Tirunelveli Thalaga kuzhambu

Thaalaga kuzhambu is a mixed vegetable curry in a coconut-sesame paste. I got introduced to this flavour bomb of a curry after marriage. Sudhakar’s family go bonkers every time this kuzhambu is made at home.

Before I talk about this kuzhambu, I should definitely say a few words about my mother-in-law. She is a Multani, born and brought up in Mumbai and got married to a Tamilian. She learnt South Indian cooking so well after marriage that everybody loves her rasams, pitlai and aviyal. Sudhakar got the best of both worlds- his mom makes amazing Punjabi parathas and Tamil kuzhambus.

This thaalaga kuzhambu is prepared by Tirunelveli brahmins during Thiruvathirai whereas Thanjavur brahmins prepare Ezhu Kari Kootu (7 vegetable curry). The curry is prepared with local native vegetables. My MIL says that yellow pumpkin is a must for this kuzhambu. Gourds like – snake gourd / bottle gourd / ash gourd, root vegetables – yam / sweet potato, native beans – broad beans / cluster beans / long beans, plantain, drumsticks and brinjal are the vegetables used.

Other than the vegetable chopping, this is a fairly simple recipe but the flavours are so good and it doesn’t taste like any regular Kootu or kuzhambu. The spices MUST be roasted in coconut oil, which enhances the flavour to a great extent. I have never tried this with any other oil and I urge you to use only coconut oil.

Ingredients

4-5 cups of a mix of the following vegetables. We add extra quantity of yellow pumpkin

  • Yellow pumpkin (Parangikkai)
  • Broad beans (Avarakkai) / Cluster beans (Kothavarangai)
  • Brinjal (Kathirikkai)
  • Plantain (Vazhakkai)
  • Yam (Senai kizhangu)
  • Drumstick (Murungaikkai)
  • Snake gourd (Pudalangai)
  • Chow chow

And…

  • Turmeric powder, a pinch
  • Salt
  • Jaggery – a small bit

Roast and Grind:

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 cup tightly packed coconut
  • 2 tbsp sesame (Dry roast the seeds till they splutter)
  • 8 Red chillies. If your chillies are hot, reduce the quantity
  • 1 tsp raw rice
  • A small lemon size tamarind

Temper

  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp urad
  • Curry leaves

Method

  • Cut all the vegetables into one inch long pieces. Keep them separately as all the vegetables do not have the same cooking time.
  • In a heavy bottom pan, add one and a half glasses of water and add yam, drumsticks, beans, turmeric powder and salt. Cook it on medium flame until the veggies are half cooked
  • Now add rest of the vegetables and cover and cook. Ensure that the vegetables don’t get over cooked. You can also add pumpkin after cooking the remaining vegetables for some time.Add half a glass more water if needed.
  • In a separate pan, add coconut oil. Once hot, add coconut and fry it until it changes colour. Keep the flame low to ensure the coconut doesn’t get burnt.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and roast them all well. Let it cool down. Grind it into a coarse paste with half a glass water
  • Add the paste to cooked vegetables and boil for few mins.
  • Add a small piece of jaggery to balance the flavours. You will notice the gravy becoming darker.
  • Temper with mustard, urad dal and curry leaves in oil
  • Serve hot with rice!
I served it with boiled arisi kurunai (broken rice) and methi khakra (store-bought)