Sarojini and Rao's
South Indian
Cooking Lessons

Lesson 1
Charu Podi, Coconut Chutney,
fried Stuffed Eggplant and more

Charu Podi (Rasam Powder)

1 cup coriander seeds
1/2 cup cumin seeds
1/2 cup black peppercorns
Grind spices without oil or frying

NOTES : This need not be stored in refrigerator.

Rasam is a thin broth that can be drunk as soup or eaten with rice. It is rather spicy and makes a nice hot drink with a warm sensation from the spices

Coconut Chutney Ingredients:

1/2 fresh coconut -- grated, or *note
1 lemon
3 fresh green chilies
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ghee -- or oil
1/8 tsp asafoetida -- (Optional!!!)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
10 curry leaves
1/2 tsp urad dhal

Peel lemon. Cut in pieces and remove seeds. Put into electric blender with the seeded and roughly chopped chillies and blend until smooth. Add the coconut and continue to blend to a smooth paste, scraping down sides of blender and adding a little more liquid if necessary. Add the salt and mix.

Heat ghee or oil in a small pan and fry the remaining ingredients, stirring frequently, until mustard seeds pop and dhal is golden. Mix with the blended mixture and transfer to a bowl and serve as chutney on the side.

NOTES : *1 cup desiccated coconut (unsweetened please!) sprinkled with 1/4 cup water -- toss to moisten evenly
Fried Stuffed Eggplant

Eggplant -- * see note Kura Podi

Cut eggplant into two or three cylindrical pieces. Make vertical slits at right angles to each other but do not cut through, i.e., make a "pocket" to stuff the filling which is the powder prepared as follows. Use one tea-spoon or so for each piece.

Heat oil in non-stick pan and fry stuffed eggplant pieces in the oil until they turn almost black in color and the skin shrivels. You can sprinkle more of the powder on the frying pieces if you like.

NOTES : *Use the slender long eggplants you find in any Indian store (the purple kind) and not the huge ones common in super-markets. In South India we get a special variety of eggplant used for this curry. These are small in size (about 2 inches long max) and these are used whole with just the slits made for stuffing.

Kura Podi


1 cup channa dal -- see note
1/2 cup Urad Dal -- (mina pappu)
10 large red chilies
1/4 cup coriander seeds -- (dhaniyalu)
pinch asafoetida
1 tsp oil
1 Tbsp salt

Heat oil in a small frying pan. Fry channa dal, urud dal, red chilies, coriander seeds, and asafoetida on low heat. Once the fried mixture is lukewarm, transfer contents to blender and add a tablespoon of sal. Grind to a fine powder. Store in jar such as empty yogurt can in refrigerator.

NOTES : The same powder can be used for stir-fry vegies like potato, beans, okra. Sprinkle a teaspoon of this towards the end of frying vegies and fry for a couple of minutes. I do this all the time and eat the stir-fry vegies with plain cooked rice. A quick-fix meal.

Channa dal is also known as Bengal gram and senaga pappu in Telug



1 pound Potatoes
3 Tbsp oil
1 tsp Mustard Seed
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 large Onion -- finely chopped
2 Green Chiles -- seeded and sliced
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 cup Water -- hot
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1/2 cup Cashews -- optional/see notes

Boil potatoes in their skins until just tender. Peel and dice. Heat the oil in a sauce pan and fry the mustard seeds until they pop. Add the turmeric, sliced onions, chilies and cashews (if you use them) and fry until onions are golden brown. Add the salt and water, bring to boil, add potatoes, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, sprinkle with lemon juice and stir well.

If eating with dosas, turn dosa "white side" up. Place one serving of potato curry in the center and roll dosa around to form a kind of cylinder around the curry.

NOTES : serves 4

up to 1 cup of cashews may be used

You can have potato curry as filling for dosa and have chutney on the side

Pacchadi Podi (Hot Chutney Powder)


1 Tbsp fenugreek seeds
20 large red chilies
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp Asafoetida
1 tsp oil
1 Tbsp salt

Heat oil in frying pan. Fry fenugreek seeds, red chilies, mustard seeds, and asafoetida seeds on low heat until lukewarm. When lukewarm, grind with salt to a fine powder.

NOTES : This powder is used to make all kinds of chutneys with tomatoes, eggplant, raw tamarind, cucumber, etc

Pulusu Podi (Sweet "Soup" Powder)

Ingredients: 2 Tbsp fenugreek seeds
20 large red chilies
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp Asafoetida
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp oil
Heat oil in frying pan. Fry all fenugreek, chiles, peppercorns, asafoetida, and coriander seeds on low heat. When lukewarm grind to a fine powder.

NOTES : This is used to make something like sambar except that you add a lot of sugar and tamarind to give a sweet & sour soup. A speciality is one form where you add sweet potato, potato, pumpkin and anyother vegies like carrots, green beans, etc.

Sambar Podi (Sambar powder)


1 cup channa dal
3/4 cup coriander seeds
10 large red chilies
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 tsp fenugreek
pinch asafoetida
1 tsp oil

Fry spices in oil on low heat and, when lukewarm, powder the fried stuff in blender to a fine powder

NOTES : Use the same recipe for sambar I posted before but don't prepare the mix as described there. Simply add two teaspoons of this powder at the appropriate time in the cooking instructions.



3/4 cup toor dal
4 cups water
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup small shallots -- peeled, see *note
1 medium potato -- peeled, and diced
1 tomato -- diced
4 Tbsp tamarind paste -- see **note
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sambar powder
1/2 tsp whole black mustard
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 red dried chilli -- crushed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro

Soak toor dhal in water for one hour in a heavy-based pot. During this time, chop the onions (if you use instead of shallots), potato and tomato (green beans and carrots may also be added). Add the turmeric powder to the soaking dhal and place on stove. Bring to boil, lower heat to keep the dhal simmering. Close pot and allow dhal to cook till tender. Soaking dhal before cooking consideraby lowers the cooking time which is about 30-45 minutes. Stir a few times to keep dhal from sticking at the bottom.

While dal is cooking lightly fry the onions or shallots in 2 1/2 Tbsp of the oil. Do not allow the onion/shallots to brown. When dhal has cooked, add some more water to bring the water level up to 4-5 cups again. (Use your judgment here because I cannot be more precise!). Now add the potatoes, tomato, sauted onions/shallots, and any other vegetables to want to put in. Next add the tamarind paste (or tamarind "juice"), and sambar powder. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover and allow the cook until vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes), stirring occasionally. Heat the remaining oil, and add the mustard, cumin, coriander seeds, and the crushed red chile to the hot oil. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, stir the whole thing once and add to the cooking sambar. Finally, add the cilantro leaves, and cook for another 5 minutes and remove from stove.

The consistency should be like a thin soup and the sambar powder should not appear like dirt sticking to the veggies (you will see this happen initially). You may also add some green chiles if you like to add more "zip" to the sambar. If so, add it with the rest of the veggies.

NOTES : *I use one medium sized onion peeled and chopped because I don't like shallots

**If you can get tamarind, use it and soak a fistful in water for a half hour and then squeeze the "juice" out and discard the waste and use the juice in the sambar.

Sambar can be eaten with plain cooked rice, idlies (I know I owe you all this recipe!), or dhosas. Sambar is an integral part of South Indian cooking. It is made every day. As I mentioned in San Antonio, a visiting naturalist from the Smithsonian Institute described a South Indian meal thus: mountain of rice and river of sambar!

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