Monday, January 12, 2009

Vatthal Kozhumbu

Vatthal Kozhumbu is a spicy south Indian vegan/vegetarian gravy

This is an updated version of the same recipe posted here.

Photo right: Vatthal Kozhumbu as a side dish with yogurt rice.

1/5 block Imli (tamarind) soaked in 1 cup water
30-40 sundakkai vathals (or as per your taste)***
Pinch uncooked chenna (or toor) dhal (about 35 pieces)
2 red dried crushed chilies
2 green chilies cut lengthwise
Pinch ING (Asafetida)
10 curry leaves (or more as per your taste)

2 tbspn oil
pinch mustard seeds
Pinch vendhyam (
Fenugreek seeds) (about 10 seeds)
2 tsp sambar powder
Pinch turmeric
Salt to taste (I used about ¼ tsp)

2 cups water
1 to 4 tsp rice flour


  1. Take a golf ball size of dried block imli (tamarind) and soak in warm/hot water while doing other steps.
  2. Take a saucepan that can fit 3-4 cups water, make sure it is totally dry. Heat on stovetop, put in vatthals and dry fry alone until a nice aroma comes. They may turn brown, but do not blacken. Take out of pan and set aside.
  3. While the pan is heating, if able to multi-task, collect ingredients 3,4,5,6,7 in a small bowl.
  4. After removing vatthals from dry pan onto a plate, put the pan back on the stove. Add 2 tsp oil. The pan would be very hot, so when putting in the mustard seeds, the probably will immediately pop. Add the ingredients from the bowl and stir immediately.
  5. Before adding imli water at this point, make sure the imli has been properly soaked and squeezed so that the juice has come from imli and the water is brown. If not practiced at this, it is necessary to soak imli for 15 minutes or so before starting recipe so this water is available to pour in at this moment. (After doing several times, it is not necessary to use a strainer. It is possible to take the bowl with imli and pour over pot itself leaving the pieces in the bowl.)
  6. While the water is boiling, add the sambar power, turmeric and salt. Mix.
  7. While it is boiling take the additional two cups water, in this water place two heaping spoons of rice flour. Mix vigorously to remove clumps. The water will be a milky white. Add this water to the pot. (Or, place water and flour in a small blender and blend it into a puree this way. Sometimes I prefer this as it usually removes clumps.)
  8. Mix and leave to boil. As it boils, keep stirring it. As it heats up the rice flour should thicken the consistency of this soupy mixture into a thicker gravy consistency. This is the tedious part. Boiling it down to a thicker consistency takes time. If you want to speed it up, you can add 1-2 teaspoons more rice flour little by little. The tricky part is to make sure the rice flour doesn’t clump. Usually when put in hot water in teaspoons full, the rice flour tends to clump up. Take a spoon and bring these clumps along side of pan to ‘burst’ them. This should thicken up the gravy.
  9. When I was done, I measured the amount, it boiled down to 1 cup. It is not very thick, but it can be used as gravy. If you prefer thicker consistency, add more flour per your requirement.

This can be eaten on top of plain rice or as a side with curd rice.

If eaten as a main dish on rice, you may get 2-3 servings. If as a side dish double this. This will be a spicier fare than sambar because the thicker consistency power-packs the spices, this is why I prefer it with curd rice. If eaten as a main dish, adding chips or ghee to this may tone down the spices a bit.

If you can wait before devouring, the longer you let it set, the thicker it can become. After few hours it can be a thicker gravy, like a pudding consistency! Enjoy!

***If you can not get vatthal seeds, you can make this gravy without the seeds or you can substitute a vegetable of your choice (for instance, 10-15 pearl onions, 3 tomatoes diced into big cubes, eggplant/brinjal cubed, etc) or you can add extra curry leaves or peppercorns to make spicier, peppery gravy.

Here is a mango variety kozhumbu, Vidhya makes Mango Vatha Kozhambu, Pumpkin Vatha Kozhumbu, and drumstick vatha kozhumbu.