Vatha kozhumbu ~ A hot and sour South Indian curry from Tamilnadu

‘Vatha kozhumbu‘ and is a favourite amongst most Tamilians, with little variations from house to house.   It is hot and sour like its Chinese counterpart, but is not a soup exactly. It is part of a complete meal and is taken with rice like most South Indian sides.

Vatha kozhumbu is a colloquial term for ‘vatral kozhambu’.  Vatral meaning chips made of preserved vegetables.  Vegetables would be dried when in season and preserved for later use, and these would be used in making the curry or ‘kozhambu’.  But these days most vegetables seems to have crossed the seasonal barrier and are available all the year long.

My favourite vatha kozhumbu comes from one of my mother’s repertoire of recipes handed down by her mother, enriched by the culinary trends of her own generation.  I love it best made with shallots but I substitute red onions when shallots are not readily available.  The soup (for I do not know a better term) is very easy to make and pairs best with ‘thogayal’.

The parippu thogayal’s granular texture and ‘hummus-ey’ taste compliments the spicy and sour soup very well.  I am not sure whether you can handle vatha kozhumbu by itself – I certainly cannot! I have noticed that some of my friends add a touch of jaggery to impart a sweet-sour taste to the soup but you know how I am – I need to be clear about food.  I will have it either sweet or sour.  That leaves no room for jaggery.


Vatha kozhambu ~ Indian hot and sour soup

We often hear that Indian dishes can be very hard to photograph.  Well, this dish definitely had me in twists!  It doesn’t look great but smells divine.  It has no fancy garnish or great texture that will show up in your photographs, but I promise the dish will send your taste buds in a tizzy.  You will want more if you don’t forget to have some hot steamed rice, go generous on sesame oil, make a quick thogayal nearby.

I promise I will look the other way if you dip the tip of your index finger into the soup and lick your finger – smack!

Dish: Vatha kozhumbu ~ South Indian hot and sour soup with parippu thogayal (recipe follows below)

Yield: Serves about 1/2 a litre

Thick tamarind pulp – 1/4 cup
(Or pulp extracted from a golf sized ball of dark tamarind)
Shallots or red onions, roughly chopped – 1/2 cup
Sambar powder – 1.5tbsp.
Water – 1 cup + extra
Fine rice flour – 1tbsp.

Sesame oil (no other would do!) – 3-4 tbsps.
Mustard seeds – 1tsp.
Bengalgram dal / Chana dal – 1 tbsp.
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Dried red chillies, broken into two or three pieces – 2
Fenugreek seeds / Methidana – 1/8tsp.
Asafoetida / Hing – 1/8tsp.
Red chilli powder – to taste
Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp.

Heat oil to moderate. Splutter mustard seeds, followed by bengalgram lentils, dried red chillies, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds and asafoetida. Saute lightly till dal turns pink.

Add the chopped onions and saute till translucent. Add sambar powder, turmeric powder, chilli powder and saute further on low heat till the powder turns to a dark shade. Do not burn.

Add tamarind pulp diluted with half a cup of water. Cook till the raw smell of tamarind disappears, about ten minutes on low flame.

Dissolve the fine rice flour in one cup of water and add to the liquid. Cook till the soup thickens. If water is added, followed by rice flour, lumps will be formed, hence it is advised to dissolve the rice flour before adding to the soup. Adjust water to bring the liquid to the consistency of thin soup. Adjust salt levels according to taste. The soup is intended to taste sour and spicy.

To serve:
Serve on top of a ladle of hot, steamed rice with a tsp. of sesame oil. Thogayal on the side makes it just perfect.

Dish: Parippu thogayal
Yield: One bowlful

Split, husked, mung bean / moong dal – 1/2 cup
Fresh, grated coconut – 1/2 cup
Dried red chillies – 2 or to taste
Tamarind – 1/4 tsp. (if pulp) or 1/2 inch of dry tamarind
Water – To grind into a thick paste

Dry roast mung beans in a heavy skillet or wok, on low fire till pink and aromatic. Set aside to cool.

Grind to a paste using water sparingly – just enough to move the ingredients around. The consistency should be similar to that of hummus. Adjust salt and grind to a soft, almost-fine, but lightly grainy texture. You want a soft chutney but you want to retain some mouthfeel, so you do not want to grind it very coarse or very smooth.


Steamed rice, vatha kuzhambu and parippu thogayal

Bon appetit!

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Have your say

  1. harini, I have had this mutliple times at my tambram friends, its just plain delicious

  2. I agree about indian food beeing difficult to take pics.
    I love that last picture which makes me so so hungry.
    Next time when I am doing a indian dinner for guest I am trying this recipe.

  3. Harini, the addition of jaggery is usually to tone down the acidic effects of tamarind which forms the core ingredient for vatta kozhambu. I do realise that many people add a generous quantity that it renders a sweet taste, which I am also not fond of! Love the tempering of the red chilli and the karuveppila in the picture, that in itself is a feast to eyes.

  4. Latha, is that it? I did not think of the logical connection! Makes perfectly sensible addition now that you have clarified it. Thanks! Maybe I too will add a little next time.:)

  5. Tongue-tickling indeed! Delicious gravy. Love it with aloo fry and fluffy rice.

  6. It looks absolutely relish!!!!
    Dinner idea for tomorrow with kathrika curry!

  7. Anytime fav with rice

  8. Reading this post has made me crave for some tangy, spicy vathal kozhambu and curd rice. That’s my favourite combo. I am guilty of adding jaggery to my kozhambu….but only a tiny bit and it doesn’t make the kozhambu sweet at all.

  9. I am sure, Jayashree that jaggery must taste good! It is only my preference not to add jaggery.:) I read Latha’s reasoning and feel that I should try adding some next time!

  10. Really nice, looks delicious…

  11. Vatha kozhambu is perennial favorite in our house.I usually add Bombay channa instead of Bengal gram dhal or groundnuts.Tastes delicious.Love your recipes, especially the vegan ones.We are vegans, so am always on a lookout for interesting dishes.Have book marked your Lauki Kofta recipe.Maybe this week-end!

  12. Anu, what is ‘Bombay chana’? I am guessing that it could mean ‘pottukadalai’ or bhuja hua chana. Groundnuts sounds good.:) Thanks for the kind compliments. I am sure you will like the lauki kofta very much. Do let me know how it turns out!

  13. I still think it looks very pretty Harini, so you managed to make it look tasty and that is what matters, right? It does also look very spicy! Or is that just because I am seeing that pepper in the soup?

  14. Simone, thanks! I think probably I wanted the dish to look more ‘South Indian’ and I could not achieve that. Anyway, I did another setting today with the leftover dish and am happier with the results. At least enough to update the photograph here! Am glad that the dish looks tasty! Like you said, that was the aim.:) Oh yes! It is very spicy. You have to have some rice to go with it or you might end up drinking bottles of water. Mine is relatively less spicy!

  15. Lovely pics Harini, as usual! I like Vatha Kozhumbu a lot. It is the best thing when you are suffering from Sinus or sore throat 😉 I will be making it soon again 🙂

  16. Down south, Black whole channa(Konda Kadalai) is called Bombay Channa, to differentiate it from Kabuli channa.We dont need to soak it to use it in Vatha Kuzhambu.After frying it well along with the seasoning, it cooks pretty well in the tamarind sauce.

  17. I’m a Tanjore Tambram married to a Palakkad guy. I’ve always enjoyed spices – and like you, I’ve never adjusted myself to mixing sweet and savoury in a single dish – UNTIL I married this guy that I’ve grown to love cooking for! It is rather unusual to come across a Palakkad Tambram who doesn’t quite dig jaggery in savoury dishes, and I’m saying this is in a surprised and good way 🙂 I must tell you, I began acquiring a taste for the slightly sweetish Mambazha Pulisseri, or the somewhat sweet-tangy-savoury-soft notes of bitter-spicy Vendekka Pachadi, which the old me wouldn’t have considered even sniffing. But I’ve grown to love that flavour where you can bring all notes in one dish and make it a gastronomically pleasing experience… And I must tell you, coming from a spice aficionado like me, that’s something 🙂 To be fair, my husband has now a very impressive threshold for spice which he never could tolerate before. The pendulum swings both ways, eh!

  18. Rums, good for you, finding someone you love cooking for. 🙂 I have traveled a lot so maybe I am just influenced equally be other cuisines also. I love the way you have written how much you love the flavours of pachadi and pulisseri. Sounds musical. 🙂 Your husband is a lucky man!

  19. I made your Vatha kozambu after close to 2 years of not having eaten it (I’ve always felt my S. Indian cooking was not up to par)– and my Filipina helper lapped a fair share of it up!
    Made your tohail as well today. Delicious!

  20. Thanks! Glad for both you and your helper. 🙂

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