Saturday, February 5, 2011


If Valmiki and Vyasa took Indian Epic writing to its pinnacle of glory, if Shakespeare and Milton lent lustre to English Literature, if Lindwall and Miller tormented the batsmen the world over and always haunted in pair, if Gandhiji and Vinobhaji instilled spirituality in politics, Vetha Kuzhambhu and Vengaya Sambar, demonstrate the Tamil Brahmin's culinary skill at its sharpest best.
Vetha Kuzhambu and Vengaya sambar, like Sehwag and Sachin, would always dominate the scene and that is the reason perhaps they are not served on plantain leaves in marital lunches. Any other sambar, needs the support of a thair pacchadi, avial, olan, parrupu usili and karakari, to survive the lunch. Remove the support of the various vegetables save one and sambar would surrender at once - a roaring lion, only when there is a retinue around. Not Vengaya Sambar. It can stand its ground in testing time. When Vengaya Sambar is around, like one's own wife, who would glance at Avial or pacchadi, mere coquettes, though they may have inviting looks?

"In small things we just beauty see,
In short measure, life may perfect be",

says Shakespeare in one of his sonnets, underlying the fact that it is the small vengayam that we are talking about. In Travancore, small vengayam is called ulli or Eerulli. The larger one doesn't deserve a treatise to write about.

Vetha Kuzhambu and Vengaya Sambar can conquer the world with the help of a single vegetable to play a subordinate role, as Kapil Dev played that world conquering game, with Syed Kirmani at the other end. When Concerns in Mumbai served Vengaya Sambar with Potato karakari on Thursdays, a serpentine queue with saliva oozing out, would wait for hours. If no vegetable is available, Vetha Kuzhambu can still hold its sway with the help of a roasted appalam. Sorry my Palakkad brothers and sisters.  Our pappadam cannot measure upto the expectations of Vetha Kuzhambu. They are not made for each other. It is always ensnared by the amorous advances of  appalam.

I prepared only vetha kuzhambhu and chutta appalam today, a Thanjavur Mami, would murmur in humility, oblivious of the fact that the aroma from her kitchen has already reached eight houses ahead in her Agraharam. Chutta appalam, like chundaikai  or karela, can also immerse in Vetha kuzhambhu, reiterating the fact that it is part of the household and not a mere catalytic agent.

And yet, we deny them their legitimate place in marriage lunches; instead we relegate them to the light dinner on the marriage day when all the ceremonies are over and only a few are around. Why treat your best batsmen as tailenders? Is it because all other vegetables have ganged up to isolate Vetha Kuzhambhu and Vengaya Sambar, so that they too are noticed? Would it be a blasphemy if we serve Vetha Kuzhambhu and Vengaya Sambar in saddhies of Sasta preetis, instead of several vegetables and varieties of payasams? After all payasams were dictated by palate and not prescribed by Shastras.

Idli and Mulagapodi are always made for each other. And yet, Chutney and Vengaya Sambar are not looked upon as the 'the other woman'. What more, Vengaya Sambar can also lend legitimacy to Idli and dosai and take them to dizzy heights.

If Vengaya Sambar and Potato Karakari is unparalleled, Koorkai, Chenai and Banana also go well with it. It does not need  varieties of vegetables or pathnis as it strictly follows Lord Sriram.It chooses one and remains loyal. However, Vetha Kuzhambhu is too strong a personality to entertain Idli and Dosai. It prefers to stand alone or mingle with a few lesser mortals. It is a little complex personality and yet has popular appeal.

One needs the arbitrating skills of a Solomon Pappaya to decide whether Vengaya Sambar emerges out better when prepared with Sambar Powder or ground coconut and other ingredients. To put in Brahminical tamil, whether Podi potta sambar scores over arachuvitta sambar, if Vengayam is the main ingredient?  I am for one, is a protagonist of vengaya sambar, prepared with sambar powder. The vengayam here is endowed with a rare ability, as the overcast sky does to a swing bowler. When ground coconut is used, the sharpness of Vengayam is bludgeoned as the effectiveness of a pace bowler is, in a flat wicket. Fortunately, Vetha Kuzhambhu does not face such a threat from coconut. I may be torn into pieces by some of the well known professional cooks or mamas and mamis from Palakkad for this sacrilegious statement. It is availability that dictates the ingredients and develop the taste.

One major area where Vetha Kuzhambhu differs from its brother Vengaya Sambar is in longevity. As some of its ingredients are basically preservatives, Vetta Kuzhambhu is blessed with a longer shelf life. Vengaya sambar suffers from Balarishtams if not alpa-ayusu.

Vengaya Sambar, as the very name suggests, leans on good quality small onions, for survival. Vetha Kuzhambhu does not need such singular support. It needs varieties of ingredients and deft handling which is available aplenty in Thanjavur and Trichi. (yours truly is a poor soul from Travancore).

It is not Sandhya Vandhanam or various other rituals that  bench mark brahminical eminence. Ability to prepare, enjoy and evaluate quality Vetha Kuzhambhu and Vengaya Sambar that marks brahminical endowments.

Let young mothers and fathers dissuade their children from Pav Bhaji and Pani poori and instead eulogise them, if they show proclivity towards Vengaya Sambar and Vetha Kuzhambhu.

And finally, let me make a Marxian appeal. Brahminical youth, unite! You have nothing to lose except polluted and contaminated pav bhajis and pani poories and a world with Vetha Kuzhambhu and Vengaya Sambar to gain.


Vatha kulambu is the one which you make with vatral (sun dried and preserved vegetables like ladies fingers, manathakkali, sundaikkai..) I always use this recipe of mallika bhadrinath.Try it out and see if you also like it. Recipe ; Any dry vatral- 3 tbsps; gingelly oil-- 1 tbsp; tamarind extract-- 1/4 cup; sambar powder-- 2 tsps; salt to taste; jaggery -little; For seasoning-- mustard seeds--1/4 tsp ; asafoetida powder -1/4 tsp ; fenugreek - 1/2 tsp; red chillies broken into bits-2 tuar dal- 1 1/2 tsps Method;- Heat oil, Add seasonings and when they are browned add the vatral and fry till it turns dark. Add sambar powder in the oil itself. mix it and then pour tamarind extract.add salt and let it boil. Mix a little rice flour in water and pour it in. Cook till it gets thicker. Add jaggery in the end Mix well and garnish with curry leaves and serve. 
  Even fresh vegetables like pumpkin, brinjals beans, colocasia can be used . If sambar powder is not available, then add 1 tsp of red chilli powder, 2 tsps of dhaniya powder in the oil instead . Add 1/2 tsp of roasted fenugreek powder just before removing from the fire. 


Baby onion - 250 gms
Tur Dal (Red gram lentil) – 1 tea cup

Turmeric -1/4 tsp
Tamarind - enough to roll into the size of a small marble.
Salt – 1 ½ tsp
Mustard seeds – ¼ tsp
Curry leaves – 10
Cooking oil – 3 tbsps
For Sambar Masala Paste
Asafoetida – ¼ tspa
Bengal gram dal (chana dal) – 1 tbsp
Black gram dal (urad dal)1 tsp
Coriander seeds -1 tbsp
Red chillies – 8
Fenugreek seeds – ¼ tsp
Dry coconut gratings or
Roasted fresh coconut gratings – 1 tbsp
1. Soak tamarind in a cup of hot water for 15 minutes, and extract the juice.
2. Peel the baby onions and keep aside.
3. Pressure cook tur dal with turmeric powder and 3 cups of water until mushy, and let it cool.
For Sambar Masala Paste
1. Heat ¼ tsp of oil and fry the asafoetida.
2. Add black gram dal, bengal gram dal, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds and lastly the red chillies, and roast till crisp and golden in colour.
3. Dry grind all the roasted ingredients.
4. Now add the dry coconut gratings and grind again with some water and keep the paste aside.
To prepare the Sambar
1. Heat the remaining oil and add mustard seeds followed by curry leaves.
2. After the mustard splutters add the peeled baby onions and stir.
3. Cover with a lid and cook on low flame.
4. When the onions are done and look glassy, pour in the tamarind extract.
5. Add salt and cook for for 5minutes on a medium flame.
6. Add the cooked dal and stir well avoiding lumps.
7. Now add the ground sambar masala paste. If the masala is too thick, you can dissolve in ½ cup of water and then stir it in.
8. Let the sambar boil for 2 more minutes until all the ingredients blend together giving out a delicious aroma.
9. Garnish with coriander leaves before serving.
Enjoy baby onion sambar with rice or any other dish of your choice.

Video link:


Akila said...

vetha kuzhambu and vengaya samabar..a new dimension of thoughts and the concluding part appealing to the youth of today to come out of fast foods and taste the traditional our own recipes is mind blowing..
rocking raman uncle...

anu said...

nice pic of the Sambhar. looks yum

dr.araman said...

well presented.
the glory of vaththal kuzhambu and vengayasambar can not be diminished by any political or economic disasters, including the skyrocketing price of vengayam.
To make the picture complete you may also consider adding murungaikkai sambar,the great southindian culinery invention.

Mahadevan said...

This article was written by me and sent to iyer on 31st January and they carried it the following day. The article with my signature is available in iyer Messages.

May I now request you to acknowledge this fact in your blog?

With warm regards