Kali and thalagam are a unique combination in Tamil Brahmin cuisine. Kali is a kind of jaggery sweetened upma and thalagam is a kind of sambhar made specially on this day of the year. Generally sambars are always had with rice or tiffin items like idlis and dosais. It is quite unusual that here a savoury thalagam is made to pair with the sweet Kali, something that brings to my mind the cliched phrase 'Opposites Attract'
The web portal Kerala Iyers gives a description about the Thiruvadirai ( Thiruvatharai / Thiruvadarai ) festival.
The celebration of this festival by Kerala Iyers is a mixture of the practice of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Early morning after the bath everybody tries to visit a Shiva temple. Afterwards 'Kali' a sweet made of Jaggery and fried rice powder is prepared. As a side dish (Kari) a very special preparation made out of Kavittu (Dioscorea yam), pumpkin and Averaikai (lab lab beans) is made. This is the only occasion when a salty side dish is prepared for a sweet. In Kerala homes Kali is made out of Arrowroot powder and Jaggery. In Tamil Iyer homes the side dish is similar to the usual Sambhar with large number of vegetables. They insist that a few of these vegetables must be tubers and a few born on tendrils. They call this preparation Thalagam. The chanting of Thiruvembavai common in Tamil Nadu is not observed in Kerala. In the afternoons swings made of split bamboo are hung in trees and all the children enjoy the swift swing. This practice is absent in Tamil Nadu.
Though we are not Kerala Iyers, my mother's family make thalagam as per the description above. Fresh winter vegetables like red carrots and Haricot beans along with red pumpkin, colocassia tubers, sweet potatoes and even plantains are cut into large chunks, cooked till soft and simmered in a freshly ground gravy - consisting of mainly red chillies, sesame seeds, coconut and a bit of rice and udad dal. Tamarind is used to give the tanginess and a bit of jaggery to balance it all out. The result is a thick vegetable stew, without the use of any cooked lentils for thickening as is always the case in sambar.
I have blogged about thalagam before, but I guess I have a more accurate recipe here, using the right kind of vegetables.
A traditional sweet rice and lentil preparation
The prepared recipe serves 4-5 people
To prepare the base
2 cups raw rice, washed several times in water, drained and dried off for an hour on a muslin cloth
3/4 cup moong dal (green gram dal, dehusked and split)
In a wok, place the rice and stir around on medium flame till it turns golden. This can take from 10-15 minutes.
After this is done, in the same wok, place the lentils and saute them till they are golden brown too.
Remove both onto a large dish and cool off.
Once cooled, grind in a mixer till you get a coarse powder.
To prepare Kali
1 cup of prepared base powder
1 cup jaggery crushed
2 1/2 to 3 cups water
1/4 cup fresh scraped coconut
1.In a wok, place 2 1/2 cups water to boil, along with the coconut scrapings. Once it is ready to boil, add in the crushed jaggery and stir till melted.
2. After the jaggery has melted, slowly add the prepared base powder to this on a medium flame with constant stirring so that no lumps are formed.
3. Keep stirring this until all the water has been absorbed and it the consistency of upma. If it is too dry, you can gradually add upto 1/2 more cup of water during the process.
4. Once this is done, remove the entire contents of the wok into a vessel that will go into your steamer or pressure cooker. Steam for 10 minutes (if in cooker, remember not to place the weight).
5. Serve hot with some melted ghee as it is or with thalagam.
Spicy thick vegetable stew made on festive occasion - Thiruvadirai
Generously serves 6 people
Vegetables required and preparation
1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into 3/4" thick pieces
1 plantain, peeled and sliced into 3/4" thick pieces (kaccha kela / vazhaikkai)
6-8 small colocassia tubers (arbi / seppankizhanku)
1 medium sweet potato (ratthalu / seenikizhangu)
1/2 cup large dices of red pumpkin
10-15 haricot beans - stringed and snapped into half ( paapdi / avarakkai)
Peel the colocassia and sweet potato. If the colocassia are very small, then leave them as it is. Cut the sweet potatoes similar in size to the carrots and plantains.
Pressure cook the veggies in 2 cups water, with a pinch of turmeric and 1/2 tsp of salt for 5 minutes. (After the first whistle, reduce the flame to SIM and pressure cook for 5 minutes)
Soak 2 packed tablespoons of tamarind in water for 15 minutes OR Microwave this for a minute and keep aside to cool. Squeeze the tamarind to prepare a concentrated extract. Keep aside.
Preparing the spice paste
1/2 cup freshly scraped coconut
2 tbsp white sesame seeds
5 red chillies
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 heaped tbsp udad dal
1 tbsp raw rice
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1. In a small kadai / saucepan, heat a tsp of oil. To this, add the coconut scrapings and stir for 5-7 minutes, till it turns very fragrant and slightly golden. Remove onto a dish to cool.
2. Next, place the sesame seeds in the saucepan, and saute till they turn golden and start crackling. Takes about 30 seconds to a minute. Remove onto the dish with the sauteed coconut and let cool.
3. Heat a tsp of oil in the same pan, add the mustard and fenugreek seeds. Once mustard seeds splutter, add the red chillies, raw rice, udad dal and saute till the rice and dal turn golden brown. Remove from flame and let cool.
Take all the above and grind to a very fine paste in a mixer adding up to a cup of water. Keep aside.
In a large pan, transfer the pressure cooked veggies with the residual water. To this add the tamarind extract, the ground spice paste. Stir well to mix and bring to a simmer. Add a tsp of salt (or to taste) and a small piece of jaggery. Add some more water if you want to thin out the consistency. Check for salt and serve hot with kali or plain steamed rice. Don't forget to fry some appalams (Tamil papads)