‘Vathal’ Kuzhambu


‘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.


  1. Manathakkali Vathal- 2 Tsp OR Sundakkai Vathal- about 8 berries( They are very bitter)
  2. Fenugreek seeds- 1/8 Tsp
  3. Mustard seeds- 1/2 Tsp
  4. Tamil Nadu Sambhar powder- 3 Tsp
  5. Turmeric Powder- 1/4 Tsp
  6. Tamarind paste- 2 Tsp or juice from a ping pong ball size of Tamarind( Soak in 2 cups water)
  7. Jaggery Powder- 1 Tsp( Optional)
  8. Salt to taste
  9. A few curry leaves
  10. Asafetida- a pinch
  11. Oil- 2 Tbsp
  12. 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.





Sambhar Powder( Tamil Brahmin style)


Last year on a trip to Kumbakonam and Tanjavur, I discovered a new dish called ‘Vathal Kuzhambu’. It was new to me, at least, because I had never tasted it before. We stayed at a place called- Mantra Veppathur, where the Chef was extremely nice and made a couple of authentic Kumbakonam dishes just for me to sample. I had never heard of ‘Kalyana Murungai Vada’ before, neither had I tasted ‘Red hibiscus Raitha’. So, anyways this was where I actually came to know that the Tamil version of Sambhar powder was much different than the Karnataka version. Its this Sambhar powder that goes into making ‘Vathal Kuzhambu’, the recipe which I will follow up after this.


Useless information maybe, but in Bangalore, Sambhar is rarely called Sambhar, it’s called “HuLi” with the hard ‘L’. The meaning of HuLi is sour, which means that there is an ingredient in the dish that renders it sour, generally Tamarind. Also, Rasam is rarely called Rasam, it’s called ‘Saaru‘, not ‘Chaaru’ which would be the way the people from Andhra Pradesh would say it. ‘Majjige HuLi’ is also sour, because of the use of sour yogurt in preparing the dish. So much useless trivia:)

I suggest not making large quantities of Masala powders, as they lose their fragrance if kept unused for long periods of time. These powders are very easy to make in small batches and taste fresh when used up with a couple of weeks.


  1. Toor Dal- 1/4 Cup
  2. Channa Dal- 1/8 Cup
  3. Coriander seeds- 100 gms
  4. Cumin- 2 Tsp
  5. Black pepper- 3 Tsp
  6. Fenugreek Seeds- 1 Tsp
  7. Turmeric Powder- 1 Tsp
  8. Curry leaves- 2 Sprigs
  9. Red chilies( I used byadgi)- 100 gms, broken into smaller pieces
  10. Asafetida- 1/4 Tsp


Dry roast all the ingredients separately, on a low-medium heat till the Dals turn slightly darker and the Red chilies become bigger and start smoothing out.

Cool the roasted ingredients, powder to a fine powder in a spice mill. Store in an airtight container.