Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Vendekkai Pachadi – Palakkad cuisine

My initial attitude towards Malabar vegetarian food was rather skeptical. Considering my penchant for spice, I couldn’t accept the tinges of jaggery and sweet shades in a dish that could have rocked if made spicy. But it is an acquired taste. And there is always room for improvisation that helps cater to one’s taste.

With a Malayalee caterer who largely delivered Mallu food to all my office buddies who ordered from her, Palakkad friends who brought traditional lunches to the cafeteria table, and a fiancé whom I visited so often that I fed on Vendekkai Pachadis and Molagootals for a long time, it is hard to not get accustomed to this simple cuisine. Well, I have even begun liking it a lot.

Mum always made delicious curries with the Okra (Vendekkai, Lady Fingers), simple spicy and crisp curries, aloo bhindi (made with potatoes and okra), the traditional and lip-smacking Vendekkai More Kozhambu (Okra cooked in buttermilk and spices), Vendekkai Sambar or Vatha Kozhambu!

She never made the Palakkad style Pachadi, but she recalls her mum dishing it up when she was a kid. Many would assume Vendekkai Pachadi to be fried Okra stirred in yogurt. But this ain’t it! This dish is a traditional Palakkad Iyer version of ‘arusuvai’ and that’s what makes it special. It can be made two ways and I learned both recipes from Mum-in-law, who in turn learned them from her sister-in-law (Athai).

The Okra that we get in the US is nowhere close to our pretty Indian Vendekkai, which when chopped can be used for block-printing! These Okras aren’t even star-shaped. They’re short, plump, and most of the times rather hard. The frozen Okra is no different. Thus, making a decent Vendekkai More Kozhambu or Curry would be a futile effort, because the former requires some amount of shallow frying or microwaving and the latter requires slender tall and fresh Lady finger. I once did try out the stuffed Bhindi Masala, it turned out ok. Not as delicious as it would with Indian Lady Fingers. But this Pachadi turns out good despite the Okra’s physical quality, because it is cooked real well and there is a tangy-spicy gravy to go with.

Here’s what you’ll need:
1. Okra – 1 bag, if you are using the frozen ones. Make sure you pick considerably soft and fresh ones if you're buying them non-frozen - about 1 pound.

2. Dry red chillis – 4-5 (the dry red chillis in the US aren’t as spicy as the ones in India)

3. White sesame seeds – 1 teaspoon

4. Mustard – 1 teaspoon

5. Tamarind – Lime sized ball

6. Jeera - 1 teaspoon

7. Jaggery – a small piece

8. Coconut, grated or desiccated – 2 tablespoons

9. Curry leaves – 1 sprig

10.Coconut oil, Split urad dal, Mustard, Jeera, Turmeric powder, Hing
Here’s how you dish this up:
1. Wash and pat dry the Okra with a paper towel. If you’re using the frozen bag, allow it to thaw well in advance and make sure the lady fingers are paper-towel-dried. Excess water in okra makes it sticky. This applies to any okra-based dish.

2. Cut the okra into small pieces and sauté them in very little vegetable oil.

3. Meanwhile soak the tamarind in hot water and extract the juice into the okra sauté. Add a pinch of turmeric powder and let this cook.

4. Once the raw tamarind odour is done with, add the jaggery and cook further.

5. Meanwhile, grind together the chillis, coconut, sesame and mustard.

6. When the okra mixture is cooked well enough, say about 5 minutes after the jaggery is thrown in, add this grinded pulp and allow it to boil in medium heat. Add salt, check seasoning and adjust as required.

7. Since we aren’t roasting the ingredients, they need to be cooked well.

8. Once all raw odours are done with, garnish with curry leaves, mustard, urad dal and jeera fried in coconut oil with hing.

9. Serve with rice, Keerai Molagootal, and Pappadams.


1. The grinded pulp can be made with mustard and green chillis alone too.

2. Traditionally, this dish is made with dry red chillis, coconut, and sesame seeds. I add the mustard seeds to get the dish a bit more pungent. Just a little bit though. It tastes good all three ways.

3. This goes well with any Iyer cuisine. I served this with mixed vegetable sambar and potato curry.

4. If you’re a spice fanatic like me and are skeptical about the jaggery, you can completely avoid it. However in traditional cooking (and sometimes even when you cook just about ANY dish), a little bit of sugar or jaggery helps blend all the flavours well. Besides that, when it melts, it adds to a wonderful consistency to the dish, without sweetening it much. That applies if you add just a small chunk.

5. If you want it to be spicy, bump up the red chillis, or you could add a couple of green chillis.

Some people call this the Vendekkai Puli Pachadi, and some call it Vendekka Pachadi. Pachadi does not inherently mean a curd based dish. That is why those are specifically called ‘Thayir Pachadis’ (yogurt pachadi).


  1. Hello Rums! I just love Indian food! And the way they incorporate coconuts into their dishes (oil, milk, meat, etc.). Just my two cents.

    Your Drugstore in a Bottle

  2. Yes of course Frederick. I have mentioned the coconut and coconut oil too. That's why when I bump up the spice it brings out a Thai-ish effect sometimes. :)

  3. Yum again. How about some more Palakkadu Iyer stuff?

  4. Oh I'll come up with whatever I can. Like I said, the Aviyal my mom-in-law makes in Tanjavore style... but it can't be largely different. :D