Dried bitter gourd curry (Vegetarian version)
Mathi Mulakittathu is a very spicy curry which is a signature Kerala dish to accompany Tapioca or cooked rice. Mathi is Sardine, a very nutritious oily fish with a distinct fishy smell and high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Mathi is usually cooked in a very hot curry base. This curry is not to be poured lavishly but used like a chutney, as a small dip goes a long way. It is very hot and spicy for all the buds and glands to open up!
When all the non vegetarian members of the family enjoy it frequently and sing its praise, I was thinking how to transform it into a vegetarian curry. I considered different vegetables to substitute fish and nothing got any close. Then, I had a brain storming session at home and when pavakka vathal was suggested I could not reject it.
Pavakka Vathal is sun dried bitter gourd. I had some dried last Summer. It is quite simple to sun dry bitter gourd during the hot months. Slice fresh bitter gourd and add enough salt and turmeric powder. Sprinkle some water and heat it until it steams. Shake it well and spread it on plates and let it dry in sunlight for a few days until all water evaporates. Store it in air tight jars for future use. This can also be bought from Indian stores.
Sun dried bitter gourd is deep fried in vegetable oil and used in the vegetarian version of Mathi curry. In the curry base, there is a special ingredient called Kudampuli or Malabar tamarind that gives a distinct taste to this curry.
Kudampuli is a lemon sized fruit which turns yellow when ripe. This fruit is cut into halves and dried. When dried, it is dark black with a smokey flavour. It is the souring agent that gives a particular taste to the curry. Again, this can be store bought and used in many fish curries. If it is not available, ordinary tamarind can be used but the flavour will be slightly different.
So here is the vegetarian curry recipe.
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 pieces of kudampuli
- 2 green chillies
- 1 tbsp chopped ginger
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- few curry leaves
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp chilli powder
- 1/2 tsp paprika or Kashmiri chilli powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp fenugreek powder
- 10-15 sun dried bitter gourd
- oil for frying
- Heat oil in a pan and deep fry sun dried bitter gourd pieces. The oil has to be smoking hot and stir throughout while frying.
- Drain the oil and collect the bitter gourd crisps on a paper towel.
- In a heavy bottom pan, heat coconut oil and splutter mustard.
- Add curry leaves, chopped onion, slit green chillies and chopped ginger.
- Saute till onion is translucent.
- Add coriander powder, chilli powders, fenugreek powder and turmeric powder.
- Wash Malabar tamarind/Kudampuli and add to the pan.
- Add enough water and boil well.
- Finally, add fried bitter gourd pieces and boil for a few minutes.
Serve it with hot rice and papadam (lentil wafers) or potato chips. This is a fiery hot curry added in little quantity to spice up rice or tapioca masala posted here .
The same gravy is the base in Mathi mulakittathu, but fish is used instead of bitter gourd. Sardines are cleaned, washed and added in the last stage and cooked for 10-12 minutes to make tasty Mathi curry. This is a favourite recipe in Kerala, where fish is considered a staple. It is even treated as a vegetable in some coastal villages.