On an average day, if you dropped by to visit my parents unexpectedly, my mom would offer you a meal pretty close to the one pictured here. Perhaps not in the same presentation as above; I believe there is some unwritten rule about placement of the various dishes on a plate or banana leaf which I have not learnt well yet.
Of course, on a festival day, or if you called ahead, the meal above would pale in comparison to the one she would offer then:)
When I read about RCI - Regional Cuisine of India event, I was quite excited as this month's featured region was Tamil Nadu. There are so many distinct flavors just from this region alone, and all of them incredibly mouth-watering, but, I decided to fall back on my favorite comfort food, the food I grew up with, the food my mom would make on an average day...
The picture above shows, from left bottom clockwise: paal paisam, thayir pachadi, arachu vitta sambar, cabbage koottu and home-made chili-lime pickle. Plus, of course, rice.
Paal Paisam: This is basically a simple kheer recipe made with milk, sugar and rice, cooked together till well thickened and syrupy. I usually take a short-cut when I make this: 1 cup jasmine rice cooked in 3 cups water, and when rice is done, add 1 can of condensed milk and 1 cup of whole milk and let them cook till well combined and as thick as you prefer. Garnish with raisins and cashew nuts, preferably fried in ghee. Serve at room temperature.
Thayir Pachadi:This is a side usually, made with yogurt, grated or finely diced cucumber, salt and some tempering. There are several versions of it that I hope to make a separate post on just thayir pachadis someday :)
Cabbage Koottu: The cabbage koottu is pretty much the same recipe as green papaya koottu - just replace green papaya with cabbage:)
Arachu Vitta Sambar: roughly translates to sambar or stew that has some ground spice paste adding the flavor. I saved the best for the last here, as arachu vitta sambar is one of my favorites to eat with plain rice. It is similar to regular sambar recipe, except, this uses a ground spice paste rather than spice powder for the flavoring.
Arachu Vitta Sambar with Pearl Onion
A few different vegetables can be used to make arachu vitta sambar, but my favorite is made with red pearl onions.
12-15 small pearl onions, whole, peeled
salt to taste
1½ cups cooked toor dal
2 Tbsp tamarind concentrate*
1 Tbsp brown sugar¹
for the spice paste:
¼ cup coriander seeds
¼ cup dry grated coconut (or fresh)
2 Tbsp chana dal
4-6 dry red chilies
Tempering: 1 Tbsp canola oil, 1 tsp urad dal, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 4-6 curry leaves
*there are so many varieties of packaged tamarind product available these days, each varying in strength, price and consistency; the Vietnamese tamarind concentrate is my favorite and is the one used in this recipe, but tamarind paste is available at Indian stores which is more intense and thick than the Vietnamese one I prefer; of course, if handy, i always prefer to use tamarind fruit, just shell one or two pods, soak the pulp in water, remove the tamarind seeds, and extract the "juice" :) Experimenting with different versions helped me settle on which one I like, and how much to use to suit my taste...
place the whole peeled pearl onions in a pot with 6 cups of water, some salt, tamarind and cook till onions lose the raw flavor
meanwhile, dry toast the spice paste ingredients till aromatic, then combine them in a blender or food processor and grind to a fine smooth paste, adding just enough water to make a smooth paste
when pearl onions are cooked add the spice paste mix, cooked toor dal, brown sugar, adjust salt to taste and let it simmer till flavors meld and the sambar is thicker; garnish with tempering
Tempering: heat oil in a pan, when shimmering, add the urad dal, when it turns golden brown add the mustard seeds, and when they pop add the curry leaves and turn off heat
Stir well before serving with fresh plain hot rice.
¹ Many of my friends and family leave out the brown sugar in the sambar recipe. In fact, in some households it is a strict no-no to add brown sugar or jaggery to sambar and rasam. I have always done it - ever since I found out I like the taste that a hint of brown sugar adds to spicy dishes :P