Thursday, March 13, 2008

Puli Kuthi Poduthul - I (Green Banana, Eggplant, Okra, & Arbi Curry with Tamarind and Spicy Streusel)

We grew up loving this classic South Indian vegetable dish. Puli Kuthi Poduthul literally means "cooked in tamarind with streusel sprinkles". I remember that Thathi (our grandmother) used to make a large pan full of this dish and she would save a spoonful of it to savor piece by piece slowly as the finale of her meal.

Arbi or Taro root is delicious and cooks up velvety - the children call them 'velvety potatoes'! The only Caveat is that ARBI MUST BE COMPLETELY COOKED UNTIL SOFT BECAUSE IT CONTAINS CALCIUM OXALATE CRYSTALS WHICH AFFECT THE MUCUS MEMBRANES IN A PINS AND NEEDLES OR TINGLING SENSATION UNLESS COOKED COMPLETELY. COOKING RENDERS THEM HARMLESS BY DESTROYING THE OXALATE CRYSTALS. Arbi or Taro is just like the Rhubarb that must be cooked to be edible; so don't let the warning scare you away :). 

According to Elizabeth Schneider of The Essential Reference - Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini, taro or arbi has probably been cultivated and eaten in many parts of the world for longer than 10,000 years! She says that taro is such a common food that it has hundreds of common names. If you are not comfortable cooking arbi or taro, leave them out of this dish; although it adds its unique taste, leaving it out will not ruin the dish.


2 medium Green unripe bananas
2 medium Indian, Italian, Chinese or Japanese Eggplants
1/2 lb Fresh Okra (Optional)
4 to 6 Arbi tubers (Taro Root) (Optional)
1/2 tsp Turmeric
Salt to taste
1 tsp Tamarind Concentrate dissolved in 1/2 cup of water

Streusel :

1/8 cup rice
1 tsp whole Fenugreek seeds (Methi)
2 Dry Red Chilies


3 Tbsp Oil
1/2 tsp Brown Mustard Seeds
1 Tbsp Chana Dal
1 Tbsp Urad Dal
1 pinch Asafetida
1 sprig Fresh Curry Leaves


Toast the streusel ingredients in a small pan over medium heat. Stir and swirl the contents often to toast evenly. Pour onto a small plate and let cool. When cool, grind into a coarse powder in a clean spice/coffee grinder.

Wash and dry the bananas, okra, and eggplant. Peel with a peeler just the thin green outer skin from the bananas, cut into quarters lengthwise, and slice diagonally at about half inch intervals. Peel the arbi tubers and cut them into quarters.

Cut the eggplants the same way as the bananas. Cut off the stems from okra and cut them into one inch pieces. Keep them separate.

Bring the tamarind water to a boil in a non-reactive two or three quart pan (stainless steel works well). Add 1/2 tsp salt, turmeric, arbi and banana pieces and bring to a boil again. Lower heat to simmer, cover and cook until vegetables are cooked. The arbi must be completely cooked until it is soft but not mushy; check one piece to make sure - it should offer no resistance when pierced with a fork. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet and add mustard seeds and the dals. When mustard seeds pop and the dals turn pinkish, add asafetida. Add curry leaves, eggplant pieces and and 1/2 tsp salt cook covered for 10 minutes. Stir in okra pieces with a pinch of salt and cook stirring until veggies are tender. Once okra is added, cover only the first five minutes; after that cook on low heat stirring often but gently until they are cooked.

Stir in the cooked bananas and arbi including any remaining tamarind broth. Sprinkle the streusel on top and cook stirring occasionally until well mixed and dry, about 10 minutes. Use a folding motion so that the vegetables don't break up and get mushy.

Serve hot with plain rice or one pot rasam rice , any dal dishes such as Simple dal or any rasam and plain yogurt or as you wish. Enjoy!!

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