli-yogurt sauce

Last week when I was chatting with my sister, she mentioned that she was making aviyal for a potluck party with her friends. Aviyal as every South Indian knows contains yogurt and I immediately remembered a time when I would absolutely refuse to touch any dish that had yogurt in it! No amount of begging, beseeching or bullying by my amma would ever work!! In fact I used to make such a huge fuss about the ‘smell’ of yogurt that my amma was forced to reserve some aviyal for me before adding it. Yogurt to a Tamilian family is like bread to an American or dal to a North Indian!! ‘Yogurt rice’ or ‘thayir sadam’ is vital for the existence of any Tamilian. Imagine being a misfit in such an atmosphere!!! Everytime friends or relatives heard about this ‘failing’ in me, I used to receive every kind of look ranging from pity, wonder and censure!!!When I was a kid I used to enjoy all this attention and even went so far as to refuse to sit next to anyone eating yogurt but later in my adoloscent years,when I didn’t want my foibles to be exposed in public, this tactic sort of backfired. Then I would cringe the moment someone mentioned yogurt and try to summarily change the subject. Fortunately at least two of my uncles and cousins from my Dad’s family also have this aversion . It is like some genetic trait in the family:-))) So during weddings we used to cluster together during lunch and warn each other about the arrival of the server with aviyal, mor kuzhambu, morkootu etc(yogurt based dishes), in order to avoid its sudden descent on our plantain leaves.Strangely enough I love paneer, cheese and milk sweets(???).

Seriously guys,despite all the fuss I have a genuine aversion to the smell of yogurt:-(( My husband on the contrary is a staunch Tamilian (translates as loyal yogurt lover) he religiously ends every dinner with a little of ‘thayir sadam’. When we were newly married, I used to try and have minimal contact with yogurt(store bought or the home made ) and heartily ignore any dish that calls for this milk product. The past year I realized that my husband was missing out on all the yummy(atleast to him) dishes with yogurt.Finally I took pity on his enforced yogurt-less state and started incorporating yogurt in my cooking, but still in a ‘odourless’ form, starting with rava idly, bhindi do pyaza etc.!!! Anyways to cut my ramblings short, when my sister mentioned aviyal I had this craving to eat it and so asked her for the recipe. She made the recipe sound so simple that I was raring to go by the time she finished with it. So folks, I made aviyal and yes with yogurt. It came out so good that even I licked my plate clean to the last drop. ok, here goes the recipe:


one carrot, one potato, 5-10 beans, 5-10broad beans(avarakkai)——cut Length-wise
1/2 a packet of frozen drumsticks

1/2 a packet of frozen yam

1/4 cup of frozen broken beans (mochai kottai in tamil,avarakalu in Kannada)

1/2 cup of frozen or freshly grated coconut

1 tbspoon cumin seeds

2-3 green chillies

1/2 cup yogurt


salt to taste

Cut the carrot,potato,beans and the yam length-wise. Cook all the vegetables (xcept the yam) in a heavy bottomed vessel with a little salt and one cup of water. Boil the yam separately in some water and salt. Grind the coconut,cumin and the green chillies in the blender/mixer. Beat the yogurt and mix the ground coconut mixture to it.Once the veggies are cooked add the yam,some salt and the yogurt-coconut concoction to it. stir and turn down the heat to medium-low. Wait till the mixture starts boiling,turn off the stove. Season mustard in one tsp of oil in another kadai and add it to the aviyal.


veggies like raw plantain, taro roots, cluster beans could also be added

Over-boiling the yogurt-coconut-veggie mixture should be avoided since the yogurt sort of breaks with too much heat.

Comments (6)

Araichivitta Capsicum Sambar (Green bell pepper-lentil stew with ground spices)

Sambar to a South Indian is like dal to a North Indian. It is a ubiquitous yet unique dish in the south Indian cuisine. This was one of the first recipes which my mother-in-law taught me when I was newly married. It is a very simple recipe and needs about 20 minutes heating time to sort of concentrate the stew.Though she was from the old school where ppl learnt from experience rather than from word,she was still able to traslate everything to the tspoon measure terminology I was comfortable with. I used to be very stressed about the measure and also very conscious about every step in the cooking it lest I spoil it!! However,nowadays I can make good sambhar in a jiffy!. It has a permanent place in our meals especially during weekend lunch. So without much ado below is my MIL’s Sambar recipe.

serves: four adults

cooking time: 40 minutes

to Pressure cook

1 cup of tuvar dal (red gram dal)

a pinch of turmeric

a drop of peanut oil

To fry and grind

1 tspoon dhania (coriander seeds)

1 tspoon bengal gram dal

1 red chilli pinched

some roughly cut curry leaves

1 tblspoon grated coconut (turn off the heat after you add this)

To boil

1 tspoon tamarind paste

1tsp sambhar powder (I use my mom’s but you could make it yourself or get some from any Indian store)

1 tsp salt

1/2 a big green bell pepper cut into small square bite size pieces

To season

One tspoon sunflower oil

one tspoon black mustard seeds

1/4 tspoon methi seeds (fenugreek seeds)

To garnish

roughly chopped cilanthro

Capsicum sambar garnished with Cilanthro

First Pressure cook the tuvar dal with a pinch of turmeric and a drop of oil.

boil the tamarind-spice mixture in about one and a half cup of water till you get a concentrated solution and the bell peppers are cooked(the volume should be 1/2 the original amount). This would take about 20-25 minutes

In the meantime fry and grind the dhania-Bengal gramdal-red chilli-coconut spice mixture with a little water in a blender. I do it in a Philips mixie from India but you could also use a blender which preferably has a smaller jar.

combine the wet ground mixture to the cooked dal and add this to the concentrated tamarind-spice solution. Turn down the heat and mix the stew thoroughly.Season the mustard and fenugreek seeds in 1 tsp oil in another wok/kadai and add to the sambhar. Garnish with cilanthro before serving.


1. fry the dhania-gram dal-coconut mixture in a low flame and keep an eye on it as the dhania chars very fast!!!

2. For a quick one pot sambar the seasoning can be done in the beginning before boiling the tamarind-spice mixture.

Comments (2)