Thursday, June 09, 2005

Vazhakkai podimas (plantain/green banana "scrambled")

Jamaicans aren't the only people who eat plantains or unripe green bananas... Tamil Nadu State and Kerala - especially Kerala - have a variety of recipes for these starchy vegetables. There's a difference between plantains and green bananas - they're known in Tamil as "nendrankai" and "vazhakkai", respectively. The difference as far as I know is that plantains are very hard when they're green, and are good for making chips, and green bananas are usually not quite so hard - they make good banana chips too, but are easier to cook in general. More tender.

Me and my siblings all love green bananas/plantains cooked any way that my mother makes it. The only way in which I WILL not eat them is boiled and mildly sauteed and then mixed with fresh grated coconut - my grandmother's speciality... bleagh!!! to put it mildly. Not that I dislike the combination of coconut and bananas... it's just that I prefer the coconut ground to a paste and used to make a gravy for the bananas. Vazhakkai kootu, in other words. But that's not what I made today.

Usually I get the hard plantain variety for making "podimas" - they retain their shape better and dont get over-soft when they are pressure-cooked. Makes for much easier grating, although you do have to be careful that it doesnt get too dry after being grated. In that case it might taste like seasoned wood-chips.

Anyway... I didnt have the nendrankai, so I used vazhakkai this time. I was careful not to pressure-cook them for more than 2 whistles, but they were still quite soft. So I let them cool completely before grating them... however, I couldnt quite avoid bits breaking off in lumps. It wasnt a problem of anything but aesthetics, though. Tastes a lot better than it looks!

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The recipe for the masala powder used to season the cooked, grated bananas is my mother's version. I cant better it, so I'm not even going to try. One of my favourite South Indian-style meal combinations (and I'm sure my sister and brother would agree) is mor kuzhambu (buttermilk-based gravy) and vazhakkai podimas with plain white rice. What I'd call a comforting classic.

Recipe for: Vazhakkai podimas


1 big green plantain or 3-4 unripe green bananas
2 tsp urad dal (white)
2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
3 tbsp sunflower/vegetable oil
2 tbsp coconut oil (optional)
Salt to taste
a few fresh curry leaves

For the masala powder -
2 tsp chana dal
2 tsp urad dal
2 tsp coriander seeds whole
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
4-5 dried red chillies (more or less according to taste)
a pinch of asafoetida powder (optional)
a few fresh curry leaves


1. Dry-fry the masala powder ingredients till the the dals turn pale brown/red. Cool and grind to a fairly smooth powder in a spice mill.

2. Cut off about a half-inch from each end of the banana(s) and then cut them in half.

3. Pressure-cook them for 2 whistles (or 5 minutes at full pressure). Cool completely.

4. Peel the skin off the banana pieces - it should come off very easily - and grate the bananas.

5. In a wide-bottomed pan, heat the oil. Add the turmeric powder, mustard seeds, urad dal and curry leaves; cover and let the mustard seeds splutter (about 30-45 seconds) on high heat.

6. Turn down the heat and add the grated bananas. Mix well, taking care not to mash the bananas too much.

7. Now add about 3-4 tsp of the masala powder and salt to taste, and stir well so that it's well mixed with the vegetable.

8. Fry on medium heat for a few minutes, then pour the coconut oil (if using) over as much of the mixture as possible. Mix once more.

9. Cook on medium until crisp golden spots start to appear on the bottom layer. Serve hot with sambar/mor kuzhambu and white rice.

Note: You can double the quantities of the masala powder and store it tightly sealed for future use. It works well even with fried potatoes, Indian style.


Ravi said...

Shyam...i know you are gonna be upset at this but I couldn't resist! The picture reminds me/one of minced chicken! If you don't believe me, do a poll and lets find out! :)

shammi said...

Hehe... it doesnt upset me. I did say the aesthetics were affected because of the lumps! :)

Radha said...

What we call "vazhakkai" is called the "Saba banana" here. I think it is a South American name (don't know what language, though).

sher said...

i really want to try make this. can you give the recipe for mor kuzhambu too? thanks

willowtree said...

Wow, I didnt even know there were other ways to make plantains and green bananas- we always do the old stand by- tostones if they are green, and friend or boiled maduro- sweet.
I would definately like to try this dish! Thanks for sharing :).

Courtney said...

This recipe is a keeper!

I had plantain for the first time last week -- a West African acquaintance of mine cooked it up.

I asked him what it was. I thought he was saying 'eggplant' backwards, as in,'plant-egg'. Ha!

Anyway, I made him a South Indian dish in exchange. We were both happy.

Marisa L.B. said...

Great blog! Today, I bought plantains for the first time and looking forward to trying this recipe in my new pressure cooker. Looks yummy!