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Wine & Dine

Getting dishy with it


Off with pumpkin, in with peppers. Give the staid pachadi a makeover.

Until recently the pachadi was, for me, just a tart accompaniment to the south Indian daal variant, molagootal (moong daal with vegetables, usually the water-rich ones). Classically the sourness of the pachadi comes from either tamarind or yoghurt. Vegetables cooked al dente are steeped in this sour base.

To my mind, the pachadi is a tangy conspiracy that camouflages the vegetables that go into the pachadi: white and yellow pumpkin, bitter gourd, doodhi and other watery vegetables that are rarely favourites. The only respectable vegetable to make it to the pachadi is bhindi, which works both in the tamarind and the yoghurt variant.

The pachadi has, of late, found a saviour in my father. He has set out to rehabilitate the pachadi, a most unglamorous item that would never make it to Master Chef in whatever form. In the last few months, my father has been doing unmentionable things to the pachadi, at least from a purist point of view. Sometimes he throws in grated carrots, radish or cucumber and a grilled and pureed tomato. Often, spinach makes it to the thayir pachadi (the yoghurt-based one), sometimes amaranth leaves, drumstick leaves or ajwain leaves. Sometimes I find brinjals cavorting with tomatoes in the pachadi, raw papayas are grated and elevated by tamarind, onions are often roasted whole to go into a tomato pachadi. When he is in a good mood, one might find a whole grilled tomato bobbing in the pachadi, waiting to be excavated and plunged into. Sometimes there are herbs, chilli flakes, a garnish of basil in the thayir pachadi. He keeps notes in a secret book whose location no one knows and every morning it makes an appearance as my father plots his daily pachadi.

To be sure, there's nothing wrong with the original avatar of the pachadi. It's tasty and can elevate any vegetable. It makes bitter gourd and banana pseudostem more palatable, it lends character to the white pumpkin, gravitas to raw tomatoes and redeems papaya. When mangoes and pineapples are in season, they make it to the pachadi too.

Its body comprises ground coconut, mustard, chilli, jeera and, on occasion, ground marinated raw mango or gooseberry. This variant - arachukalki - looks like a chutney. Only with a lot more pizzaz. And with a tempering of mustard, asafoetida and curry leaves to round it off, it is ready to elevate a somewhat bland rice-based main course. Or act as a delectable gravy for chapatis. I frequently dunk my idlis and dosas in them.

Before my father introduced us to the magical world of the reinvented pachadi, it looked like a sambhar without substance (the tamarind version) or a raita minus sex appeal (the yoghurt variant). Suddenly one day, I noticed that the pachadi had yellow and red bits sticking out. Naturally, I assumed they were pieces of tomato and yellow pumpkin when my father asked me to guess what they were. As it turns out, they were red and yellow peppers. The pachadi had finally arrived, at least in our household. What next? Broccoli? Mushroom? Who knows?

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