My sole criteria for buying cookbooks is that they should have good looking pictures. But this one time and for two very special reasons, I've bought a book that does not have glamorous food photos on every page. One, because while I am fairly adept at north Indian cooking, I do not know a whole lot about the south Indian cuisines. Two, my friend says that Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan is the definite word on Tamil Brahmin cooking - and knowing what he knows, I trust him on this one.
As with every cookbook I've bought, our relationship starts like an uneasy friendship. I need time to get to terms with the author's flavors and how they differ from mine. I also need to make a trip to the store, as some of these ingredients - known though they are to me - don't make a regular appearance in my cooking. As I make my first dish from the book, I realize that she uses way too much oil and halve it everywhere. But I add the spices as she dictates and understand too late that Ms. Padmanabhan is made of a sterner stuff than I am. I eat everything bland, her food is fiercely spicy. Time enough to fix it next time. In the meantime, my first authentic Dakshin recipe : Pulliodarai or Tamarind Rice.
This one's rather long and involved so read it patiently. First, you got to make the tamarind sauce. Soak a ball of tamarind, roughly the size of a lemon, in 2 cups water. Mash through to extract the juice, sieve and put aside.
Heat a tbsp of oil and fry 1/4 cup coriander seeds, 4 dry red chillies, 1/4 tsp asafoetida powder, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1/2 tbsp each of chana dal and urad dal and 3-4 curry leaves. Grind to a fine powder.
In another pan, heat a tsp of oil. Add 5 red chillies and fry till dark brown. Add a tsp of mustard seeds and 1/2 tbsp chana dal. Once the mustard seeds start to pop, add the tamarind water, 1/2 tsp each of salt and turmeric, a tbsp of raw sugar and the tamarind juice. Simmer for around 10 minutes until the mixture thickens, then add the spice powder you made and mix well. This makes your tamarind sauce - Chandra says you can keep it for months in the fridge.
Now, the rice. Cook 1/2 cup long grain (basmati) rice in 1 cup water with 1/2 tsp salt and a pinch of turmeric. Spread on a plate. If you like (I didn't), pour a tbsp of oil over the rice and mix. In a pan, heat a tsp of oil and add 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tbsp each chana and urad dals, 1/2 tsp asafoetida powder and 3-4 curry leaves. After a few seconds, add a handful of chopped cashewnuts. Pour this tempering on the rice. Add 2 tbsp of tamarind sauce and mix well. Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds.
Gosh! This has to be the longest recipe I ever wrote. But it was every bit as delicious and worth the effort. And do remember to halve or delete the chillies if your preference runs towards less spicy food like me.