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 would be incomplete without? I must add that it is also great for health.
One of my favourite Andhra vegetarian dishes is the thotakoora koora (leafy vegetable). A unique combination of greens and roasted grams, this dish is high in proteins, calcium, iron and fibre.
A must try is the aratidhoota koora (banana stem vegetable), a side dish with a dash of sesame. I also love the beerakaya pesarapappu (green grams with ridge gourd) and chintha chiguru pappu (dal with brinjal and tender tamarind leaves). Also try the vankaya vepudu (brinjal roast). The cuisine also infuses many of their rices with veggies, herbs and spices. A must-try is the raw mango rice (mamidikaya anmam), the tangy tamarind rice (pulihora) which, according to Pedatha, stays fresh up to two days and needs no reheating.
One cannot write about Andhra food without including the rich flavours and textures of Hyderabad’s Mughlai food, famous around the world. The cuisine has its roots in Persia and Afghan due to the political alliances struck by the rulers through marriages with the princesses from those regions. Traces of Arabic, Turkish and Mughlai flavours are part of the Hyderabad cuisine.
The Hyderabadi dum pukht cooking (sealing the vessel with dough and simmering the ingredients over a slow flame for a long period) is renowned. Large cauldrons filled with rice, meat, vegetables and spices, are sealed with dough, and simmered on a low flame to make a simple, one-dish meal.
As a vegetarian I favour mirch ka salan (chilli and peanut curry) baghare baigan (stuffed brinjal with coconut and peanut), the thickened yoghurt raita with chillis, onion and coriander, the khatti dal (lentils cooked in a thin gravy with tamarind pulp, tomatoes, chilli and onions, and the tamate ki chutney (dry tomato chutney). I normally eat this last with plain rice. I would also opt for their masoor dal khichdi (lentil and rice preparation) as it is a very soothing meal by itself especially when accompanied by thickened yoghurt raita and a plate of kachumber (salad).
Of course I love the khubani ka meetha, one of the Nawabi recipes of a sweet originally made from dried apricots from Afghanistan.
On the whole, Andhra food is an explosion of flavours in the mouth, and a must-try for all gastronomic explorers.
Pedatha’s curry leaf chutney
Choose fresh tender leaves for this blend of nutrition and flavour
Curry leaves – 2 cups
Thick tamarind pulp – 3 tbsps
Jaggery (optional) – 1 tbsp
Oil – 4 tbsps
Salt to taste
The 1st tempering
Split black gram (husked) – 1 1/2 tbsps
Mustard seeds – 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Red chillies – 8-10 nicked at tail with stalks retained
Asafoetida powder or paste – 1 tsp
Coriander leaves – 1 cup, chopped roughly
The 2nd tempering
Split black gram (husked) – 1/2 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
Khubani ka meetha
100 grams of dried apricots (deseeded)
50 grams of dried figs
20 grams of almonds (peeled)
About the author: Naini Setalvad is a nutritionist, specialising in lifestyle and immunity disorders. Her foundation, Health For You, throws light on healthy food habits.
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