Poriyal anyone? Joys of South Indian cuisine

So what’s a poriyal you’re all thinking. Essentially its a vegetable dish tempered with spices. It’s South Indian – which is a much lighter and fresher than the heavily sauced, rich northern Indian food.
A lot of the food in the south of India is vegetarian. But it’s the blend of spices that really differentiates it from its northern counterpart.

We tend to eat a lot of spicy food but I was never a fan of Indian food until I discovered south Indian cuisine. My preference is for light and fresh. So I was very surprised when I first came across it (thanks to my husband who lived in India for many years and spent much time holidaying in Goa – then a somewhat rustic haven for poor travellers and locals. Sadly now taken over by too many Israeli and Russian tourists with their demands to have it all). 

Usually I cook Thai and Vietnamese style foods while my husband cooks Indian. However we recently come across a couple of great cook books with more contemporary adaptations on traditional food and I decided to learn the basics. In fact we first came across the modern incarnation at a fabulous resort restaurant in Kerala – but that’s another story.

So back to the poriyal. It consists of a basic tempering spice mix:

  • 1 tspn cumin
  • 1 tspn black mustard seeds
  • 1 tspn urud dhal
  • 1/2 tspn asafetida
  • Curry leaves
  • Red chilli split lengthways but still intact.

Heat a pan until hot and add a tablespoon oil or ghee.
Once the oil is hot throw in the spice mix but stand back – the mustard seeds pop as do the curry leaves. You need the oil to be hot enough to do this otherwise the spices just steam and don’t release their flavours.
Then add the roughly chopped zucchini (you can use any vegetables for this, e.g. green beans, or a mixture of finely chopped, beans, carrots and capsicums) and stir to mix the spices through. Then add a splash of water and let it cook – briefly – until the zucchini is just cooked but still firm. Stir through a tablespoon or so of shredded or grated coconut. And you’re done. Easy.
And to go with that poriyal? We had a spice-crusted fillet of beef (seared and then cooked on the BBQ for 15 mins) and a tomato relish (tamatar ka kut) which is east Indian; but its also good with fish, dhal, rice – the possibilities are endless.