I simply had to post this kuzhambu recipe, because it is just literally so lip-smackingly good - thick, tangy, hot, spicy, a tiny bit sweet and entirely irresistible! The recipe is from a foodie group on Facebook of which I am a member, and I can't seem to find it again on FB (which I wanted to do for crediting purposes on my blog). I am SO pleased that I wrote it down on a piece of paper when I saw it on FB (not having had access to a printer or my own computer at that point). I state freely that this is not my own recipe, and I do really wish I knew whose it was. All I DO know for certain that it is comfort food whose ingredients are good for health.
I made the kuzhambu and refrigerated it just before going on a week-long trip on a narrowboat with my husband. It was a lovely, relaxing, stressfree holiday, with the most gorgeous, eye-poppingly pretty scenery... but that's only by the way. The main thing is, I knew that the food I would be eating on the boat (and off it, at the various canal-side pubs that we stopped at) would not be spicy enough for me, and I would be dying for something to tickle my palate when we got back.
And so it turned out.
I certainly enjoyed the food en route, but I couldn't wait to get stuck into hot and spicy comfort food when we got home - and this kuzhambu was absolutely just the thing. I could not have asked for anything better. All I had to do was make some rice - and because it was too late to make any vegetable side-dish to accompany it (and because I was much too hungry), I just microwaved a couple of poppadoms and ladled the kuzhambu on the rice. It tasted like heaven - but there was rather too much of the kuzhambu on the rice, because it was so full-on hot and peppery. It's really meant to be mixed with rice in small amounts, not in quantities like regular sambar or rasam. I had to tone the spice quotient down somewhat with a large dollop of Greek yogurt on the side of my plate, but that was a wonderful combination anyway.
Oh, and if you're wondering why I didn't mention the taste of the large amounts of garlic that went into the kuzhambu, it's because it doesn't come across as overly garlicky. So don't worry about it, and don't skimp on the garlic; in fact, next time I will probably add even more garlic. It's good for you, anyway, so no harm done.
One other thing - the correct amount of salt is essential, otherwise the kuzhambu tends to be on the sweetish side. I'm used to making do with less salt in my cooking than (after all, you can always add more, but you can't really undo oversalting disasters!) but in this case I did have to add some more. So, it would probably be best to start by adding 3/4 tsp salt, then taste-testing to see if your palate requires more. Let your tongue and palate be the judge.
Recipe for: Black pepper garlic kuzhambu
1/4 cup baby shallots/sambar onions
1 tbsp tamarind paste, dissolved in 1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp jaggery (raw palm sugar) (optional)
1 tbsp neutral oil
Salt to taste
1-2 tsp black peppercorns (more if you love your black pepper)
6-8 dried red chillies
1 whole head of garlic (about 1/8 cup garlic cloves, peeled and chopped into chunks if very large)
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion
1 medium tomato
3 sprigs curry leaves
1 tbsp nallennai (unrefined sesame oil)
1/2 tsp vendhayam (methi/fenugreek seeds)
2 tsp mustard seeds
10 curry leaves
1. Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in a small pan and add the first four items on the "To grind" list. Saute for 2-3 minutes on med-high, stirring, until the chillies turn a darker shade of red and the garlic is starting to turn colour. Then add the remaining ingredients and fry until the garlic is golden. Allow to cool, then grind to a smooth paste. Set aside till required.
2. Heat the remaining neutral oil, add the small onions and fry till golden (approx 3-4 minutes). Add the tamarind water, salt to taste, turmeric and jaggery. Bring it to a boil and let it bubble for 2 minutes.
3. Now add the ground paste and 2 cups water and mix well. Bring to a boil again and let it simmer for 10 minutes, or until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
4. As a final touch, heat the nallennai in a small pan, then add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Cover and let the mustard seeds pop. Now tip in the fenugreek seeds and fry for 30 seconds or until the seeds turn a darker shade of brown. Be careful not to burn the seeds or they will be horribly bitter. Pour the tempering over the kuzhambu and stir it in. Let it simmer for another 3 minutes, then take the pan off the heat.
Serve sparingly over steamed white rice with a dollop of ghee, any dry vegetable curry and microwaved poppadoms.