Mathi Puli Molagu.
Sardines in a fiery red curry.
Kudampuli (scientific name: Garcinia cambogia) also known as Gambooge, Malabar Tamarind, Fish Tamarind etc is an essential ingredient in all the seafood loving kitchens in Central Kerala, the coastal South Indian state. As the name suggests (Puli = sour in Malayalam), the dried fruit is used as a souring agent in Kerala’s famous fish curries and other seafood preparations.
Once fully ripe, fruits are collected, cut in half, deseeded and are sun-dried for a day. The sun-dried fruit halves are smoked till black, and are rubbed with a mixture of salt and oil before transferring to earthenware pots and tightly sealed.
These will stay fresh for years. Before use, wash the pieces under running water quickly to remove any dust accumulated from the drying and smoking process, then soak these for 10 minutes in water. Kudampuli pieces are added along with the water in which it was soaked in to curries and it gives a delicious sour taste that is so unique.
Kudampuli is sometimes referred to as Kokum in some of the cookbooks from Kerala, so for the longest time I was under the assumption that Kokum and Kudampuli are the same. But Kokum (Garcinia indica) used in Marathi and Konkani cuisines is a different fruit, these two are not interchangeable in recipes.
1/2 kg Fresh Sardines
3-4 pieces Kudam puli (Gambooge)
For the Tempering,
4 tbsp Coconut oil
½ tsp Mustard seeds
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
4 pods of Garlic, halved & crushed
1” piece Ginger, thinly sliced & crushed
6 Sambar onions, thinly sliced
4 Green chillies, slit lenghtwise
1 tsp Coriander powder
2 ½ tbsp Red Chilly powder
A sprig of Curry leaves
2. Rinse and soak the kudampuli in water. Place it in a bowl of water & microwave for about a minute. Let it rest
3. Heat coconut oil in a Manchatti (eathern pot), splutter the mustards and then add the fenugreek seeds. Ensure that you do not over cook the fenugreek or else the curry will be really bitter. Take extreme care.
4. Fry the sambar onions, garlic and ginger pieces, green chillies and the curry leaves till the onions turn light brown.
5. Add the coriander and the chilly powder, blend them in oil for just 3 to 5 seconds taking care not to burn them.
6. At this point the oil should look watery and Bright Red along with the tempered ingredients. add around 1 ½ to 2 cups of water, immediately.
7. Add the puli whole and let it boil.
8. Add the fish pieces & Simmer the gravy for a few minutes till the fish pieces turn soft and the oil separates.
9. Garnish with a generous portion of fresh Curry Leaves & a sprinkle of Coconut oil.
10. The curry tastes better if prepared at least 4 to 6 hours before serving and the best ever is on the next day.