Monthly Archives: January 2012

Rice with Meen Kuzhambu/Fish Curry

This can be a quick and easy sunday non-vegetarian meal – not to waste much of the precious weekend family time in the kitchen. One can also make this meen curry on a friday/saturday evening and store for the next day lunch/brunch! I don’t think this can be called an exact kuzhambu as generally kuzhambu is a thinner version. This can be fish in a thick gravy/thokku! Add more water and it can be converted to a simple kuzhambu.




The word ‘curry’

Curry has become a very popular and sort after word in the UK and many parts around the world…


The earliest apparent mention in print in the English language occurs in a translation (1598) of a Dutch traveller’s account of voyages in the E. and W. Indies. Referring to Indians, this text states that: ‘Most of their fish is eaten with rice, which they seeth in broth, which they put upon the rice, and is somewhat sour but it tasteth well and is called Carriel, which is their daily meat.’


The word comes from “Kari” which is from the Tamil language and was later anglicized into “curry”. Curry powder itself is not a single spice but a blend of different spices and can be mild or hot. This golden colored spice is one of the oldest spice mixes and is most often associated with Indian cuisine.


There is also another view to the origin of the word curry in english –


200 cooks and several philosophers were summoned by King Richard II to produce the first English cookery book ‘The Forme of Cury’ in 1390. The book contained 196 recipes. None of these recipes have any thing in common with Indian curries. ‘Cury’ was the Old English word meaning cuisine based on French ‘cuire’ meaning: to cook, boil, or grill.. After the cookery book, Cury became a popular part of English vocabulary. The term Cury became associated with stew.



 ‘Kari’ means Meat

The word ‘curry’ is believed to be the anglicized version of the tamil word ‘kari’. But, in Tamil, the word kari/curry might denote meat..

Kozhi kari kuzhambu means Chicken Gravy – where kozhi means chicken, kari means meat and kuzhambu means gravy;

Aatu kari kuzhambu means Lamb Gravy – Aadu means Lamb, kari kuzhambu means meat gravy;

The same applies for Meen kari kuzhambu where Meen means Fish; and 

Kothu Kari means Minced Meat.


Most people in the world today know what a curry is – or at least think they do. In Britain the term ‘curry’ has come to mean almost any Indian dish, whilst most people from the sub-continent would say it is not a word they use, but if they did it would mean a meat, vegetable or fish dish with spicy sauce and rice or bread.


Now, the Meen Curry. 

Meen Curry

Ingredients (serves four)

  • meen/fish – 500 gms (any variety – with bones or fillet as preferred)
  • garlic – 6 cloves
  • onions – 2 medium
  • tomato – 2 medium
  • tamarind – marble sized ball
  • red chilli powder – 2 tsp
  • coriander powder – 3 tsp
  • pepper powder – 1/2 tsp
  • turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  • salt – as needed
  • oil – 4 tbsp
  • kadugu/mustard seeds – 1 tsp
  • vendhayam/fenugreek seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • curry leaves – a few




 Method of Preparation

  1. Clean the fish pieces; apply salt and turmeric powder and keep aside
  2. Finely chop garlic, onions and tomatoes separately
  3. Wash and soak tamarind in 1 cup hot water
  4. Heat oil in an iruppu chatti/Pan
  5. Add mustard seeds, when they splutter add fenugreek seeds and curry leaves
  6. Add chopped garlic, onions and tomatoes and fry for a while
  7. Add turmeric, chilli, pepper and coriander powders and salt and fry well
  8. Strain the tamarind and add the pulp
  9. Cook till the raw smell of spices and tamarind goes away
  10. Add the fish pieces and let the fish cook in the pan with closed lid in sim position
  11. The fish would be cooked in 5 -7 minutes or a little more
  12. Thicken the gravy if needed or add some water to make it thinner
  13. Serve hot with rice.




  1. After the fish is washed, a paste of turmeric powder and salt is rubbed over the fish pieces and kept for at least 1/2 an hour
  2. Soak tamarind in hot water to easily get the pulp or paste
  3. Meen Kuzhambu tastes best when made in an earthen pot.

Vallarai Thuvayal/Chutney For Better Memory

After all the festivities and special food of the occasion, now for some simple yet worthy cooking. This one sounds simple but the health benefits are tremendous. Vallarai Thuvayal is a green chutney with the herb Vallarai. It is called the Indian Pennywort and its botanical name is Centella Asiatica.



Centella asiatica, also known as ‘Vallarai’ in South India, belongs to the family of herbs that help in maintaining youthful vigour and strength, reveals Charaka, the foremost exponent of Ayurveda.

Apart from providing vigour and strength, it improves the receptive capacity of the mind, improves memory, voice, physical stamina, complexion and digestive capacity of the body. The herb is also advisable for diabetics and people suffering from anaemia. The extracts of the plant are also being used in cosmetology as an ingredient in face creams and anti-wrinkle creams.


Vallarai Keerai or the Pennywort leaves are also available as toffees, syrups, juices or powders. They are available in the Naatu Marundhu Kadai or the Tamil Medicine Shops in and around Tamilnadu, and other Sidha and Ayurvedic Medical shops.



 Vallarai Thuvayal

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • vallarai leaves – 2 cups
  • kadalai paruppu/bengal gram/channa dhal – 4 tbsp
  • chinna vengayam/shallots or small onions – 12 nos
  • poondu/garlic – 4 cloves
  • green chillies or red chillies – 2 nos
  • puli/tamarind/imli – marble sized
  • oil – 1 tsp
  • salt – to taste
  • water – very little to make a thick paste


 fried and ready to be ground


 Method of Preparation

  1. Separate the leaves from the stem and wash very well
  2. Peel skin of shallots and garlic cloves; wash and set aside
  3. Heat oil in an iruppu chatti/pan and fry bengal gram till golden brown
  4. Add shallots, garlic cloves, green chillies/red chillies and fry well
  5. Add vallarai keerai/greens and fry well
  6. Cool this and grind in a blender with tamarind, salt and very little water to a smooth paste.


 vallarai keerai thuvayal



  1. Serve with piping hot plain white/brown rice and nei/clarified butter/ghee
  2. Nallennai/Gingelly oil can also be used instead of ghee
  3. This can be a first course of any meal with a gravied vegetable/stew
  4. Some might have this thuvayal with thayir saadham  (
  5. Ulundham Paruppu/Dehusked Black Gram can be substituted with Bengal Gram
  6. Grated Coconut can also be used if preferred
  7. The quantity of chillies can be altered according to spice preference. 

Thai Pongal – The Harvest Festival and Sarkkarai Pongal

Pongal is the harvest festival of the Tamils. After the tamil month – Maargazhi, comes Thai (not pronounced as in Thailand. Pronounced as in thigh). It marks the end of the harvest season.  According to the tamil seasons – the month of Thai falls in Mun Pani Kaalam – early winter.

These are the tamil seasons classified in the literary works-

  • Ila Venil Kaalam – Milder Hot Season – The months of Chithirai and Vaigasi (mid april and mid june)
  • Muthu Venil Kaalam – Hot Summer – The months of Aani and Aadi (mid june to mid august)
  • Kaar Kaalam – Cloudy/Rainy Season -The months of Aavani and Purattasi (mid august to mid october)
  • Koothir Kaalam – Cold Season – The months Aippasi and Kaarthigai (mid October to mid December)
  • Mun Pani Kaalam – Early Winter/Dew – The months of Maargazhi and Thai (mid December to mid February)
  • Pin Pani Kaalam – Later Winter/Dew – The months of Maasi and Panguni (mid February to mid april)



Pongal cannot be considered a religious festival, though it is more popularized as a Hindu Festival. It can be called as a thanks giving celebration – the farmers thank the Sun God for a bounty harvest and thank their cows for their milk and the bulls who helped them plough their fields and pull their carts.

People living in cities are not really connected to this professional affair. With much population moving towards towns and cities for non-agriculture based livelihoods, what keeps the tradition still alive?

The quintessential grain of the people of south india – ‘Rice’ is needed for making Idli, Dosai, Cooked Rice, Payasams, Savouries and many more food items. Might be this connection between those farmers and city dwellers keeps everyone celebrate pongal alike. When the farmers thank their cattle and nature for helping in their bountiful harvest, people in other parts celebrate Pongal as a thanks giving festival to  the Farmers who provide them with the incomparable and unsubstitutable RICE, other crops and vegetables.


Pongal is a four-day affair.

1. The first day – the last day of the month of Maargazhi – this year (2012) January 14 – is called Bhogi Pongal and is the day of cleaning.  All old unwanted things are shed away. People white wash their houses and new Kolams – traditional drawings on the floor with rice flour and the house gets ready to celebrate Pongal the next day.


Kolam  from free pongal wall papers 



All the houses from the richest to the humblest are thoroughly scrubbed and whitewashed. Homes are cleaned and decorated with “Kolam” – floor designs drawn in the white paste of newly harvested rice with outlines of red mud. Often pumpkin flowers are set into cow-dung balls and placed among the patterns. Fresh harvest of rice, turmeric and sugarcane is brought in from the field as preparation for the following day.


2. The second day is Thai Pongal. The day of Pongal, which falls on January 15, 2012 is the first day of the month of Thai. The Tamil saying goes –
‘Thai pirandhal vazhi pirakkum’ – meaning when the month of Thai is born,  good things start coming into everyone’s life.

Pongal is also called Thai Thirunal and Thamizhar Thirunal – which means the festival of the Tamils – beyond religions.

Pongal means boiling or spilling over in reference to rice or milk. It is celebrated in cities on the gas stoves in the kitchen. In villages and towns, mud stoves or brick stoves are used to cook the newly harvested rice on man chatti/earthen pots or vengala paanai/brass pot. The stove is kept on the traditional kolams drawn on bogi night and pongal – plain rice and sweet jaggery rice is cooked not in the kitchen but in front of every house – thanking the Sun God.


pongal wishes from free pongal wall papers



The Vengala Paanai used only for Pongal purpose, is also called the ‘Ponga paanai’ is given to every bride by her parents and the first pongal after marriage is called ‘Thalai Pongal’ and the new daughter-in-law celebrates Pongal with her new Ponga paanai. After a few years of usage, unfortunately now, mine lies back home and so I use the normal pressure cooker in kitchen to make Pongal.

There would be two Paanais/vessels. One with plain white rice and water and the other with plain white rice and when it boils, jaggery is added to make Sarkkarai Pongal – the sweet jaggery rice – the delicacy associated with the festival. When the new rice boils and spills over the paanai, women of the house say – ‘Pongalo Pongal’ in chorus.

Maavilai thoranam/decorating houses with fresh mango leaves, Manjal Kizhangu/Fresh turmeric with the fresh leaves tied to the Pongal Paanai, Karumbu/Sugarcane and Panankizhangu/Palm Root are certain things associated with Pongal and those which I miss a lot during these special days, not to mention the fresh Banana leaves.

Not only Sarkkarai Pongal, the whole feast meal consists of those traditional vegetables – the normal four coarse meal – ilai saapadu – is enjoyed by the whole family. Sambar, Rasam and Yoghurt being normal, Avial – a vegetable dish with coconut gravy – using raw banana, egg-plant, pumpkin, drum sticks and many other root vegetables is the highlight of the day. By the end of the day, the tongue would have lost its taste co-ordination due to the unlimited intake of sugarcane!

The strong and courageous use their strong teeth to peel the skin of sugarcane – enjoying the real taste of course. The more pampered ones like appa – my father – would have their share of sugarcane cut to bit size pieces by his mother – aachi . The sight of my then sixty-five to seventy year old aachi sitting down on the floor with her arivalmanai – colloquially aruvamanai – the all in all traditional metal knife with a base – which cuts, chops and grates coconuts, and cutting sugar cane for appa is still framed in my mind. Even now, she is ready for it, but we don’t let her do it!

For photo of Aruvalmanai – see –


3. The third day is Maatu Pongal – the day to thank the cattle. When in Thoothukudi in my maternal grandparent’s home, since there were cows, maatu pongal would be a colorful affair. Mamas/Uncles would paint the horns of cows and calves in different colours and we youngsters would tie colorful flower garlands to their necks. Thaatha would bring the bullock cart from his farm – and when we were very young, would even taken a ride in the bullock cart. That diminished later, and only painting horns and worshipping them continued till there were cows at home.

This day is also famous for Manju Virattu or Jallikattu – the bull fight – the tradition that is regarded to be more than 2000 years. In ancient days, parents of a girl would give their daughter to a courageous man who tamed the bull.


Jallikattu is more than 2,000 years ago old. Good proof for it are cave paintings, showing men chasing bulls, that were found in Karikkiyur village located in the Nilgiris district. Long time ago Jalikattu used to be a way for local women to choose their husbands.


4. The fourth day is Kaanum Pongal. It is the day of meet and greet. People visit their relatives and friends on this day. This is also a day of family picnic with ‘kootanchoru’ – the mixed rice packed by aachis and ammas for everyone for lunch. My maternal grandfather – thatha would drive us – the grandchildren – to River Thamiraparani in Vallanadu in Tuticorin district. We would swim in those cold waters – or literally warm water – nearly for three to four hours enjoying kaanum pongal picnic. Thatha made it a thatha and peran/pethigal – Grandfather-grand children day. When we were older, thatha took us again – just to see the water which had turned ankle depth – that made us really sad.


 Now for the true essence of Pongal, Sarkkarai Pongal!




 Sarkkarai Pongal

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • pacharisi/raw rice – 1 cup
  • paasi paruppu/split green gram/moong dhal – 1/3 cup
  • grated vellam/jaggery/gud – 1 1/2 cup
  • yela podi/cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp
  • nei/clarified butter/ghee – 4 tbsp
  • mundhiri paruppu/cashew nuts – 3 tbsp





Method of Preparation

  1. Cook rice and lentil in enough water in a pressure cooker (I used 5 cups for my rice quality)
  2. Mash well and keep aside
  3. Boil jaggery in 1/4 cup water till it dissolves and filter it straight into cooked rice and lentil
  4. Add cardamom powder and cook till jaggery syrup mixes well in rice and pongal reaches a thick consistency
  5. In a separate pan, heat ghee and fry cashew nuts
  6. Pour into Sarkkarai Pongal and mix well till everything blends well
  7. Sarkkarai Pongal is ready.






  1. The quantity of jaggery can be reduced if preferred
  2. Though amma prepares sarkkarai pongal with only rice as in traditional pongal paanai, this is the standard pongal cooked at all times – with split green gram mixed to it
  3. For an even better traditional taste – a bite of banana and coconut with a spoon of pongal tastes heavenly for some (I am one among those)
  4. For those with no sweet tooth or less sweet preference, but like to taste pongal – might try this one – have the sweet pongal with some sambar or coconut chutney.


5. January 16 of every year is also celebrated as Thiruvalluvar Naal/Thiruvalluvar Day. Thiruvalluvar is the author of Thirukkural. This would give a clear picture of the man and his contribution to Tamil Literary Works.


Thirukkural is the masterpiece of Tamil literature with the highest and purest expressions of human thought. It is written in the form of couplets (two line poems) expounding various aspects of life. It contains 1330 couplets, divided into 133 chapters of 10 couplets each

Thirukkural was written by Thiruvalluvar, who is believed to have born 30 years before Jesus Christ. The Tamil Calendar is dated from that period and referred as Thiruvalluvar Aandu (Year). We find Thiruvalluvar as a moral philosopher, political scientist and master of public administration in the first two parts of Thirukkural. We find him to be a creative artist in the third part, depicting the fascinating aspects of lovers.

Thirukkural’s immortality and universality are unquestionable. Its ethics and values are applicable to all religions, countries and time. It has been translated in over 60 languages of the world.

Maargazhi Maadhathil Ven Pongal/Ven Pongal in the month of Maargazhi

 The Tamil Calender starts with Chithirai Maadham which starts from 14th of April. Chithirai is the name of the month and maadham means month. Chithirai, Vaikasi, Aani, Aadi, Aavani, Purattasi, Aippasi, Kaarthikai, Maargazhi, Thai, Maasi, and Panguni are the twelve tamil months. Among all the months, in hindu religious terms, Maargazhi maadham- (mid december to mid january) is considered auspicious – especially to the followers of Lord Vishnu. But mostly, irrespective of the sects, we can see most of the young girls singing Thiruppavai in temples.





Thiruppavai is a collection of thirty songs on Lord Vishnu, sung by Andal – one of the twelve Alvars of the Bhakthi Movement in Tamil Literature. Alvars were Vaishnavite Saints as Nayanmars were Saivaite Saints. The quote below gives a better view on Alvars and Bhakti Movement.


Andal is one of the most extraordinary personalities in religious history. She is known in her native tongue of Tamil as an Alvar, one who is “immersed” in the depths of enjoyment of God, the omnipresent mysterious One. Tradition reckons 12 Alvars, of which Andal is the only female. Between the fifth and ninth centuries, in the Tamil-speaking region of South India, these saints revitalized the Indian religious milieu, sparking a renewal of devotional worship throughout the subcontinent. Traveling from place to place, from temple to temple, from holy site to holy site, they composed exceedingly beautiful poetry to their Divine Beloved, Vishnu, as an expression of their love for Him. Anyone can see why their poetry was so attractive; at once both impassioned and philosophical, their words cut across all barriers of caste and class, attracting all to their faith. In doing so, they sculpted a new religious heritage of intensely emotional bhakti, or love of the Divine, whose impact is still felt today in the Indian religious life. Andal, whose life and poetry are celebrated every December-January, is the most visible contributor to this heritage.


Andal observed Paavai Nonbu – the simple norms of which are explained in Thiruppavai, to attain Lord Vishnu as her husband. Andal imagines herself as a cowgirl, wakes up all the girls in Aayarpadi/hamlet of cowherds,  early in the morning, to proceed towards the river bed for the early morning rituals of bathing the Lord and worshipping the Lord in tamil hymns. It used to be believed that if young girls observed Paavai Nonbu and sang Thiruppavai – the sacred hymns of Andal, they would get good husbands. Andal has also written Naachiyar Thirumozhi.

Beyond the marriage connection, I think singing Thiruppavai in temples has become more of  religious inclination and healthy spiritual introduction for the young in the later generations. The concept of waking up early in the morning, having a fresh shower, collecting all our friends and proceeding towards the nearby temple to sing Thiruppavai still remains fresh in my mind and heart.

The thought of Maargazhi Maadham brings in wonderful memories of mist filled early mornings, the cold shower, ringing the bells of neighbourhood girls, then walking together to the temple and singing Thiruppavai… not to forget the big colourful kolams/traditional rangolis of south india,  in front of every house.

So, the day would start at the temple at five in the morning. We would wake up at four o’clock, have a shower and thanks to a lenient amma, have a glass of hot milk and would run to call our friends. This feels so tiring today! But it used to be really interesting those days.  Every morning all the thirty stanzas are sung in a group and at the end, stanza of the day is sung.

After some food for thought, there is always food for the starving tummy! As we finish singing, we collect your Prasadham – generally piping hot Ven Pongal in Dhonnai. Dhonnai is the ever special disposable cup made of palm leaves. Ven pongal is the mildly pepper spiced rice and lentil dish for those young ones who have been starving nearly for two hours singing thiruppavai.

Ven Pongal has never been so tasty… may be the spiritual and literary singing made it a well earned treat! The dhonnais are so easy to dispose and give an authentic flavour to the ven pongal. The time is nearly half past six. The morning wouldn’t be over with this. After Vishnu Temple, then is the turn of Shiva temple. We move on to the nearby shiva temple – for me it used to be the Rathnagireeswarar temple in chennai. It is the time to wake up Lord Shiva with Thiruppalli Ezhuchi and also sing Thiruvembaavai. Thiruppalli Ezhuchi and Thiruvembaavai are written by Manickavaasagar – one of the sixty three saiva nayanmars or saints and one of the four main saints of Saivism.


‘Few of the world’s biographies are more interesting than that of this man of rare genius.’ says G.U. Pope, of Manicka-vachagar, (660 – 692 C.E.) the fourth of the four grandmasters.


We have some more prasadham in the Shiva temple- generally puliyodharai/tamarind rice in the disposable dhonnais and walk back home to get ready to go to school. From where did the energy come to wake up early as four and come back nearly at eight, after four hours of spiritual practice in a very playful and interesting way – then proceed towards school for a whole seven hours of education…. I suppose the month of maargazhi is magical! Truly the tamil saints have made literature and religion a part of a healthy life style for generations now.

It is kind of living in the present with the essence of the rich literary past. Today, priorities have changed and the world is slipping into a different culture. This new culture is to hang on to the well spread branches, than clinging on to the roots. This concept of glorifiying the mesmerising past would be minimalised to nothing, if not for those who still believe in the strong roots.

But, beyond the roots and branches, Venpongal (spiced lentil rice), Sarkkarai Pongal (jaggery rice) or puliyodharai (tamarind rice) is still the most sort after things in any temple, next to the deity (or sometimes more than the deity).


So now it is ven pongal time!

The word Pongal as a verb means to boil or sometimes to cook in tamil. The spilling over of boiled milk is always referred to the verb pongal. As a noun, it is Pongal – the festival and Pongal – the food. The festival PONGAL  – the harvest festival of the tamils falls in mid january when the new tamil month Thai starts. We shall talk about it in the forth coming posts.

Now, to Ven Pongal – the rice and lentil meal! Venmai – the word from which ven pongal comes means white. The sweet pongal or sarkkarai pongal is dark brown in colour due to the jaggery in it. Ven Pongal, the salted, spiced meal is not exactly white but a little lentillish in colour. This is a wonderful breakfast food – especially on cold or rainy days – spiced with black pepper, ginger and cumin seeds, it works as a cold/cough reliever. All these and the added cashewnuts in ghee makes ven pongal the most favourite breakfast dish after idli or dosai in tamilnadu.


the spices



Ven Pongal

Ingredients (serves 3)

  • paccharisi/south indian raw rice – 1 cup
  • paasi paruppu/split greengram-yellow lentil/moong dhal – 1/2 cup
  • water – nearly 6 cups (to slightly overcook rice and lentil together)
  • salt – as needed
  • whole black pepper – 2 tsp
  • grated ginger – 1 tsp
  • cumin seeds – 2 tsp 
  • nei/ghee/clarified butter – 2 tbsp
  • cashew nuts – 2 tsp


rice and lentil cooked in pressure cooker with cumin seeds and whole black peppers


Method of Preparation 

  1. Wash rice and lentil together
  2. Add water, black pepper, cumin seeds and salt and cook till very soft
  3. For seasoning, heat ghee in a kadai – add cashew nuts and fry till golden brown
  4. Mix into the rice and lentil preparation
  5. Serve hot with coconut chutney (, sambar or kathirikkai gothsu/eggplant gothsu.


ven pongal with thengai chutney



Ven pongal is always cooked with whole black pepper. Most of the kids and some elders would keep the whole black pepper aside due to the spice aspect of it. Dry grinding the spices and blending it well in the rice avoids wastage of spices and helps in better utilisation of the goodness of the spices. This way, pongal is more spicy and a very good home remedy for cold and cough. This also gives the taste of  ‘kovil ven pongal’ or the ven pongal served in temples. While making in this method, black pepper can be reduced to 1 tsp.

  1. Cook rice and lentil in salt and water with 1 tsp cumin seeds and 1 tsp whole black pepper
  2. Coarsely dry grind 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp black pepper and grated ginger and fry in gingelly oil/ghee
  3. Fry cashew nuts separately in ghee
  4. Mix spices and nuts together into rice and lentil and serve hot.


ven pongal with murungaikkai sambar/drumstick sambar 



  1. Cook rice and lentil in more than normal water as it would turn very hard in very less time
  2. Ven Pongal is always served hot and the glow of ghee is a compulsory requisite while serving for better taste
  3. If Pongal has turned out little thick/hard, hot water with little salt can be added and brought to right consistency while serving
  4. South Indian Pachirisi or raw rice is preferred as other starchy rice varieties would make ven pongal sticky.