It is a common practice in most parts of the world to preserve bountiful seasonal fruits and vegetables by freeze-drying them in a freezer for the household use. But on the contrary Indians preserve them by drying under the sun as it shines here for most of the year. Sun-dried (dehydrated) products have been used here for both culinary and medicinal purposes for over 1000 years. Even the medicines recommended by Ayurveda, Siddha, or other Indian medicine systems have been traditionally formulated by sun-dried herbs or fresh herbs; fresh herbs are mainly used for external applications, or for making decoctions, etc., whereas dried herbs are used for making powders and tablets.
We normally dehydrate vegetables like cluster beans (kothavarangai), bitter gourd (pavakkai), broad beans (avarakai), ladies finger (vendakkai), lotus stem (thamarai thandu), berries like turkey berry (sundakkai) & black nightshade berries (manathakkali), fruits like mangoes, citrus fruits, etc. by drying them under the sun. The vegetables that are pungent used to be soaked in sour curd (yoghurt) to lighten their pungency and for other vegetables we just blanch them before dehydrating. We prepare delicious vatha kulambu, a traditional south Indian curry, using dehydrated vegetables, berries, or fruits and serve with rice as a simple yet satisfying lunch as shown below.
Benefits of sun-drying (dehydrating) fresh produces :
- We can preserve the seasonal produces with no added additives for a year or more when dried under the sun.
- Moisture in the fresh produces is completely evaporated when sun dried.
- Sun-dried products are safe to use as they are totally free from bacteria.
- Dehydrated vegetables are ready to use and there is no need to wash or chop them.
- If we keep stock of dehydrated vegetables, it will help us to manage during any untoward incidents like natural calamities for which our ancestors prepared themselves very well.
I have shown below how to dehydrate tiny black nightshade berries (manathakkali) at home. Home-made manathakkali vathal have a beautiful ghee-like aroma which I could barely notice in store-bought dehydrated berries. People living in cold countries may use dehydrator or oven to make vathal at home, now lets prepare vathal in the traditional method :
- Wash and dry these berries under the Sun for a day.
- Soak them in curd and set aside indoor for a day (salt may be needed to increase the shelf life).
- Take them out of the curd and spread out on a plate.
- Keep the plate under the sun for 2 days or until completely dried.
Now lets move on to the recipe for manathakkali vatha kulambu:
Time taken: 10 min
Yields: 250 ml
- Manathakkali vathal – 2 tbsp
- Tamarind – as desired (to be extracted in 400 ml water)
- Sesame oil – 2 tbsp
- Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
- Asafoetida powder – ¼ tsp
- Jaggery – as desired
- Curry leaves – 1 sprig
- Red chilli powder – 1 tbsp
- Coriander seeds powder – 1 tbsp
- Salt – ½ tsp
- Heat a pan with sesame oil in medium flame.
- Add mustard seeds into the hot oil.
- When they begin to crackle add manathakkali vathal.
- Fry them until fluffed up in low flame.
- Add curry leaves and fry for few seconds.
- Now prepare a thick solution with chilli powder & coriander seeds powder using little water and pour into the pan.
- Saute for few seconds until the raw smell disappeared.
- Pour tamarind extract (400 ml) into the pan and bring it to a boil in high flame.
- Allow it to simmer for few minutes.
- Add salt, asafoetida powder & jaggery.
- Bring it to a final boil.
- Remove from flame.
- Serve with piping hot rice, paruppu, kootu, poriyal, thayir and koozh vatral.
- If you use store-bought vathal, you may not require to add salt in kulambu as they are usually too salty.
- If you use maa-vathal (dried mango) in vatha kuzhambu, it may not be required to use tamarind extract.
- Instead of adding spice powders directly I have mixed them in water before adding into the pan to prevent them getting burnt.
- Sutta appalam shown in one of the above pictures was made by microwaving them for 30 seconds.