South Indian vegetarian cuisine is subtly flavored, yet rich in variety. The spices are so delicately and judiciously blended together that the best South Indian food always retains the basic essence of its flavor. Therein lays its
specialty. From the nutritional point of view, the food is perfectly balanced, low in cholesterol and fat, and not necessarily spicy.
Chàndra Padmanabhan, an expert cook, has been dishing up delicious,
meals for her family and friends for more than twenty-five years
years, she has experimented with various styles of vegetarian B I
ingeniously adapted them to suit every palate. Dakshin is a co of
her own favorite recipes, and several years after it was first it continues to be the best introduction to vegetarian South Indian cuisine.
When I started cooking over twenty-five years ago, I never really thought that I would enjoy it so much. Over the years, my recipes, written down hastily on odd scraps of paper, found their way into the kitchens of my
relatives and friends, most of whom were young girls on the threshold of marriage. For some time now, they have been insisting that I get my recipes together. The result is this book, a simple introduction to basic South
Indian vegetarian cooking.
Cooking, as we all know, varies significantly from region to region. South Indian vegetarian cuisine is subtly flavored yet rich in variety. It is simple, wholesome, nutritious, and above all, the food, when prepared, retains the
basic essence of its flavor. It is never subordinated to palatability by merely plastering it with an excess of rich condiments, spices and additives.
The South Indian is a rice eater. A typical meal consists of three courses — rice, with sambar, rasam and curd. As accompaniments there are a variety of vegetable dishes, pickles and salads to choose from. Appeals and
papa dams, either fried or roasted, are always served on the side. A meal is carefully planned, blending and balancing colors, textures, flavors and nutritional contents. If, for example, the sambar is hot and rich, a bland
vegetable is served by way of contrast.
Our snacks, called tiff in, occupy a special place in our cuisine. More often than not, they are a complete meal by themselves — crunchy, spicy, sweet, or fiery hot.
Most of our sweets, delicious yet simple to make, can be stored for days in airtight containers. For festive occasions of course, payolas are obligatory.
Coconut, grown all over South India, is an important ingredient. We use it in many imaginative ways. Depending on one’s taste, it can be used abundantly or sparingly.
A word on the tempering, which gives a crunchy, nutty flavor,: it is typical of all South Indian cooking. At first glance, it may appear to be nothing more than a few mustard seeds spluttering and a couple of dials turning
golden. But it is this delicate blending of spices which imparts the distinct aroma. The spices are roasted, ground, or popped whole into hot oil. Mastery over seasonings can make all the difference.
Our cooking never makes use of exact weights and measurements. We are taught to cultivate a sense of smell and color and achieve perfection through experimenting. Almost every ingredient is measured by hand. I have
standardized the weights and measurements to make it easy for use. As in most other families, my recipes are my family’s own, handed down over generations. A few, of course, are special gifts given to me by friends.
Though traditional and authentic, these recipes have been simplified and shortened to suit our modern needs, keeping in mind that electric liquidizers and grinders (mixes) have replaced the mortar and pestle in the modern
From the health and nutritional point of view, South Indian cooking is perfectly balanced, low both in fat and cholesterol. Most of the vegetables are pressure-cooked or cooked on low heat. Oil is used sparingly and a
variety of protein-rich dais form a part of the daily menu. A meal is always completed with wholesome, soothing curd.
I have tried as far as possible to give English equivalents for South Indian names. Since I am most familiar with Tamil, the South Indian names I have used are predominantly Tamil Ian. But most recipes are common to all
South Indians, with minor variations, of course.
Most of the recipes serve exactly four members of my family. But the quantity may serve six people in yours. The quantities of spices used in the recipes suit my family and friends. Feel free to add more or to decrease the
amounts, particularly that of the chilies. A word of advice: If you decrease the quantity of chilies, make sure you decrease accordingly, the quantity of salt and the souring agent. Even the methods need not be scrupulously
followed. The joy of cooking lies in experimenting. I do, however, recommend you to go through the little introductory notes before trying out any recipe.
I invite you to share with me my favorite recipes.
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