Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Vendakkai pitla (Okra "stew")

This is another of those traditional handed-down-from-grandma recipes that my mother makes and that I cant seem to duplicate, no matter what. Oh, I'm sure it turns out just fine, because after all it's her recipe that I follow. But somehow, that extra infusion - of taste, of aroma - doesnt seem to happen for me.

There is a word in Tamil to define that elusive whatever-it-is that adds oomph to everyday food - kaimanam. The closest translation of that word is "aroma of the hand". Anybody who cooks probably acquires that quality to some degree, but there arent many who can evoke that feeling of warm contentment (home, family, food) in persons other than immediate family. As far as I'm concerned, anybody who can do that deserves the ultimate accolade. Fancy chefs with their fancy cooking dont hold a candle to all those unknown, unremarked yet fabulous home cooks out there.

Ok, returning from the high realms of philosophy, I'm dedicating this entry to Anthony's Curry Mela this week (Week No 21). He does a terrific job of rounding up all the entries from various blogs, making it really convenient for lazy people like me to see who's been making what during the week!

The week before last, I left a note on his blog to say that I would try to contribute a recipe to his weekly round-up of recipes. Daft thing to do, because of COURSE circumstances ensured that I not only did not manage to keep that promise, but I also didnt get to write anything substantial that week. In hindsight, I shouldnt have made an open promise like that - Fate tends to keep an ear out just so she can scupper any plans :)

Anyway, Tony, here's my entry for your Curry Mela this week, and thanks for your efforts!

Recipe for: Vendakkai pitla (Okra "stew")


2 cups sliced okra
1/2 cup cooked mashed tuvar/toor dal
1 tsp tamarind paste dissolved in 3 cups water
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste

For the masala paste:

2 tsp urad dal
2 tsp chana dal
4-5 dried red chillies or to taste
2 tbsp fresh grated coconut
3 tsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp warm water

For tempering:

1 tsp oil
2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida powder (optional)
4-5 fresh or dry curry leaves, torn


1. Grind the first four masala ingredients to a smooth paste with 2 tbsp water. Then add the coriander seeds and grind agin until the seeds are crushed but not smoothly ground. Reserve.

2. Cook the okra in the tamarind water till done but not mushy. (Skim off any froth that rises.)

3. Blend the masala, turmeric powder and cooked tuvar/toor dal with 1/2 cup water in a bowl, making sure there are no lumps.

4. Add this to the cooked okra along with salt to taste and stir carefully to mix without breaking up the okra pieces. Let the pitla simmer for 5 minutes while you do the tempering.

5. For the tempering, heat the oil in a small pan. Pop the mustard seeds (cover the pan) for about 30 seconds on high haet, then lower the heat and add the asafoetida powder and curry leaves.

6. After 10 seconds, pour the tempering immediately on the pitla and stir it in. Serve hot over rice, accompanied by a raita and papad.


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