They say flavours, ingredients and cooking styles change almost every 50 km in India and yet there are dishes that connect the dots across the country. Chickpea flour and sour yogurt come together to create versions of the kadhi. The textures vary from region to region; the slightly thicker Punjabi Kadhi with pakoras is a case in point. Flavours vary too; Gujarat’s Bhinda na Kadhi with okra is a lovely blend of sweet and sour. Across the South there are many variations of this dish like the Majige Huli in Karnataka that is usually eaten with steamed rice and crispy aralu sandige (deep-fried crisps).
The traditional Kerala Sadya (feast served on a banana leaf) has quite a few dishes that use sour yogurt. The Kaalan is arguably the most famous of these dishes. Except this dish has a much thicker consistency and is also very sour. It is usually made with one vegetable like raw banana or yam. In areas around Thrissur and Palakkad it’s common to find a much thinner version of the Kadhi – More Kuttan, that uses only sour yogurt or buttermilk without the chickpea flour.
Of all these dishes, I’m partial to the More Kuzhambu in Tamil Nadu. It translates into buttermilk gravy and has the same textures of the Punjabi Kadhi with subtle flavours. It’s not too sour and not too spicy. This dish differs from its Kerala cousins in the texture (that comes from the thicker yoghurt and the urad dal). For some communities, this is a dish that usually makes it to wedding feasts. It is sometimes served as the first course even before the sambarand rasam are served with rice. While it’s not uncommon to pair rotis with the Kadhi, the More Kuzhambu is almost always eaten only with steamed rice.
While the dish takes its name from buttermilk, it is mostly made with whipped curd that is a tad sour. Typically, one vegetable is used to make this dish. My favourite version is the keerai thandu (Spinach stalk) More Kuzhambu that uses tender and crunchy spinach stalks. These stalks are highly seasonal, typically making their first appearance in Chennai’s vegetable markets around end July. More Kuzhambu tastes equally delicious with vegetables like okra, chow chow (chayote) and taro root / cola cassia (seppankazhangu in Tamil or Arbi in Hindi). A classic combination in Tamil Brahmin cuisine with the More Kuzhambu is the usilli – a poriyal (stir-fried vegetable) that combines vegetables like French beans or banana flower with steamed tur dal.
It’s remarkably simple, perfect if you don’t have time to fix an elaborate sambar and works particularly well with a few vegetables. This is my mother’s time-tested recipe with okra.
Vendakkai More Kuzhambu recipe (Okra Buttermilk gravy)
Sour curd (Thick sour curd beaten) – 1/2 cup
Freshly grated coconut – 1/4 cup
Okra – 200 gms
1 tablespoon Cumin
turmeric – 1/4 teaspoon
1/2 tablespoon Urad dal
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek
1/4 teaspoon Coconut oil
Green chillies – 4 to 6
Curry leaves – a few sprigs
Salt – to taste
Mustard – 1/4 teaspoon
1. Fry okra with a little turmeric and curry leaves.
2. Add some water.
3.Fry urad dal,fenugreek separately in coconut oil.
4.Add the green chillies.
5.Blend this mixture with the cumin seeds to a fine paste and add some water and the salt as you do.
6.Add this mixture to the okra and let it simmer for 3-4 minutes.
7.Add the beaten curd – add some water to this curd until it reaches a thick lassiconsistency.
8.’Temper’ this with the curry leaves and the mustard seeds.
If you like the Punjabi style Pakoda Kadhi, you could try the paruppu urundai (Lentil balls) more kuzhambu where you can substitute the vegetable with lentil balls:
1. Soak 1/4 cup of tur dal with 1 teaspoon of raw rice
2. Blend this into a coarse paste along with 3 ground red chillies and a pinch of asafoetida.
3. Make this paste into balls and pressure cook.