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Chettinad spicy drumstick (Murungakkai masala poriyal)

Chettinad cuisine is a very distinct style that has evolved in Tamil Nadu. It comprises of a region of 2 towns and 76 villages inhabited by the Chettiar community. The community started with trade in precious stones and metals and later became private bankers. This trade took them across the globe and as a result, their cuisine is influenced by a myriad of spices and novel cooking techniques, including sun-dried vegetables that are later cooked.

This is a very simple dish that is a staple in almost every household. The gently sweet moringa pods, or drumsticks as they are commonly called, are bathed in a spicy thick gravy. The sauce is rich from the coconut and spicy from the chillies. The poriyal, a traditional South Indian stir fry, is delicately spiced with the flavours. This dish is a favourite of mine, but then I love everything with moringa pods in them.

This South Indian cookbook brings to my shelf the unique cuisine of the Chettinad Tamils in South India. This, now popular cuisine, is known to be extremely spicy, complex and distinct. This book is a wonderful collection of recipes that makes this cuisine accessible to us at home.

For more recipes from this cookbook click here.


2 drumsticks, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces

1 cup water

Salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons grated fresh coconut

1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds

2 cloves garlic

1-2 green chillies

1/2 teaspoon chilli powder, or to taste

3-4 tablespoons of water

2 tablespoons oil

3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon split urad dal

1 large onion, finely diced

2 tomatoes, finely minced

Salt, to taste

Cilantro, minced, to garnish

Add the drumsticks, water and salt to a small pot and bring to a boil. Simmer till the drumsticks are almost cooked. 6-8 minutes. Turn off the stove and set aside keeping both the drumsticks and the cooking stock.

While the drumsticks are cooking, add the turmeric, coconut, cumin, garlic, green chillies, red chilli powder and water to a small blender and purée to a fine paste. You are looking for a thick paste. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a small pot, add the mustard seeds, and urad dal and fry till the mustard seeds begin to pop about 30 seconds. Add the onions and cook on a low flame till they are soft and translucent about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and salt and fry on medium heat for about 5-7 minutes till the tomatoes are soft and have broken down into a thick sauce.

Add the ground coconut paste and the drumsticks with the cooking liquids. Bring to a boil and simmer for 8 minutes till you have a thick sauce that clings to the drumsticks heavily. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

To serve, spoon hot into a bowl and top with cilantro. For a more contemporary serving, scrape off the sauce that clings to the drumsticks. Add the sauce to the bottom of a shallow platter. Top with the drumsticks in a lattice pattern. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice or chapattis.

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