Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Tangy Twist - Puli Mologai or Puli Inji

My ancestors hail from a small village deep in the heart of Southern India. The family owned large tracts of fertile lands along the Kaveri river, however as they moved en mass to big cities for better opportunities they eventually sold some tracts and donated parts of the lands to faithful family retainers and farmers who tilled the land. The ancestral house was the last surviving piece of the vibrant history that had seen famous musicians and academicians emerge from its hearth!

During a family gathering, I was casually informed that I had inherited 1/9th share of a 150 year old tamarind tree that used to produce well over 2-300 kgs/year of this tart fruit! Sadly during a major storm few years ago the tree was damaged and it eventually had to be cut down to prevent it from breaking down further....well it died after that ordeal and it was the end of an era!

Previous generations enjoyed its goodness and every year like clock work, large sacks of rice, tur dal, young tamarind, huge stems of plantains (hanging clusters of over 100 bananas), ripe jack fruits (each weighing at least 50kgs) would arrive with a housekeeper and his help from the village to my Grandmas house in Bombay, and she in turn would visit each of her children to give them a share of the bounty!

The tamarind pod holds a special place in the hearts and tongue of South Indian food lovers, as quite a few dishes like Sambar, Rasam, Kuzhambu, Pulikachal and many other gravy dishes are made with tamarind pulp. I love the sweet and mild tartness of young tamarind pods, when they are a light brown shade versus the strong sour flavour of tamarind that has aged over 6 months and turned a deep shade of dark brown to almost black.

Today I made a dish that is my families repertoire of dishes that are made on special occasions like festivals and other celebratory meals. It is unique as it can be classified as a pickle or chutney. It is sour from the tamarind, spicy from the ginger and green chillies and a hint of sweetness from jaggery, to round out all the flavours! It can be eaten along with steamed rice and ghee or as an accompaniment with curd rice, but I like to have it on my breakfast toast or along with dosa.

Ginger and green chillies in thick tamarind sauce
Puli Mologai ~ Puli Inji
Puli Molagai

1/4 cup finely chopped ginger
1/4 cup chopped green chillies
1 1/2 cups thick tamarind juice (pulp  and water of about 80 gms of tamarind or size of an orange)
1/4 tsp mustard seeds 
1/4 tsp methi/fenugreek seeds
1/4 tsp haldi/turmeric powder 
1/8 tsp hing
8-10 curry leaves
1-2 dry red chillies 
Red chilli powder - optional depending on how spicy you want the dish to be
2 tbsp grated jaggery
2-3 tbsp gingelly (sesame oil)
Salt to taste


Heat oil and add the dried red chillies, methi seeds and mustard seeds and let it sputter. Add hing, curry leaves, ginger and green chillies. Cook for 1-2 minutes on low heat. Add the turmeric, red chilli powder and salt. Then add the tamarind juice. Allow to cook on low heat for 10-12 minutes until a beautiful aroma is released and the gravy would have reduced by half and thickened up. Add the jaggery and cook for another minute or two. Serve warm or at room temperature. It will keep well for a few days outside or longer if stored in the fridge. This yields about 3/4 cups worth of Puli Molagai. 

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