Author of international award winning books, Aharam, Kids Kitchen and Quick Cook, Sabita Radhakrishna is a food specialist on South Indian heritage recipes.
Her latest book Annapurni belies the myth that Tamil food boasts only of dosais, idlis, sambar and chutneys. A specialist in the cuisine of the Mudaliars she lists a repast of meats, lamb, goat, chicken, sea food and eggs and vegetarian dishes the community enjoys on festival days. Here are her top picks of the heritage cuisine of different communities of Tamil Nadu.
Sheep trotters curry
A specialised dish of the Mudaliar community it is also called paaya and eaten with aapams, or fluffy rice pancakes made of batter that is ground the previous day and allowed to ferment with toddy, which was used in the old days instead of yeast that is favoured today.
Black eyed beans with egg plant
Tamarind based curries are popular in Tamil Nadu. This curry made with karamani (black eyed beans) and brinjals is cooked with chilli powder and a lashing of tamarind, and is delicious with dosais, idlis or even ven pongal.
Vadais, or lentil patties, are served for lunch or tea time snack, at times even breakfast. Bengal gram dal is soaked and coarsely ground and spiked with green chillies and finely chopped onion and spinach. Made into patties and deep fried, these are particularly delectable on a rainy day eapecially when eaten piping hot.
Dhol dhol or black puttu halwa
A Christmas delicacy from the Anglo Indians, dhol dhol is made from powdered black puttu rice, and coconut milk and ghee. Once the dhol dhol thickens, and the ghee expelled, it is placed in a greased plate and cut into desired shapes, or rolled into balls.
Mochai bean rice
This vegetarian rice dish from Kongu Nadu (western Tamil Nadu) is lightly spiced and made of mochai (field beans) blended into the rice with a light masala. If fresh beans are not available, mochakottai or dehydrated beans, soaked overnight are used. The traditional way of cooking Kongu recipes calls for the spices to be ground only on the old stone mortar and pestle.
A curry laden with the goodness of coconut milk, lightly spiced and made with fresh fish, seasoned with green chillies and coriander, it is a dish made often in Anglo Indian homes, and eaten with steamed rice or rotis.
Chettinad chicken curry
Chettinad food demands that you use curry leaves, fennel seeds, tomatoes and whole spices and ground coconut paste. Chunks of chicken floating in a hot red curry, toned down with the goodness of coconut milk make a delicious accompaniment to dosais, aapams or just plain steamed rice.
Madurai rice cake biryani
A typical Tamil Muslim dish from Madurai, this biryani does not have steamed basmati rice but is instead cooked with miniature rice cakes called thikkadis.
The mutton pieces are cooked with spices and coconut for the curry. Once the rice cakes are prepared they are added to the boiling curry and ideally cooked in a rice cooker which provides the “dum”. When the cakes absorb the liquid, the biryani is done and resembles porridge. It is eaten with pachidis of chopped onion, tomatoes and green chillies and beaten curd poured over it.
Mince meat vadais
These small kebab-like-patties made out of minced lamb, make for excellent starters. The mince is boiled and ground coarsely, and flavoured with chopped onion, green chillies and coriander leaves. Lentil powder is added along with ground coconut and the mixture kneaded before they are made into small balls and flattened and deep fried.
Stuffed snake gourd
This is a delicious vegetarian curry. The gourd is cut into bite sized pieces and stuffed with seasoned mashed potato and lowered into red spicy gravy, tempered with whole spices, ground coconut and poppy seeds and then cooked. It tastes best with soft chapattis or hot rice.
Fillets of fish are fried with the marinade of chilli powder, mustard, turmeric powder, ginger and garlic. This spicy dish is special to the Naidus in Tamil Nadu. A dollop of thick tamarind juice poured when the fish is almost done takes away some of the bite that the spices let out. Eaten best with a bland curry and steamed rice.