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Puli Kuzhambu – The Exceptional Tamarind Curry


puli kuzhambu/tamarind curry



Puli Kuzhambu is a tamarind curry where a vegetable like drum stick, ladies finger or brinjal is cooked in a tamarind gravy with specially ground spices. This is a semi-thick curry to be mixed with piping hot rice! For a balance of vegetables and lentils, puli Kuzhambu is preferably served with kootu- stew of veggies cooked with lentil. The lentil stew also aids in easy digestion of the tangy spicy Kuzhambu! Plain cooked and seasoned lentil (thaalicha paruppu) is also served alongside.


Puli Kuzhambu – Tamarind Curry

The most exclusive among the tamarind based curries is PULI KUZHAMBU- which translates as Tamarind Curry! It is a thick gravy with tamarind pulp. It has a tangy flavour combined with the special spices. The ‘Podi or the powder is as usual supplied my Amma! I have not grown up still to make my own ‘Puli Kuzhambu Podi’ – the special curry powder.
Amma’s Podi/Home made Puli Kuzhambu Podi


  • kothumalli vithai/coriander seeds – 1/2 kg
  • milagai vatral/red chillies – 1/2 kg
  • kadalai paruppu/bengal gram – 100 gms
  • thuvaram paruppu/split pigeon peas – 100 gms
  • uluntham paruppu/dehusked black gram – 100 gms
  • seeragam/cumin seeds – 4 tsp
  • venthayam/fenugreek seeds – 2 tsp
  • raw rice – 1oo gms
  • black pepper – 100 gms

Method of Preparation

  1. In a hard bottomed vessel, dry roast all the ingredients with 1/2 tsp oil, except rice
  2. Separately roast rice – after a while the rice would puff up – 100 gms of rice would become nearly 200 gms, after roasted
  3. Spread in a plate and cool it for a short while
  4. The difference between sambaar and this curry powder is that the red chillies are roasted till darker brown in colour to get the dark colour of the kuzhambu
  5. Dry grind into a smooth powder
  6. Kuzhambu Powder is ready.

Now, when I needed to post my favourite curry and my daughter’s favourite side dish for her thayir saadham (curd rice), my rescue came from Chennai – my Amma! She gave me an easier solution rather than making one’s own curry powder in a blender – mixing sambaar powder with more pepper powder would be a timely, handy substitute. But making the spice powder at home is highly recommended to obtain the heavenly flavour of the south!

Though I have made the kuzhambu with amma’s podi, I suggest those enthusiasts who cannot receive amma’s powder to use a blend of sambaar powder with pepper powder.

Fresh vegetables like drum stick, egg plant, okra are used separately in making of the Kuzhambu. Shallots and Garlic are inseparable ingredients used with any vegetable.
This curry tastes best with gingelly oil – or to be precise the only means of getting the original flavour is by using Gingelly Oil.
Gingelly Oil is the south Indian sesame seeds oil – other sesame oils are different – Gingelly oil can be bought from any Indian departmental stores selling south indian stuff, if you live abroad.


 nallennai/gingelly oil



Today, India is the largest producer of tamarind. The consumption of tamarind is widespread due to its central role in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent, South East Asia and South America, particularly in Mexico.


Usage of Tamarind

The usage of tamarind in South Indian Cuisine can be next to quintessential!



  1. Puliyodharai- tamarind rice
  2. Thuvayal – Chutney with tamarind
  3. Sambaar- lentil curry
  4. Rasam- the digestive soup
  5. Kozhi Kuzhambu- chicken curry with ground ingredients and tamarind pulp
  6. Meen Kuzhambu- fish curry where fish pieces are cooked in tamarind gravy with powdered spices……..

The list is no doubt a longer one. The list of different kinds of chutneys with tamarind alone can be quite  extensive.

Hailing from Thirunelveli and Thoothukudi – the list has more curries – simple and exotic. A few that I know from a vegetarian household are-


  1. Keerai Chaaru – spinach cooked in tamarind curry – almost like Sambaar;
  2. Puli milagai – spicy green chillies cooked in a simple tamarind gravy, which is a mouth watering dish with idli or dosai;
  3. Puli thanni- a very mild and light gravy or in fact it is a ‘curry in soup consistency’ to have with cooked rice and roasted gram chutney;
  4. Kara Kuzhambu – which translates as spicy gravy with veggies cooked in diluted tamarind pulp;
  5. Milagu Kuzhambu – pepper curry made with diluted tamarind pulp;
  6. Vendhaya Kuzhambu – fenugreek curry made with diluted tamarind pulp;
  7. Vattral Kuzhambu – curry made with dried vegetables –  dried and preserved vegetables like sundaikkai (turkey berry), manathakkali (black night shade), pavakkai (bitter guard) are fried and used in this kuzhambu. These all have anti oxidental and anti inflammatory properties.

The above mentioned Milagu Kuzhambu – pepper curry, Vendhaya Kuzhambu – fenugreek curry or Vatral Kuzhambu – dried veg. tamarind curry may be cousins to Puli Kuzhambu! These three curries are almost made the same way with slightest differences in ingredients.

There are also candies made with tamarind and local healing spices that aid in digestion.




Puli Illa Kuzhambu

The usage of tamarind is almost on a daily basis for the afternoon meal, so much so – to skip the most sort after ingredient in the kitchen shelf for a day, a curry without tamarind – ‘Puli Illa Kuzhambu’ (literally translates as curry without tamarind) is made in regular intervals.


Health Benefits of Tamarind


Tamarind juice is a mild laxative.
Tamarind is used to treat bile disorders
Tamarind lowers cholesterol
Tamarind promotes a healthy heart
The pulp, leaves and flowers, in various combinations, are applied on painful and swollen joints.
Tamarind is use as a gargle for sore throats, and as a drink to bring relief from sunstroke.
The heated juice is used to cure conjunctivitis. Eye drops made from tamarind seeds may be a treatment for dry eye syndrome.
Tamarind seed polysaccharide is adhesive, enabling it to stick to the surface of the eye longer than other eye preparations.
Tamarind is used as a diuretic remedy for bilious disorders, jaundice and catarrh.
Tamarind is a good source of antioxidants that fight against cancer.
Tamarind reduces fevers and provides protection against colds. Make an infusion by taking one ounce of pulp, pour one quart of boiling water over this and allow to steep for one hour. Strain and drink tepid with little honey to sweeten. This will bring down temperature by several degrees.
Tamarind helps the body digest food
Tamarind applied to the skin to heal inflammation
The red outer covering of the seed is an effective remedy against diarrhea and dysentery.
Juice extracted from the flowers is given internally for bleeding piles.



Puli Kuzhambu

Here, Puli Kuzhambu is prepared with ladies finger or okra.




Tamarind is still a source of carbohydrates, and it must be limited and factored into a well-balanced diet. It is best eaten plain in small amounts or used as a condiment to spruce up the flavor of food and beverages.

This food is an excellent source of vitamin B, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, iron, thiamine, phosphorus, riboflavin, and fiber.




Ingredients (serves 4)

  • puli/soaked tamarind – lemon size or thick tamarind extract- 1 cup
  • vendaikkai/ladies finger or okra – cut to medium sized pieces – 1 to 1 1/2 cup
  • chinna vengayam/shallots – 6 no.s whole or thinly sliced as preferred
  • poondu/garlic – 10 cloves – i have thinly sliced
  • sambar powder – 2 heaped tsp
  • dry roasted pepper powder – ½ tsp
  • uppu/salt – as per taste



with dried black tamarind



  • nallennai/gingelly oil – 3 tsp
  • kadugu/mustard seeds – 1 tsp
  • vendhayam/fenugreek seeds – ½ tsp
  • kariveppilai/curry leaves – a few

Method of Preparation

Initial Preparation




  1. Soak tamarind in warm water for 10 minutes and filter the juice – keep aside
  2. Dry roast black pepper and dry grind to fine powder
  3. Add sambar powder and pepper powder  (Using non-roasted pepper powder might be too spicy and might change the taste of the kuzhambu)
  4. Cut shallots, garlic and okra in required sizes



  1. Heat 3 tsp oil in a kadai and add mustard seeds
  2. When mustard splutters, add fenugreek seeds and curry leaves
  3. Add whole or thinly sliced deskinned shallots and garlic cloves and fry a bit
  4. Add the okra and fry a while
  5. Add the sambaar powder-pepper powder mixed spice and stir well; adding the spice powder at this point makes the curry darker in colour
  6. Dilute the tamarind extract with 1 cup water and add to the vegetable-spice dry mix
  7. Add salt to taste and bring the curry to boil and simmer
  8. Let the vegetables cook in tamarind and spice mixture in open kadai – closed chatti/kadai might make the curry thinner
  9. When the vegetables are cooked and the gravy thickened, kuzhambu is done
  10. Heat 2 tbsp oil and pour over the curry
  11. Puli Kuzhambu is served with hot rice, kootu (vegetable-lentil stew) and appalam (south Indian plain pappad).






  1. Generally, shallots are not cut or halved, but depending upon preference one can also thinly slice.. this helps when you do not want your little ones to place aside shallots or garlic but enjoy their goodness
  2. When the curry powder is added while frying the vegetable, it gives a darker brown colour to the kuzhambu or else the curry would have a reddish colour – as we have always seen puli kuzhambu as a darker coloured curry, for a undoubtful colour this method works
  3. As mentioned earlier, if one is making the curry powder at home, roast the red chillies to a darker brown colour to get the colour in the curry
  4. Tamarind used should be the dried one. Fresh tamarind is not used  in cooking curries. The dried tamarind which is black in colour also aids in the brown colour of the end product
  5. More pepper powder can be added according to spice preference
  6. The last step mentioned above – to add heated gingelly oil on top of the curry, gives a distinctive, wonderful flavour and beautiful glow to the kuzhambu.. so do not miss this step
  7. The ulundham paruppu/dehusked black gram shown in the seasoning list picture is purely out of practice – any seasoning is inclusive of black gram … here it is not added as the inclusion of lentil is believed to reduce the storage value of the curry.


In hens, tamarind has been found to lower cholesterol in their serum, but not in the yolks of the eggs they laid. Due to a lack of available human clinical trials, there is insufficient evidence to recommend tamarind for the treatment of hypercholesterolemia or diabetes.