Friday, February 20, 2009

Irupuli Kuzhambu – A debut dish in our home

Dad lived and worked in Mumbai for a while before hitting the Gulf, and this was before his wedding. During those bachelor days, his local guardian in Mumbai was his ‘Chitti’ (Grandmum’s younger sister). However, Saraswathi Chitti was just a couple of years older than Dad! Yeah, mothers and daughters went into labour at the same time, back in those days. So, Dad and Chitti literally grew up together, went to school together, and were pretty much like cousins.

Chitti later got married into a family that enjoyed and relished food, and her husband was a connoisseur of good food. Dad used to stay at their home in Santa Cruz, and that is where he was introduced to the Iru Puli Kuzhambu through Chitti (She’s actually Chitti Paati to me, lol). Mum never made this dish and I had never heard of it until she mentioned it recently in passing. I was taken by surprise – if it was Dad’s favourite, why didn’t she ever make it! Perhaps it wasn’t a favourite amongst the others at home…

So Mum and I decided to ask Chitti’s son to mail us the recipe (He’s supposedly my uncle, but more like a cousin to me. The tradition continues, huh). Cousin B mailed the recipe, and I was dying to try it out. ‘Iru Puli’ literally translates to two kinds of sourness. This comes from the tamarind juice and the buttermilk. I just made a small modification to Chitti’s recipe, well you guessed it, I bumped up the spice!

Here’s what I needed:
1. Tamarind – lemon sized ball

2. Butter milk – 1 cup (I might have used a little bit more)

3. Coconut – ½ moodi according to Chitti’s recipe – I used some grated frozen coconut and dry coconut powder

4. Okra – a handful

5. Dry red chilis - I used 6. The chilis in the US aren’t as spicy as the Indian variety, so I invariably end up using more of them

6. Sambar powder – 1 and half a tablespoon

7. Fenugreek seeds – ½ teaspoon

8. Curry leaves, Mustard seeds, Oil, Hing, Turmeric, Split urad dal, Channa dal, Jeera, Salt

Here’s how I dished it up:
1. Extract the juice from the tamarind. Cook the chopped okra in the tamarind juice, with turmeric, sambar powder and a pinch of salt.

2. Meanwhile, in very little oil, fry the red chilis and the fenugreek in that order. Make sure you just sauté the fenugreek towards the end. Frying it excessively can make it turn bitter. Grind this along with the coconut into a smooth paste.

3. When the raw odour vanishes from the tamarind juice, add the ground coconut-chili-fenugreek paste and continue cooking till it boils.

4. Now add the buttermilk, give it a final stir, and switch off the stove and set aside. Cooking buttermilk in high heat for a long time can cause it to separate and thin out the gravy.

5. Temper with fried mustard, curry leaves, urad and channa dals, and hing. I usually do the tempering upfront.

When S tasted the Irupuli Kuzhambu, he was instantly reminded of some dish Ma-in-law makes – I have to find out from her. This is a watery delicious dish. Since there is no ‘Paruppu’, you could add a spoon of rice flour/corn starch dissolved in water to thicken the gravy to an appropriate consistency. This tastes like a wonderful mix between Vatha Kuzhambu and More Kuzhambu. Tamarind and Buttermilk both yield different types of sourness, and a marriage between the two just tastes heavenly! The fenugreek cuts down the tamarind’s sourness by an iota, adding the right amount of ‘Thuvarpu’. And the Sambar Powder makes a world of a difference to the dish. Simply put, if you love Vathal Kuzhambu and More Kuzhambu, there’s no way you can’t love this dish! On the whole, this Kuzhambu is going to feature in our kitchen more often in the future, thanks to Saraswathi Chitti.

Note: No other vegetable other than Okra goes well in this dish. If you can’t get hold of Okra, you can try this without any vegetable. You can temper this dish with coconut oil, like you would do to any dish with a coconut base. That could enhance the flavour. I, however, used regular canola oil.

Thanks Cousin B and Saraswathi Chitti. We would love to try more such recipes from you.


  1. Note - I checked online and some people roast and grind chana dal / urad dal with the fenugreek and red chilis. I think this adds consistency too but I didn't add this because it wasn't mentioned in chitti's recipe.

  2. I have also noticed that not everyone adds the sambar powder, I guess this is what makes Chitti's Iru Puli Kuzhambu different and special.

  3. Hey rumsie one clarification, appa was living with them in santacruz during his stay in mumbai. And i have visitted that house too twice before they all moved to chennai for good:) As you have mentioned sivaraman chitappa used to enjoy and always used to appriciate good tasty food.

  4. Oh ok... :) I'll change it in the post