Cooked Ash Gourd and Lentils in Roasted Spices & Coconut Gravy
[Koh Lum boo, Tamil ]
Kozhambu or Kuzhambu with “zha” 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 ground.
What makes Kuzhambu categorically stand out from its regional relatives like Sambar, Bele Saaru or Pappuchaaru 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. And for that good reason, I guess, it is not an everyday dish, mostly best reserved for occasions. Let me not demonize the coconut now. Simply put, indulge sparingly and savour 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 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 have been taken over by the oil-free microwaved versions, good enough for me! (and my waist is happy too..)
I remember Kozhambu being a weekend affair at home owing to its slightly elaborate preparation. Trust me though, it is worth every minute of sweating in front of the hot stove!
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)
Green Beans and fresh Hyacinth beans (Avarekal in Kannada)
Green Beans and Carrots
Potatoes and Eggplant / Brinjal and Brown chana
Kohlrabi (Navilkosu in Kannada, Noolkolu in Tamil & Telugu)
Like me, is there a special Kozhambu recipe you cherish or you have inherited? Share your experiences in the comments box.
2 cups diced Ash gourd (Poosanikai, tamil), skin chopped off
1/2 cup tuvar dal (pigeon peas)
1/4 tsp turmeric
small lemon sized tamarind
To dry roast & grind:
2 tbsp coriander seeds (dhania)
2 tbsp split bengal gram (chana dal)
12 whole dried red chillies
5-6 curry leaves
1/2″ piece of cinnamon bark (chakke)
dash of hing/asafoetida
2/3 cup grated coconut
2 tsp peanut oil
1 tsp mustard
pinch of hing/asafoetida
2 whole red chillies
5-6 curry leaves
How it’s done:
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.
For the tempering, 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.
Kozhambu is not restricted to rice alone, it pairs very well with chapati, dosa, idli and the like.
Because of the coconut, it does not keep for long at room temperature. Store leftovers immediately in the refrigerator.
To me, Kozhambu is an ultimate weekend / occasional 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 keep me warm and drive away my blues on a dreary winter day too!
And for this simple reason, I am sending this to Winter Warmers Event hosted this month at The Veggie Hut