On how the monstrous zucchini got Tambrahm-ised

[Those who voted for me and got me into the final 6 Healthy Cooking Blogs, thank you! In the finals, my blog as of now is 5th. Feels kinda pointless asking to vote now as the better blogs lead by tons of votes, but if you've loved my work here, go ahead and vote for me. Directions here ]

My garden always surprises me. Which is why I like to take my morning tea up to my terrace garden, perch myself on one of the tiny stone benches and sharing that morning moment with the plants to the background music of the birds. While I try to get a few sips of my tea, a little fruit, a new flower and small shoot will beckon me to admire it. And I will go take a look at them while my tea sits on the bench going cold. Every morning, a new surprise, however little, that makes me smile and sets the mood for the rest of my day. It is an exercise in positivity. Many flowering plants that I assumed were dead, suddenly start showing signs of life as spring is round the corner. My lavender bushes, since 9 months didn't show one sign of flowering and I thought "Damn! The nursery fooled me with a non flowering variety!" And I was proved wrong when the prettiest lavender flowers bloomed this month. If there is a tiny bit of life left in the plant, come spring time and it will revive. What's more beautiful in life than hope, after all?

And then sometimes a garden makes you laugh out loud. Like this monstrously huge zucchini that had been hiding under the huge leaves for nearly a month, that had missed my keen scrutiny each morning only to be found by my driver a few days ago. He showed me this green thing nearly as big as a new born baby-and I shuddered! And then laughed so hard when I knew that it was indeed a zucchini that had hidden away from all prying eyes and grown so big~nearly 2.5 kilos.

Not to show off my (old) iPhone but to give you size perspective :)
This is after a third of the zucchini has been chopped off

I kept it on my table to admire it's beauty for the first 2 days, then it spent a few more days in the refrigerator. When other vegetables came in from the supermarket, this big fellow could no more occupy precious refrigerator real estate and he had to be brought out. 

The husband is not a big fan of zucchinis and though we had shared enough jokes about how big this sly vegetable had grown, his enthusiasm stopped there. When I was cutting it up this morning, he said, "Please, I don't want this for lunch." Since there are very few things he doesn't like, I usually indulge his whims, but this time, I just smiled and said "We will see."

Over the six years that I've been food blogging, I've seen several bloggers making Zucchini thogayal. But zucchini, in India, has always retailed at around Rs.100 a kilo. At that price, why on earth would I want to puree it to death in a blender. I wanted to see and enjoy this vegetable in salads, pasta and such. But thogayal, no way!

But when you have a 5 pounder zucchini sitting on your counter top, the thogayal did indeed seem like a good idea. And boy, did it taste good or what.

Zucchini Thogayal and Zucchini Curry (both recipes below)

For the uninitiated, thogayal or thuvaiyal is a Tambrahm style of converting mildly unpalatable vegetables (Chow-chow, pumpkins, ridge gourds, bottle gourds etc) into chutneys so Tambrahm uncles will mumble good things about the food even if they are eating some vegetable they don't like. Many blogs will say you can eat Thogayal on bread or with idli or dosai or chapathi or pasta or just about anything. I wont say they are lying. But there is only one way to really savour this. Hot rice, gingelly oil (yes, oil and NOT ghee) and thogayal and a roasted appalam on the side.

And the zucchini hating husband tasted some of it, hesitantly, after he had eaten beans curry-rice and rasam and said "Please keep some for me, I want to eat this for dinner."

I guess after this, I can well call this 5 pounder- 'Zucchini Iyer'.

2 medium sized green zucchinis 
1/4 cup scraped fresh or frozen coconut
a tiny piece of tamarind soaked in 2-3 tsp of water
2.5 tsp gingelly oil or any other cooking oil
2 tbsp + 1 tsp udad dal
4 medium dried red chillies
1/2-3/4 tsp salt
2 sprigs curry leaves
Fat pinch asafoetida
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 green chilli


  1. Chop the zucchini into medium sized cubes. No need to peel the skin.
  2. Heat 1/2 tsp oil in a pan. Add 2 tbsp udad dal and red chillies and saute on medium heat until the udad dal is golden brown. Remove onto a plate and cool for few minutes.
  3. Heat the remaining 1 tsp oil in same pan. On high heat, scald the chopped zucchini by tossing it around for a minute or so.
  4. Reduce the flame, add 1/4 cup water, pinch of salt, cover and cook till zucchini is tender and fully cooked.
  5. In small mixer-grind the fried udad dal-red chillies, soaked tamarind and coconut to coarse paste. To this add the cooled cooked zucchini, salt and scrape the sides of the mixer and grind to a paste. Remove this into a bowl.
  6. Heat 1-2 tsp oil in a tempering ladle or small kadai. Add pinch of asafoetida, mustard seeds, once they splutter, add curry leaves and udad dal. Wait for dal to turn golden and transfer the tempering over the thogayal.

Traditionally a lot more coconut is used, so you could use as much as your health consciousness permits.
If you know this one recipe, you will have at least one way to deal with most of the vegetables that the world at large considers boring.

Another way to Tambrahm-ise Zucchini : Zucchini Curry

A small clarification here. In Tambrahm cooking, a curry is not a gravy dish that Brits seem to love. It's a simply prepared dry saute with minimal spices and the star being the tempering. I pressure cooked this for a bit as it was a mature zucchini, if your's is tender, you can simply add it raw and cover and cook till done.

  1. Place 1.5 cups of zucchini pieces (small) in a container in a pressure cooker. Don't add water to zucchini. Pressure cook for one whistle. 
  2. In a kadai, heat 2 tsp oil. Add pinch of asafoetida, 2 dried red chillies, 1 tbsp udad dal, few curry leaves, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds and saute till udad dal is golden. 
  3. To this add the cooked (or raw) zucchini, pinch of turmeric (optional), salt and toss gently to coat with tempering, on a low flame.
  4. Add a bit of fresh coconut and it's ready to serve. Those who find this very bland can add 1-2 tsp of sambar powder or rasam powder towards the end and give it another toss.
See what people on Twitter have to say:


Aparna said...

Wow the tale of the humble zucchini had me captivated!! Lovely writing Nandita, looking forward to catching up with more of your writing in the next few days :).

I had tried something similar to the zucchini veggie preparation while in Germany for a few months, and missing our indian vegetables - it reminded me of podalangai a bit in the final flavour.

Srimathi said...

Congrats on making the final round. I was reading your post and it looks like you are giving up. I wanted to tell you not to. Maybe those who have not voted last round might vote this time. You have a big following so don't worry.

THe thogayal looks interesting. I am nervous to grind zucchini because I have had bitter ones who killed the whole chutney. Maybe I will try it next time.

Nandita said...

@Srimathi - Thanks for your wishes. It's not about giving up - the nomination itself got my blog a lot of visibility so I'm happy with that. As regards bitter zucchinis, it's always good to a cut a small piece and do a taste check before proceeding to do anything with it. That's what I do.

Aparna - It does come close to taste of Dudhi (sorakkai) or a Pooshnikkai. Thank you for your compliments. Hope to see you around!

Sarah said...

now that's an interesting way to make people eat veggies they dont like... its beans and ivy-gourd that people in my house, hate... but i would love to try this out with pumpkin... coz its usually too big to use up completely with just one dish

Sarah said...

Congratulations, btw...

Sumi said...

Lovely recipe.I regularly make peerkangai chutney,but never thought of zucchini the same, never thought of using it beyond my dhal..definitely a must try recipe:)

themustardseed said...

Loved your post. It reminded me of my terrace garden in India and it made me laugh to read about the over sized hidden zucchini! I have seen those too. Most of all I loved this recipe. It is new to me and sounds delicious. I will be trying it out.

My3 said...

AH! HA HA HA!! I am also always trying to come up with new recipes in summer for this very humble and fast growing vegetable. I make the poriyal and sometimes just slice it in half then lengthwise and toast it on the hot tava. Sprinkle some chaat masala and munch on it as a snack. I am a Kan-Brahm if that makes any sense though I grew up in Madras and can associate much more with TamBrahm food. Nice blog. Will check in often now that I know you exist :)

saffrontrail said...

I love your idea of toasting on tava. I usually shave ribbons with peeler, grill on stove top grill pan and toss into salads. Thanks for dropping by, hope to see you around.

Shilpa said...

Tried the thogayal ...was a big hit at my place:)... thanx for the recipe

ganga said...

will try to get a good zuchini soon and try this asap...i love the taste of zuchini... will now search ur blog for broccolli...

Sukanyaa14 said...

Am in awe with your scrumdelicious recipes..btw,,,wat is zucchini in tamil...:)

gautam said...

Dear Nandita,

Another way to deal with monster zukes, esp. if they are the Costata Romanesco variety [have you tried planting this?! Please do! ] suggested. But it might turn you into a Bangali Dakshinatya Vaidika, removing you from the i, iyer, iyengar hierarchy for all time; and you had just one step left to ascend to paradise and genuine pongal!  How sad! But you know the risks of associating with riff-raffs who sacrifice teeny baby goats with limpid eyes! So here goes:

coarsely grate the big zuke or use an efficient and large mandolin [ which, btw, is not a chubby Carnatic classical musician hailing from interesting Thanjavur villages, although if you can catch one to do the job, great.]

in neutral vegetable oil, e.g. peanut, pop some mustard seed [and a red chili pod if you must], and a bare hint of cumin and asafetida, and add zuke. Stir to heat. Add small qty. salt, to undersalt the mass, and a significant (huge) qty. of cane jaggery or sugar. This will make you a Bangali brahman from West Bengal, and remove your credentials as a respectable card-carrying member of the South!!

Much liquid will exude from the zuke, but you are NOT going to cook it into a mush, and nor are you going to overcook the veg. It must retain a bit of a crunch; hence, Costata is so great, even when very large. Seeds are nice to chew upon, too. Now you have two options: if you are going to use dry, shredded coconut, add it in the boiling liquid so that the dehydrated shreds  plump up nicely. If you are going to use fresh grated, then place those as a garnish thickly on top just before serving to retain their aroma and other qualities.

Then, you will need to put in some WONDRA flour [dry] or some POTATO starch [not cornstarch] in a little water to mop up some but not all of the abundant water that has come out of the zuke. A decent amount of gravy is necessary to eat with rice, which should be hot thai jasmine, or sitabhog, topped with real, pure desi cow ghee. And a freshly sliced green lime.

you may also wish to fry some plain dal vadis and coarsely crush them, and garnish the top of the dish with them, along with fresh grated coconut. It looks nice to have alternating sectors of brown crushed vadis and snow-white fresh coconut. Also, fried vadis thrown whole into the zukes effectively soak up the liquid and add a lot of taste since these are made of various dals and have hing mixed into them. I feel a little guilty nowadays suggesting this traditional touch, what with all the oil-consiousness going around. But in the Bangala language, the word Sneha, derived from the Sanskrit for "lipids, emollient" is the term ordinarly used for "affection"! "Snigdha" would be my description of this dish, and would be evocative Bangala, and do justice to careful preparation. Sweetness and low salt quotient is key to success, as well as all the little touches, including steaming rice kissed with cow ghee, and a touch of lime. My suggestion is not to put any red chili in the dish at all because we do not. Use a fresh green chili in your rice plate, if you must add a touch of piquancy.

Rain said...

Where did you buy lavender plants in Bangalore? I have been looking for a while, with no success.

Suren said...

Well, there's more things that you can make a thogaiyal with and more things you can eat it with. Zucchini sounds nice and posh.
But my personal favourite is the chow-chow peel thogaiyal with a dash of pernandai (I can't translate, can you?). It gets along famously with a ragi koozhu.
Said koozhu to be boiled, mixed with left-over rice and mixed with buttermilk.
Sundaikai vathal + chow-chow peel thogaiyal with ragi koozh makes a sub-20-rupee lunch for 'kendry broots' like me :)

n said...

Thanks so much. Made this for pongal and was awesome.

Shoba said...

What a lovely post Nandita...I loved the thogayal pics and I love thogayal in any form. Its an easy way to sneak in the veggies, and you dont actually realise its there! Will try them out soon! I grilled my zucchinis and used them as a base for mini pizzas!!! Cute right? I love this veggie as its nice cooked and nicer raw!


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