‘Vathal’ means a vegetable that has been salted and sun dried in Tamil. Different kinds of berries are generally used. The one in picture above is called “Manathakkali” or the “Black Nightshade”. The other berry that’s commonly used is called the “Sundakkai” or the “Turkey berry”. There are several resources on the web on the medicinal value of these berries. I choose not to promote any information that I do not have any knowledge about. I choose to cook with these dried berries only for their wonderful flavor and only once in a while, so I doubt I will get any medicinal benefit out of them with very occasional usage. But that’s only my belief.
Both berries are easily available in the Indian grocery stores here in the US and very easily available in Bangalore in the Udupi stores. The smaller berries are labeled as “Manathakkali Vathal” and the slightly larger ones are called “Sundakkai Vathal”.
Dried clusterbeans( Gorikayi) and dried bittermelon( Haagalakayi) pieces can also be used in making this Kuzhambu.
For anyone who is trying this for the very first time, be warned, this dish is bitter. The Sundakkai tends to be considerably more bitter than the Manathakkali. I would like to compare this dish to the Gojju of Karnataka, because it supposed to be bitter, tangy and very slightly sweet. Some people skip the jaggery. I add it because I like the taste.
- Manathakkali Vathal- 2 Tsp OR Sundakkai Vathal- about 8 berries( They are very bitter)
- Fenugreek seeds- 1/8 Tsp
- Mustard seeds- 1/2 Tsp
- Tamil Nadu Sambhar powder- 3 Tsp
- Turmeric Powder- 1/4 Tsp
- Tamarind paste- 2 Tsp or juice from a ping pong ball size of Tamarind( Soak in 2 cups water)
- Jaggery Powder- 1 Tsp( Optional)
- Salt to taste
- A few curry leaves
- Asafetida- a pinch
- Oil- 2 Tbsp
- Water- 2 Cups
Heat the oil in a kadai. Make the seasoning adding the mustard seeds, Fenugreek seeds and asafetida after the mustard starts spluttering. Add the Vathal and stir for a minute, till they start to become bigger. Add the curry leaves. Add the water first if using the tamarind paste. When the water comes to a boil, add the turmeric, sambhar powder, salt, tamarind and jaggery.
If using soaked tamarind, put the tamarind water to the seasoning, bring to a boil and add the rest of the ingredients.
Simmer for a while on a low flame till the Kuzhambu thickens slightly. Adjust salt and jaggery as necessary.
Serve hot with rice.