Sunday, September 22, 2019

Vattal Kuzhambu I (Easy Spiced Tamarind Sauce)

Vathal kuzhambu is a classic and traditional tamarind based sauce from South India. The name Tamarind Sauce doesn't do justice to this lovely kuzhambu; it is something people crave and wax poetic about once they have tasted it!

Vathals are sun dried vegetables and wild Southern Indian berries. The Vathals of interest here are dried berries known as Sundakai or chundakai (labeled as turkey berries) and manathakali (frgrant tomatoes); I think the correct name is manithakali which means peal tomatoes. These are available in some Indian grocery stores but are neither absolutely essential nor necessary to prepare or enjoy vathal kuzhambu.

This sauce is often made after weddings and festivals to give the digestive system a break from rich foods.Vattal Kuzhambu (the berry kind) mixed with rice used to be a popular travel food in the olden days because it stays well at room temperature for 2-3 days. 

While the popular combination is vathal kuzhambu seved over rice with Dal Chutney (Paruppu Thogayal) and pappadums, a lentil wafer, I like mine with not only the fabulous Paruppu Thogayal, but also a side of vegetable thoran, raita, and yogurt rice.


I love to use fresh vegetables like shallots or green onions, okra, moringa pods known as drumsticks in India, and eggplant in this recipe. The flavors meld well the longer they sit and you can store this kuzhambu for several days in the refrigerator; vathal kuzhambu prepared with the dried berries last for a couple of weeks.

If using the dried berries, use 2 Tbsp. Cook them in a little oil until browned and add to the sauce at the end.

Sambar powder maybe homemade or purchased. It is readily available in Indian markets.


2 teaspoon Tamarind concentrate mixed in 2 cups of water
1 teaspoon Oil (preferably Indian Sesame oil)
1/2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon Fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon Channa dal
2 dry Red Chiles
1/8 teaspoon Asafetida powder
2 cups Vegetables (see Notes)
2 stems Curry Leaves
2-3 teaspoons Sambar powder
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Salt (to taste)


Heat oil in a saucepan over low-medium heat. When oil is hot, add mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, red chilies, and chana dal; when the mustard starts popping, add asafetida.

Add curry leaves and vegetables and stir cook for couple of minutes.

Add sambar powder and turmeric; stir for a few seconds until mixed well.

Pour in tamarind water and salt, bring it to a boil. Let it cook on low-medium heat until the liquid reduces and thickens a bit.

If you want a thicker consistency, mix a teaspoon of rice flour with a couple of tablespoons of water and add it to the kuzhambu. Bring it to a boil and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes or so.  Remove from heat. Taste and adjust salt.

Serve hot with freshly cooked rice and your favorite sides.


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