Kathirikka Kai and Vendakka Kuzhambu…

…or, in a little more English, Eggplant Subzi and Okra Sambar.

A typical homecooked meal almost anywhere in India is made up of a gravied dish, a starch such as rice or flatbreads (chapatis, rotis, naans...) made of wheat or other grains, and a vegetable side-dish.

In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where Desi comes from, the gravied dish, usually made up of lentils for a vegetarian meal, is called a sambar or a kuzhambu. In a traditional home you’d eat eat it by mixing it with rice and then scooping it up with your fingers (clean!) into your mouth– my favorite way to eat anything because it’s so much more sensuous that eating with steel implements!

To break the monotony of the rice and sambar, and to add more nourishment, a kai (bhaji in Marathi, subzi in Hindi), a cooked vegetable side-dish, is served.

Then there are other trimmings, like pickles which are nothing like the ones you get here in the U.S. but rather fiery-hot tidbits steeped in oil and chilli powder that make the tastebuds sing. There are chutneys of all sorts, made from herbs, vegetables, fruits and what have you. Papads or poppadums, crispy, crackly lentil crackers that can be fried or roasted on an open flame or microwaved, or crunchy vadams made of sago or rice or even potatoes, which are dried in the sun and then deep-fried to give more delicious company to the delicious meal already on your plate.

A kuzhambu can be made with almost any vegetable, but this time I made it with okra because I have all this wonderful okra still growing in my veggie garden and Desi loves okra kuzhambu (I know, I know, it’s my third okra recipe in as many weeks!). I paired it with eggplant kai because these two are a classic combination that go together like salt and pepper.

I make it with fresh ground spices, and if you have a few basic Indian spices in your pantry, you can make it quite easily. If you absolutely have to, you can substitute the fresh ground masala with 1 tbsp sambar powder. You can also use frozen okra if you can’t find fresh.

Enjoy these recipes, and the rest of the week!

Vendakka (Okra) Kuzhambu

(Makes six servings)


About 15 okras, cut into rings about 1/3-rd of an inch thick, or 1 16-ounce package frozen okra, thawed

3/4 cup tuvar dal or yellow split peas, soaked about an hour. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp salt, cook until falling-apart tender, either in a pressure cooker or on the stove top (cover with water, bring to a boil, and let it simmer. A pressure cooker’s much faster).

2 tsp canola or other vegetable oil

2 tsp tamarind paste mixed in 1 cup of water, or 1 lime-size ball of tamarind soaked in 1 cup hot water for about 1/2 an hour. Crush the tamarind with your fingers to squeeze out all the juices, then discard the solids and retain the water which will be a deep brown.

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

A generous pinch of asafetida (optional)

2-3 sprigs fresh curry leaves

For the fresh-ground masala:

1/2 tsp oil

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp bengal gram dal (chana dal)

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi seeds)

A generous pinch of asafetida

2-3 dry red chillies, broken into pieces.

1/2 cup coconut milk or 1/4 cup grated coconut mixed with 1/4 cup water

To make the masala:

Heat the 1/2 tsp oil and add the other ingredients except coconut. Roast on a medium-low fire until lightly golden-brown and fragrant, about five minutes. Stir often to make sure that the spices roast evenly. Remove to a blender.

If you are using the grated coconut, add it to the skillet after removing the spices. Roast very quickly, stirring all the time, until the coconut is lightly browned, then transfer to the blender. If you are using coconut milk, as I did, you can skip this step and add the coconut milk directly to the blender.

Blend the masala into a fine paste adding just as much water as is necessary to keep the blades moving. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tsp of oil. Add the okra and fry on medium-high heat about 2-3 minutes until they start to get tender.

Add the tamarind paste and bring the mixture to a boil. Let it simmer about 5 minutes.

Add the ground masala and the cooked tuvar dal and more salt if needed. Stir together and bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. If the kuzhambu is too thick, add some water and stir to mix.

Heat the remaining 1 tsp of oil in a small saucepan. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and asafetida. When the seeds sputter, add the curry leaves. Turn off the heat and pour the mixture into the sambar. Stir to mix well.

Serve hot with boiled brown or white rice and Katthirika Kai (recipe follows)
Katthirika (Eggplant) Kai

(Makes six servings)


4 medium-sized eggplants (I used a slender white eggplant but you can use Italian eggplants or the tiny, round, purple Indian ones. If using the Indian eggplants, increase the number of eggplants to about 8). Cut the eggplants, skin and all, into a 1-inch dice. Mix 1 tbsp of tamarind paste with enough water to cover the eggplants (or alternatively use the method described in the kuzhambu above to make tamarind juice with whole tamarind pods) and boil until the eggplant is nearly but not quite tender, about 7-8 minutes in a microwave.

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tbsp black gram dal (udad dal)

Roast in 1/2 tsp oil and grind into a powder:

1 tbsp bengal gram dal (chana dal)

2-3 dry red chillies, broken into pieces

1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

To prepare the kai:
Heat the 1 tbsp of canola oil in a skillet.

Add the mustard seeds and, when they sputter, add the black gram dal. Stir until the dal turns lightly golden, about 1-2 minutes.

Add the onion and saute about 2 minutes or until it turns translucent. Add the eggplant and stir-fry for another minute or two.

Now add the powdered spices, turmeric and salt and mix well. Saute for another 3-5 minutes or until the eggplant is tender.

Garnish, if desired, with coriander. Serve hot.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

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  1. says

    I was at work when I saw the first picture – I started drooling and have not stopped… yummy looking kuzhambu.. and kathirikkai is all firm and crunchy… how I wish you lived in Seattle… would have invited myself :)

    On a separate note, I wanted to say thank you for your advice on my blog when I took a break… throughout the break, your comment kept coming back to me… and one fine day, I decided to just come back :)

  2. says

    Hi Vaishali, my first thought when I saw your eggplant is I wish it could jump out of the photo for me to eat it!!! Excellent recipe, for sure I will try it.
    Best wishes. Maria

  3. says

    These two are going to my must try list Vaishali. Love both veggies and am always on the lookout for different versions. Loved the new words and their meanings too. :-)

  4. says

    Wow…thats an awesome combination…eggplants goes so well with dhal-based dishes. I usually add kathrikai and vendakai in vatha kuzhambu and we have it with rice and masala vadas :)

  5. says

    Preeti, Faiza, Thanks.

    Indhu, Welcome, and I am so happy to see you back on your feet again! About Seattle…that makes two of us, then! I’ve always wanted to live there :)

    Maria, Sharmila, Pari, Sonu, Sireesha, Thanks!

    Lou, I’m a lousy gardener, so it’s nothing that I’m doing but rather the fact that I’m not doing much that helps, I think! :)
    Seriously, though, okra grows pretty easily so long as you plant the seeds in healthy, composted soil and remember to water it.

    Priya, Parita, Thanks!

    Gita, Vatha kuzhambu with rice and masala vadas…you have GOT to invite me to dinner! :)

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