Kozhambus (curries), poriyals, kootus (vegetable dishes) and rice may be the mainstay of meals in South India, but flavourful podis and chutneys are equally an intrinsic part.
A soft, fluffy idli is almost always, dipped into piping hot sambhar, but sometimes it is simply enjoyed, coated with the reddish dry gunpowder or milaga podi, to set one’s taste buds on fire. Gunpowder, is one of the most popular and commonly eaten podis in southern India.
Bursting with varied flavours, podis and chutneys are multipurpose spice mixes that can enhance any meal. A unique culinary delight of South Indian cuisine, the Podi, a dry spice-mix, is made from a combination of lentils like chana dal, urad dal, tuvar dal, along with spices and condiments, such as sesame seed, chilies, fenugreek, curry leaves, coriander leaves, asafoetida and sometimes garlic, which are roasted and ground to make a coarse textured powder.
These are usually an accompaniment to dosas, idlis, adais and often mixed with hot steamed rice and ghee or sesame oil drizzled on top. Apart from adding zest to a meal, the podis are also used as ready-to-use premixes for preparing dishes like sambar, rasam, bisibele in households.
While podis are always dry, chutneys can be either dry or wet. Chef Jacob Justin, Head Chef, Courtyard by Marriott, Chennai, explains, “Chutney is also called Thogayal or Thuvayal, in some parts of the South. There are many varieties of chutneys, some cooked and others made with vegetables. The primary ingredients remain the same, but vegetables vary depending upon the season and taste buds.”
Fresh South Indian chutneys are smooth, uncooked purees, tempered with fried mustard seeds, dal, and curry leaves, that attributes a distinct flavour to a chutney. Cooked chutneys are soft and pulpy mixtures of cooked ingredients, again seasoned with fried mustard seeds, dal, and curry leaves. Chutneys in South India are usually made using the mortar pestle or Ammi Kallu, for the right texture and flavour.
Rakesh Anand, Executive Chef, Westin Hyderabad, agrees, “Podis and chutneys are very popular and an integral part of every South Indian meal, because of the sheer variety and intense flavours they offer. Every podi or chutney has its specific taste and compliments the main dish, perfectly.”
Unity in Diversity
Kandi podi and Beerakaya Pachadi in Andhra Pradesh, Milaga podi and Kollu Kadyal or horsegram chutney in Tamil Nadu, Chamannthi podi in Kerala. While these may be characteristic of each southern state, the ingredients of these chutneys and podis, are largely common, with minor variations.
Primarily, it is only the spice quotient and perhaps the combination and proportion of dals and lentils that differs in podis, thus introducing a variety in different parts of South India.
Podi and pachchidi (chutney) is the first course of any traditional Andhra meal unlike other regions, where it is usually sambar and rice. Podis from Andhra Pradesh tend to be more fiery.
The flaming hot kandi podi or gunpowder made from equal portions of tuhar, chana and moong dal with red chillies and cumin (jeera), is perhaps the most famous podi here, even though it is consumed elsewhere too. A must in every household, it sets the taste buds tingling. Gunpowder is typically eaten with rice and ghee. If it is paired with dosas and idlis, or even the green gram pesarattu, it is usually mixed with oil to temper the spice.
Nalla Karam Podi, another typical Andhra-style podi, similar to gunpowder, is made with tamarind, garlic, red chilies and urad dal. Roasted groundnuts or peanuts, dry red chilies, garlic and salt, with a distinctive smoky flavour make the Chennakai podi, while Nuvvulu podi is made with sesame seeds and dried red chilies.
If podis are palate-tickling, the chutneys of Andhra are equally legendary. Korivikaram chutney with curry leaf, tamarind and chillies ,is famous as is the crunchy peanut chutney.
Tantalisingly Tamil Nadu And, while a typical podi in Tamil Nadu is made from the combination of the various dals, peanuts, kopra (dried coconut), sugar, curry leaves, tamarind, dried red chillies and a pinch of asafoetida, other specialties of this state are – Kollu or Kaanam podi made with horse gram, a staple of Tamil Nadu; Flaxseed or Paruppu podi, made with tuhar dal and flaxseeds and Karivepillai podi made with curry leaves, tamarind, urad dal and chillies. Of course, here too gunpowder or milaga podi remains popular, served with idlis and ghee.
Coconut, a key ingredient here, is used to make a podi, to which only a few chilies are added. Endu Kobbari Podi or dry coconut spice mix powder, is another versatile coconut-based powder stocked in every kitchen. This podi has a strong nutty flavour with a subtle spice taste and a hint of sweetness, owing to the combination of lentils, dry red chillies, garlic and dry coconut, which are roasted in oil. Some seafood lovers add dried prawns to the repertoire of podis in Tamil Nadu to enhance the taste of dishes, especially during monsoons when fresh prawns are rare to find.
Who can eat a Tamil Brahmin meal and not savour the ubiquitous coconut chutney? Apart from a basic chutney with coconut, chana dal and a tempering of mustard seeds, curry leaves, other variants include coriander, tomatoes and even onions. Sometimes curd is added to a coconut chutney, to impart sourness and the right consistency.
Equally popular here are; the tasty Parangi kai or yellow pumpkin chutney which is commonly paired with Ragi Adai for breakfast, the unique gooseberry chutney called Nellikkai, which is relished with curd rice and the tomato chutney with Kanchipuram idli.
Chef Anand even recommends making chutneys with unusual ingredients like tender gourd leaves, black grapes, plums, dates, capsicum with garlic, star fruit, figs. Brinjal Gojju, is one such unique chutney and is eaten fresh with dosas or upma.
In Karnataka, the standard podi also called chutney pudi, requires urad dal, chana dal, tuhar dal, grated coconut, dried red chillies (Guntur and Byadgi), curry leaves, tamarind, jaggery, and salt. It is seasoned with mustard seeds and turmeric.
Here, tamarind and jaggery are added to podis instead of garlic and roasted peanuts, which are common in Tamil Nadu, informs Chef Jacob. Again, instead of hing, cinnamon powder and coconut form the combination for podis with lentils and other spices.
One cannot be in Karnataka and not taste Bisibele Bhat, a delicacy of this region, which can be prepared using the podi pre-mix and rice.
Typically, in Kerala, podis are made on the stone mortar and pestle, for the right texture.
While the Chammanthi podi or roasted coconut chutney powder, is synonymous with Kerala, Kothamali podi or coriander leaves podi with urad dal, red chillies, tamarind, is popular too. But it is the Avalos podi, made from roasted rice flour and grated coconut, that is unique to this region.
What sets the coconut chutney from Kerala apart, is the absence of the roasted gram that is used by the other southern states. Sour green mangoes are another popular ingredient for chutneys.
Thottu kootan, a simple chutney-like side dish which is a mixture of sour, sweet, and spicy flavours to offset the richness of a meat curry or to enhance the flavours of a lentil, is widely eaten. This can be made with tomatoes or green chillies, or even vegetables like okra and bitter gourd.
The delectable, sweet-sour Pulinji or bitter gourd chutney made from bitter gourd, tamarind and ginger, is a delicacy known for its distinct flavour.
It is not only for that extra zing or diverse flavours that podis or chutneys are eaten with a meal. As Chef Rakesh Anand says, these help in digestion and are quick supplements of protein too, since most of these use lentils in some form or the other.
Written by Mini Ribeiro