Vathha kuzhambu is a well-known dish in any Tamil Brahmin family (no offense intended). It is tangy (may be, the reason why many guys don't like it much... I've heard from a lot of people that guys don't like tangy food) and spicy. It does not have any cooked dhal in it and hence my Mom says it is not good for health, if had often. But it tastes real good though and to me, that is all that matters ;-). A processed, sun-dried fruit called "manathakkaali vathhal" is often added while making vathha kuzhambu. A whole variety of vegetables can be used in this, like, murungaikkai (drumstick), shallow fried pieces of okra, eggplant (brinjal), pumpkin, shallow fried chopped onions or whole pearl onions etc. My Mom adds pieces of papad if she runs out of veggies at home. All the veggies are to be added after the mixture starts boiling.
Ingredients (about 4 servings):
Tamarind soaked in water - about the size of a small to medium lemon
(If using tamarind paste - 1 full tablespoon)
Sambar powder - 2.5 tablespoons
Cooking oil (a considerable amount) - about 4 to 5 tablespoons
Mustard seeds - 2 teaspoons
Toor dhal - 2 tablespoons
Fenugreek seeds - 1.5 teaspoon
Dried red chillies - 2 to 3
Vegetable of your choice - 1 cup
Asafoetida - 1 full teaspoon
Curry leaves - a few
Rice flour - 1 tablespoon
Salt to taste
1. Extract about 3 - 4 cups (using a measuring cup) of the juice of soaked tamarind or dilute the tamarind paste with about 3 - 4 cups of water and set aside.
2. Mix rice flour in little water and set aside.
3. Heat oil in a vessel and after the oil gets heated, add mustard seeds and wait for it to splutter. Immediately after the mustard splutters, add toor dhal, fenugreek seeds, dried red chilli, curry leaves and sambar powder and fry for a few seconds until the toor dhal turns light golden brown in color. The manathakkaali vathhal or the papad if used, should be added in this step. The reason for frying the sambar powder along with the spices is to speedup the cooking process. The sambar powder can also be added after adding the tamarind water to the spices.
4. So, taking off from where we left in step 1, after the toor dhal turns light golden brown in color, immediately add the tamarind water, asafoetida, salt and mix the contents well (you can turn down the heat during this step as adding water to oil tends to splash sometime). Bring the mixture to a boil.
5. After the mixture starts boiling, add the vegetables and boil for some more time. I boil the mixture until it reduces to about 3/4th (actually, between 1/2 and 3/4th should be good) of the quantity that was there to begin with. This roughly takes about 20 - 25 minutes.
6. Add the rice flour mixture to step 5, boil for 5 more minutes and turn off the stove. The rice flour just acts as a thickening agent. Amazing vathha kuzhambu is ready to go :-).
Note: You can even make vathha kuzhambu in sesame oil instead of cooking oil.
I've had this with rice and ghee or sesame oil for the most part (have never tried this with chappathi). It also goes well with idli, dosai, some varieties of upma etc.