Kozhambu or Kuzhambu with “zha” [Koh Lum boo, Tamil] standing for a deep tongue twisted version of “La” (Dont worry, even if you hear it an umpteen times, it is hard to get) is a dish central to Tamizh (Tamil) cuisine, predominantly eaten as a side with cooked rice. And the preceding words “Varuthu Arucha” just stand for the method of preparation i.e. pan roasted and freshly ground masala.
What makes Kuzhambu categorically stand out from its regional relatives like Sambar, Bele Saaru or Pappu Chaaru is the method of preparation of course, more importantly, the usage of freshly roasted and ground spices and last but not the least, the indispensable coconut in insurmountable portions. It is mostly reserved for weekends or special occasions to indulge and savor occasionally.
Ash Gourd Kozhambu in my opinion is the King of all variations of Kozhambu (Did that say how much I like it?). The very nature of Ash gourd devoid of a strong taste of its own and a spongy texture when cooked is so conducive to soaking up all the spices and flavors that its succulence is the highlight of this Kozhambu.
Among the better ways to enjoy Kozhambu of any sort for that matter when mixed with rice and a spoon of homemade ghee, is with freshly fried Appalam (papad) or potato chips – salted or spiced with red chilli powder. At least, that is how I enjoyed it during my childhood and college days when the mind was free of pressures of the weighing machine or the bulging waistline. Now, the freshly fried Appalams happen occasionally too.
I cooked this lip smacking Ash Gourd Kozhambu in a Kal Chatti aka Soapstone pot. Food cooked in Kal Chatti is, what can I say? You have to experience it! Somehow food tastes so better. Just like how one feels that the same Pongal or PuLiyogare tastes better as temple Prasad? Ok, forget the analogy. You get what I am saying right?
I am in love with Kal Chatti cooking. Guess what else? Food cooked in it stays hot longer because of its remarkable heat retention qualities. Whenever I serve food cooked in it (acts as serve ware too), never ceases to get the best reaction from people..
The best part of this Kozhambu recipe is its versatility and adaptability to a motley of vegetable combinations. Here are some of the tried and tested variants. A mix and match of these works beautifully too.
- Ash Gourd and Brown Chana (soaked overnight and pressure cooked)
- Green Beans and fresh Hyacinth beans (Avarekalu in Kannada)
- Green Beans and Carrots
- Drumstick and leafy greens of your choice
- Potatoes and Eggplant / Brinjal and Brown chana
- Kohlrabi (Navilkosu in Kannada, Noolkolu in Tamil & Telugu)
- Mix and match of the above or any succulent veggies
To me, Kozhambu is an ultimate comfort food that I love to indulge in once in a while to kick my taste buds out of the weekday rut. It is perfect to drive away the blues on a dreary day too.
It was ages since I had cooked this Kozhambu, an all time favorite at home! Addition of Peanuts fried or boiled – love either ways. Today, I added peanuts to the tempering along with curry leaves. Crisp curry leaves are simply a treat.
I ate it on this ecofriendly stitched leaf plate (Teccha Elai) after a decade. It is a sensorial experience to say the least. While spoon and plate make annoying sounds when eating, eating on a leaf plate has a calming effect. In short, it was one soul satisfying lunch.
Is there a special Kozhambu recipe you cherish or you have inherited? Would love to hear.
Ash Gourd and Dal cooked in freshly dry roasted spices & Coconut Gravy
- 2 cups Ash gourd (cut 2 inch long, 1/2 inch wide) skin chopped off
- 1/2 cup Toor Dal
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- small lemon sized tamarind
- salt to taste
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds dhania
- 2 tbsp split bengal gram chana dal
- 12 whole dried red chillies
- 5-6 curry leaves
- 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon chakke
- dash of hing/asafoetida
- 2/3 cup grated coconut
- 3 tsp peanut oil
- 1 tsp mustard
- pinch of hing/asafoetida
- 2 whole red chillies
- 5-6 curry leaves
- 2 tbsp peanuts
- Wash Tuvar dal well until water runs clear. Pressure cook with turmeric for 4-5 whistles or until well cooked. Meanwhile in a medium pot, cook diced ash gourd in a little more than enough water to cover until cooked but not mushy. Add salt, cover and keep aside.
- When cooker has cooled, whisk through the cooked dal to mash well. Wash and soak seeded tamarind in warm water for 10-15 mins.
- In the mean while, in a kadai/skillet over medium-high heat, dry roast everything under "To dry roast & grind" except hing and grated coconut until fragrant and the chana dal turns golden brown and curry leaves are crisp. Switch off, add hing and grated coconut and sauté until coconut is not longer raw.
- Squish soaked tamarind to pulp. In a blender, grind the dry roasted ingredients along with tamarind pulp and some water to a smooth paste.
- Pour this paste onto the cooked ash gourd along with cooked dal. Adjust the salt, add more water to adjust the consistency and bring to a nice bubbling boil over medium heat, stirring intermittently. Simmer for about 10-15 mins.
Heat oil in a small kadai or saucepan over high heat. When the oil is hot enough, add mustard seeds and reduce heat to medium. When they splutter, add whole red chillies, curry leaves and lastly hing and sauté until red chillies turn brown and curry leaves are crumbly crisp. Turn the tempering over on the simmering Kozhambu, cover immediately and keep aside.
- Serve hot with a spoon of ghee drizzled over hot rice and a side of Appalam. It is finger licking good!
If you need to increase or decrease the quantity of the dry roast ingredients, rule of thumb is - dhania and chana dal go in equal proportions.