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Six Vegetarian Tamil Dishes You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

I am a Tamilian and this is an ode to the food I love the most, writes Radhika Sharma.

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4 min read
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South India is a VAST region. To call everything that is remotely coconut-based – “South Indian” – is just plain wrong. So is thinking that idlis, medu wadas and masala dosas are the only edible dishes in our ginormous cuisine.

For the novice, South Indian cuisine consists of food from the five southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telengana. While these states are famously known for their meat fare, there are some vegetarian delicacies that seriously give the chicken, mutton and sea food a run for their money!

I am a Tamilian, and this article is an ode to the food that I most love! We are more than just Udipi, Shiv or Sai Sagars. We are full of flavour, spices and preparations that will leave you cleaning your plates for meals hereon.

Also? I feel I must tell you – that sweet-disgusting-daal-nonsense that you eat with your 100 rupee masala dosas are an insult to my holy grail – the sambhar. There, I said it!

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Adai

I am a Tamilian and this is an ode to the food I love the most, writes Radhika Sharma.
Adai is eaten for both breakfast and dinner. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot/Vah Chef)

The super protein charged brother of the dosa, adai is eaten for breakfast and dinner in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It’s a mix of all kinds of lentils: urad, toor, chana and even rice. Soak and mix them up raw with red chillies, ginger and salt into a smooth batter. Roast it till crisp and eat with coconut chutney. You’ll forget the boring dosa after this, I promise.

Mor Kootan

I am a Tamilian and this is an ode to the food I love the most, writes Radhika Sharma.
Mor kootan is made during Vishu and other festive occasions. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot/Mia Kitchen)

My personal favourite, this is a spicy combination of buttermilk (mor), veggies, coconut and ground rice. The Tamil equivalent of the north Indian “Kadhi”, this sour-sexy-god-of-a-dish is made during Vishu and other festive occasions. Pair this with some steaming hot rice and some papad and you’ve got yourself the meal of a LIFETIME, my friend.

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Pulikachal

I am a Tamilian and this is an ode to the food I love the most, writes Radhika Sharma.
Pulikachal is a fiery tamarind rendition. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot/Tamil Kitchen)

Beware, this is not for the faint-hearted. A fiery tamarind rendition with curry leaves, ground nut, dal and LOADS of red chilies – this super sour concoction is meant to be taken in small spoons.

Its strong flavour lends itself to be treated more as a chutney than a main dish. The rice version is called “puliodhare” which means rice in tamarind paste – done simply by tossing cooked rice with some oil into a pan and a spoon of this mixture. Uff, biryani will be your second best friend after this one!

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Keerai Molagootal

I am a Tamilian and this is an ode to the food I love the most, writes Radhika Sharma.
This dish has spinach, coconut and lentils – all cooked to perfection. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot/Dinamthoorum)

Another staple household dish, keerai is spinach in Tamil. A Brahmin dish with its origins in Palakkad, this flavourful combo has spinach, coconut, lentils – all cooked to perfection. The coconut oil is what adds that special “zing” of flavour along with the crackle of red chillies to fire up those palates.

Eaten with plain rice and lots of ghee, this veggie mix will leave a very mild tangy aftertaste, which you will yearn for every time you eat regular dal!

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Vatha Kozumbhu

I am a Tamilian and this is an ode to the food I love the most, writes Radhika Sharma.
The vatha kozumbhu isn’t as thick as sambhar. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot/Mallika Badrinath)

The unofficial brother of the sambhar, kozumbhu is a general term for “curry” in Tamil. This version doesn’t have any lentils as such – it also isn’t as thick as sambhar. This is generally made plain as a side dish, but recent renditions have vegetables and appalams in it.

Soak it in excess ghee as you eat it, and feel its warm blanket envelop you.

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Ulundu Koikattai

I am a Tamilian and this is an ode to the food I love the most, writes Radhika Sharma.
While this looks like the ordinary “modak”, it fills the senses with quite a different flavour. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot/Subbus Kitchen)

This may look like your ordinary “modak” but bite into it and a savoury flavour kicks in. Generally made during Ganesh Chaturthi, this is an “uppu” or salt modak which has a filling of urad dal, mustard, red chillies, green chillies and coconut all fried together to achieve that one-in-a-million-smell. The “koikattais” are steamed and served with either coconut chutney or tomato chutney.

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So there you have it, your crash course in vegetarian Tamil food has reached its gastronomic end.

But therein lies the good part – now you can begin eating, right?

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(A massive EDM junkie and a Jedi Padewan, Radhika believes in taking life by the fork and knife every day. She has been a media woman for the last 10 years with a huge passion for video technology. While working in content management is her day avatar, nothing gets her foodie side going like a good spicy misal pav!)

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