How many of you remember the torrential rains from the hurricanes in Chennai during the 1980s? Those pitch dark days with no power; those kerosene lanterns burning round the clock; those wierdly scented coils to drive the mosquitoes away and those little battery operated transistors that were the only source of news! The incessant noise from the gusty winds and wild rain would be so creepy and the only thing that overpowered it was the sound from the falling trees. There was no way to step out of the house and you’d go to bed fearing your house would be flooded overnight.
The only best part about the whole thing was the schools were closed for days. You’d turn on the transistor every morning praying the schools will remain closed, at least for one more day. Parents couldn’t get to work either and all of us would be confined indoors compulsarily. Family stories from the past would be unwrapped, dusted and brought to stage. We’d get bored playing the few board games we had over and over again. Boredom gave more reasons for sibling fights and quarrels that drove our parents insane. I’m looking back at those days with a sigh, yearningly now.
My mom fed us with freshly prepared meals, always. We did not have a refrigerator back then. Milk and vegetables were delivered at the doorstep every morning. During hurricanes and floods, we had to run the kitchen without these perishables for days. My mother had so many recipes under her belt that did not need any dairy or fresh produce. She’d unleash them one after the other and whip up a variety of dishes, meal after meal, despite all the constraints the weather threw at us. These dishes were not only delicious, but they also had a longer shelf life.
This Pulikachal recipe is one of them. Tamarind, dry red chilies and a few spices that are pantry staples are the key ingredients for this recipe. We had a big curry leaf tree in our backyard, so rain or shine we had perennial supply of them. She’d make a big pot of the Pulikachal during rains and that would last us for at least a week.
I have never eaten a better Pulikachal or Puliyodharai than her’s. ‘Puli’ is tamarind in my native language, Tamil. My whole family is a big fan of my mother’s Pulikachal. It is typically eaten mixed with warm white rice, but can be enjoyed as a condiment for idly and dosa. It can be eaten like a pickle as well with yogurt rice because of its spicy, tangy and salty taste.
Pulikachal when mixed with cooked white rice becomes Puliyodharai. You’ll need nothing more than pappads/fried rice crispies (vadams) to eat Puliyodharai with. The very name ‘Pulikachal’ brings out drool from many South Indians! Are you one of them?
1 lemon(big) size tamarind
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon urad dhal
1 teaspoon chana dhal
1 teaspoon jaggery (grated)
1 tablespoon cashew nuts
1 tablespoon peanuts
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon hing (asafoetida)
2 sprigs curry leaves
8 dried red chili
For the masala
10 dry red chilies
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2 teaspoon urad dhal
1 teaspoon oil
Soak tamarind in one cup warm water and set it aside.
Prepare the masala first. Heat oil in a pan, add sesame seeds and allow them to splutter. Now add fenugreek seeds and fry them until they start to change color slightly. Now add urad dhal, and the red chili. I used long red chilies this time. You can use the rounded ones too and the measurement is just about the same.
Continue to roast until the dhals and fenugreek seeds have turned golden brown. Turn off heat, cool and dry grind it in a mixer. The powder will be somewhat coarse and that is alright. You can add some salt to this coarse powder and grind it again. This will help the powder to get a little finer. Have in mind the amount of salt you are using here. You can safely add about a teaspoon of salt now and work your way up as you go.
Set the masala aside.
To make Pulikachal
Extract pulp from the tamarind by squeezing it in the warm water that it is soaking in. Try not to add more water as it is required to have a fairly thick pulp. Pulp if watery takes a long time to cook to get to the desired consistency of the Pulikachal.
Heat oil in a pan or wok. Add mustard seeds and let them splutter. When they are almost done lower the heat, add urad and chana dhal and fry them for little less than a minute. Now, add peanuts and fry them for about a minute and then add the cashew nuts until the nuts and dhals turn nice and golden brown. The dhals and nuts take different times to get roasted and that is why it is good to add them one after the other as mentioned above instead of putting them all at once. Now add the curry leaves.
To this, add the tamarind pulp, turmeric powder, hing, salt and jaggery and cook until all ingredients combine together, about 6-8 minutes. You may to want to do a taste test to check the amount of salt you’ll need to add. Now add the ground masala, mix well and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
Turn off heat, let it cool and store it in an air tight container. This can be used for upto one week even without refrigerating. When refrigerated it can last upto a month.
To make Puliyodharai
Take the desired amount cooked rice in a wide mixing bowl. Make sure that the rice is nice and grainy and not mushy. Add and mix the Pulikachal little by little until you arrive at the desired taste and color of the rice. You’ll need about 2/3 cup of Pulikachal for 2 cups of rice (uncooked). Again, this depends on how spicy you’d like the rice to be.
Mix gently and do not mash the rice.
Serve warm with pappad.