Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Traditional Paruppu Usili with Kothavarangai (Cluster beans and dal curry)

You know the phrase “finger-lickin’ good”?  I think it applies perfectly to South Indian food.  My cuisine tastes best when eaten with your hand – so that at the end of your meal you can actually lick your fingers to show your appreciation of the meal.

I cannot understand how people who grew up eating with their hands, now eat rasam sadam, sambar sadam, or morkuzhambu with a spoon.  Where is the pleasure in that?  The best part of the whole experience is in slurping up the rasam before it drips down your palm towards your elbow :)

Sadly, my kids have not been exposed to this pleasure.  When they were young, I used to feed them rasam sadam (rasam rice), and by the time they were old enough to eat on their own, they felt eating with their hand messed it up too much.  They still use silverware to eat rasam rice or yogurt rice.  A couple of times, when we have been to weddings or other functions in India, they have been served a traditional meal on banana leaves – it was comical to watch them try and win the battle.

Most wedding or special function menus include payasam (kheer), sambar, rasam, morkuzhambu, couple of vegetables – one of which is typically paruppu usili, kootu or avial, thair pacchidi (raita), vadai, appalam, pickle,  kosumalli (salad), and some other sweet.  If there is morkuzhabu on the menu, you can almost guarantee that there will be paruppu usili to go with it.

Since I was making the traditional morkuzhambu for my husband, and had time, I decided to make paruppu usili too.  My Indian store gets veggies on Thursdays.  So I got vendaikkai (bhindi/okra) for the morkuzhambu and kothavarangai (cluster beans) for the paruppu usili.

I had posted a recipe earlier for paruppu usili using moongwadis.  This time, I made it the traditional way – soaking dal, grinding it, steaming it, and then making the dish.  It takes a little more time, but the taste in the end is totally worth it.


Here is what you need:

  • 1 cup toor dal, washed and soaked for about an hour
  • 4 – 6 red chilies
  • ¼ tsp. hing (asafetida)
  • salt to taste
  • 2 cups cluster beans, washed, trimmed, and chopped
  • 3 tsp. oil
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 red chili, broken
  • few curry leaves

Here is how I made it:

  1. Drain the water from the toor dal.  Grind it to a coarse paste with red chilies, hing, and salt, adding very little water.
  2. Distribute the ground paste onto idli plates or a steamer, and steam for about 7 – 8 minutes.  Alternatively, you can steam this in the microwave in a bowl, stirring occasionally, till the paste is crumbly.
  3. While this paste is steaming, place the cluster beans in a microwave safe bowl with enough salted water to cover the beans.  Microwave on high for about 8 minutes till the beans are cooked.  Drain and set aside.
  4. When the steamed paste has cooled a bit, crumble well with your hand, so that there are no big lumps.
  5. Heat oil in a pan.  Add mustard seeds and red chilies.
  6. When the mustard seeds sputter, ad the curry leaves.
  7. Add the dal paste and stir well.  Let this mixture cook on medium-low heat for a few minutes.
  8. When the dal looks dry and starts getting slightly crispy, add the cooked beans.
  9. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, adding salt if necessary.

Serve hot with morkuzhambu, rice, and rasam.


  1. I am not a usili fan at all... but I will try this out because Vinay loves it and I love your recipes! :)

    BTW, your "Shashi" Chole recipe was uh-mazing!! I can't believe you actually broke down a masala mix based solely on taste - you seem to be a really fantastic cook!

    1. Thanks Rathi! Try it out and tell me how it comes. Or better yet, you, Vinay and Partha can come over for a visit, and I can make it. :)


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