Southern spice

June 2016

By Naini Setalvad

Naini Setalvad explores the healthy side of the succulent Andhra cuisine


My love for vegetarian Andhra cooking began when I ate Pedatha’s (Subhadra, daughter of our late president Dr. V. V Giri) food. Although Andhra food has a well deserved reputation for being fiery and spicy, it has many healthy components as well. For one thing, the cuisine makes liberal use of vegetables and lentils. The cooking medium is ghee and it uses coconut liberally, both good quality fats. The cuisine is also renowned for its range of chutneys, wet and dry, that aid digestion and well-being. The grain is basically rice with an occasional foray into ragi (finger millet), both of which are gluten free. Ragi is a good source of calcium, and over the years this grain is recommended for feeding mothers and children.

The daily Andhra vegetarian diet is very healthy. The breakfast is normally idli (steamed rice and lentil cakes) dosa (savoury rice and lentil crisp crepes), or pesarattu dosa (a thin savoury crispy crepe made of moong) served with sambhar, podi and coconut chutney, washed down with copious quantities of coffee.

Lunch and dinner usually consist of fluffy rice with a dash of ghee, accompanied by one or two side dishes like koora (vegetables) pulusu (dals and lentils with a liberal use of spices) the Andhra charu (rasam, a watery soup made from grams and tomatoes) accompanied by the panchadi (chutney) and the amazing podis (dry seed and lentil powders). The last course is usually curd rice and fried sun-dried chillies (the state is known for its red chillies). Pickles are also staple to this land of spice, particularly its avakai pickle, a fiery hot mango pickle that is a favourite among the Andhraites.

On special occasions there would be an additional rice preparation, as well as vepuda (roasted vegetables often made from brinjal, potato, lady finger or bitter gourd) which would be relatively healthy since they were roasted instead of fried. Unfortunately, they add a few crisps in the meal which can be easily avoided. Like any cuisine there are sweets like badam payasam (almond desert with gram, milk, nuts and saffron), and minapasunni (sweet gram balls with nuts). These can be made more nutritious by substituting jaggery for sugar, and partaking in small quantities occasionally .

How my mouth salivates with pleasure as I think of curry leaf, brinjal or carrot chutney. And how can I forget the sesame seed or curry leaf powder, which a typical vegetarian Andhra meal
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