This vegetable surely deserves to be introduced like James Bond :) I've always loved karela/bitter-melon/pawakkai thanks to my grand-mom. One of my favourite preparations of bitter melon is curry made with tamarind. The bitterness remains but is so less compared to other pawakkai preparations. This preparation is one of my all-time faves. I'd come back from half-day school on Saturday to be greeted by Pati with steaming rice, ghee and this curry. I'd just lap it up and eat more and more :) However, my granny - my dad's mom is from Karnataka, a Tamilian from the Karnataka side. So, we never, never made stuff like vethal kuzhambu, parippu usli, pitlai, and many such very Tam preparations. If made at all, it was for a special occasion! So much so that when I learned to make vethal kuzhambu before my marriage (its one of my faves!) and I told A ( an accomplished cook!) proudly that I'd made 'Puli Kuzhambu' ( that is what we call it at home) he went on to tell me that he makes it every now and then and that it is actually Vethal Kuzhambu. He even gave me suggestions to make it better! And here I was, always thinking that Vethal Kuzhambu was some exotic, tough dish to prepare :)
When I got married to A, though they've been all over the country, the South Indian food that my mother-in-law comes up with is very Tamil and super-tasty. I rediscovered my Tamil genes with A ;) Started speaking better Tamil, cooking more South Indian food, learning more about the Tamil cuisine. This is one such preparation: Pawakkai Pitlai. A loves this, and bought this vegetable from the Farmer's Market and asked his mom for the recipe. The wonderful cook that he is, he cooked this for us one night for dinner. Along with this, he made another Tamil classic - Uruzhakizhangu Masaal (another post, another time!) because I cannot eat rice with a curry! And this is how our dinner looked. Absolutely decadent, and high up there in terms of taste and memories :)
4. Roast the coriander seeds, red chillies, urad dal and the pepper. Add coconut and grind it into a smooth paste. Do not add too much water. Just a little to allow it to grind.
5. Now add the tamarind extract in a large bottomed kadai/pan, throw in the salt and the turmeric and the Sambar powder and bring it to a boil. Note that this thickens the mixture, so keep adding water to keep the consistency gravy-like.
7. Add the dal mixture now, and mix well and let it cook for another 5 mins
9. In another pan, prepare for the tadka. Fry the mustard seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves in hot ghee/oil and add to the Pitlai. And your Pitlai is ready to be served with steamed rice.
I know this seems like a long list of ingredients and the cooking steps are long too! However, this is one of the simplest traditional recipes I've tried and its a favourite now :)