Southeast Asia is home to some of the best cuisines in the world, and the food is relatively simple to cook up at home. In this editorial series, we bring you video tutorials and recipes on how to cook some Southeast Asian food at home.
Most of the Indian food we get here in Malaysia is South Indian because early Indian settlers were predominantly from the south of India, including Tamil Nadu, as well as northern Sri Lanka. So the curries and varuvals that we all love so much are of the South Indian variety; they are packed with curry leaves, spices and generous amounts of coconut.
Here are six simple South Indian dishes that you can learn to cook – and will be able to after a quick trip to a local grocery store:
1. Lentil soup (dhal) with spinach
First up, keerai paruppu,or dal palak, depending on the dialect. This dish is one level up from the standard dhal curry you get with your roti canai in Indian restaurants here. Basically, this is dhal curry with spinach – which makes it just a little more special, and colourful.
You can find a written recipe at Archana’s Kitchen or watch the video tutorial below:
2. Mutton varuval / masala
You know that spicy chicken or mutton dish in Indian restaurants with lots of curry leaves and dried chilli that tastes and smells so good but you’re sure it’ll be too complicated to make at home? That’s varuval, a dish in which the meat is roasted with the spices and cooked until tender. Varuval is basically a dry curry, so the spices used would be similar to that of a normal curry – and it’s not too difficult to whip up at home either.
This recipe from Vidya’s Cooking uses mutton chops, but you can use any mutton you want, or even chicken if you prefer. Here’s a quick tutorial:
3. Chicken 65
The history of the name of this dish is still a mystery, although there are many theories floating around: one line of thinking postulates that the dish was originally made with chicken that’s 65 days old; another says that it was originally created at the Buhari Hotel in Chennai in 1965; and yet another claims the name comes from the use of 65 different spices.
Whichever it is, Chicken 65 is still a popular dish in many Indian restaurants in India and here in Malaysia. These would even make a great bar snack, Indian fried chicken paired with a beer – always a winning combination. Check out the tutorial from the A’s Cookbook YouTube channel:
4. Vegetable pakora
This one will definitely make a great tea time snack, or midnight snack, or bar snack… really, just a great all-day snack. Plus, it’s made with vegetables, so you can pretend that it’s healthy for you. Pakoras – or pakodas – are also highly customizable.
You can add chopped pieces of chicken, prawns, or squid into the batter to make it a meaty pakora or just make an onion pakora without the other vegetables, or even spinach pakora – the possibilities are endless. Here’s a tutorial from Hari Ghotra’s YouTube channel on how to make vegetable pakora:
5. Coconut candy
Indians do not hold back on sugar when it comes to their desserts. This particular treat is no exception. Coconut candy is something many Malaysians will remember from their childhood when attending weddings, as these were commonly handed out to guests as little door gifts.
Now, many Indian restaurants will sell these treats in small packets during Deepavali. Roti & Rice has an easy recipe you can follow to make these goodies at home:
6. Rice Pudding
This dessert is also known as Paal Payasam (paal means milk). This version is made with rice, but there are different versions from other parts of India that use vermicelli, sago or a combination of the two instead of rice – all called Payasam. It’s a sweet, milky end to a usually spicy Indian meal.
If you like, you can dress up a payasam by adding raisins and cashew nuts that have been fried in ghee into the payasam mixture once it’s cooked (I prefer sago payasam with fried cashews and raisins. How non-South Indian of me). For now, here’s a basic paal payasam tutorial video from Tarla Dalal:
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