It’s almost impossible to imagine Asian cuisine without the fiery and aromatic flavor of ginger. It enhances the taste of sweet as well as savory dishes, not to mention, the added benefits we get from its anti-bacterial, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. I have been sipping cups of ginger tea for the past two days to relive my inflamed throat and severe headaches—a bad case of the flu. Such are the medicinal and healing properties of ginger. When used in cooking, ginger gives a distinctive flavor to dishes and inji puli is a great example.
Inji puli, also known as puli inji is certain parts of Kerala, is a signature flavor of the spice coast. This dish falls somewhere between a chutney, a curry and a relish. The combined flavors of ginger, tamarind and jaggery works brilliantly in this classic for a truly finger-licking experience. It is another essential item in the elaborate meal of the Onam festival, onasadhya.
The recipe is very simple to pull together. The sauce is prepared by frying the ginger in a bit of fat to awaken the flavor and infuse it with the lovely tang of tamarind and sweet taste of jaggery. The heat from the ginger and different forms of chilies—fresh, dried and powdered—adds zest to the sweet-tart sauce.
I remember enjoying this thodu curry, as we call it in Malayalam, a lot with biryani in my maternal grandparents house in Kochi. So, I usually serve this as a condiment with biryani instead of the date tamarind chutney, as the texture, color and taste is almost similar. The dish being intensely flavored, it pairs well with rice and other curried dishes and balances any flavors not already present in the meal. It is also believed to aid digestion.
On a final note, feel free to adjust the proportion of ingredients to suit your taste buds.
Ginger in Sweet Tamarind Sauce — Inji Puli
3 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 small green chilies, sliced
3 heaped teaspoons tamarind paste or tamarind pulp the size of 2 small lemons
1 ½ cup water
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon jaggery, smashed
1 ½ teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder
¾ teaspoon turmeric powder
pinch ground fenugreek
salt, to taste
3 tablespoon oil (preferably coconut for an authentic taste)
2 stalk curry leaves
2 dry red chilies
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
Soak the lemon sized tamarind pulp, if using, in 1 ½ cups warm water and strain though a sieve after 15 minutes. Else, dilute the tamarind paste in the water. Set aside.
In an earthen pot (monchatti), fry ginger and green chilies in 2 tablespoon oil over a gentle heat until the ginger is brown, about 4 minutes. Tip in turmeric powder, chili powder, asafetida, fenugreek powder and toss well for few seconds. Stir in the tamarind water and jaggery. Cook everything together, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is thick, pulpy and reduced by half. Add salt and adjust flavors, as needed.
In a small saucepan, splutter mustard seeds in 1 tablespoon oil. Then add curry leaves and dry red chilies and toss until crisp, about 30 seconds. Pour this over the sauce in the pan and mix well. Turn off heat, scrape into a steralized jar and leave to settle for an hour. Ideally, make this dish ahead of time so the flavors can develop. It tastes even more delicious after a day or two, trust me!
P.S. I’m enamored by the awards some of you have so thoughtfully passed over to me. Thanks a ton for your support people—you are adorable!