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Tomato Pappu (Dal) & Raw Plantain Curry – A south Indian meal

I have talked a lot about south Indian cuisine on this blog. But somehow I have never talked about our daily meals, the way they are served and eaten. A typical meal at our place includes rice, a lentil dish (sambar or dal), a light soup (rasam) one or two vegetable dishes (one of them being greens), yogurt and pickles. If you noticed, it is a very balanced meal. There are days when we make all of the above, but with small families it is difficult to consume so much food. My mom used to follow this menu everyday when we were home, and she cooks so fast! It still takes me half a day to come up with the traditional fare! Nowadays, I go the whole nine yards only on special festival days, but everyday menu is at least one lentil dish (sambar, dal or rasam) and a vegetable side dish. And of course Venkat will refuse to eat if there is no pickle, and I don’t blame him. My MIL makes the most amazing mango pickle (avakkai) and we get our annual quota every year from her. No other pickle matches up to hers and now, I have happily joined the list of addicts :)

And when you have so many things to eat, how do you go about eating them? Don’t worry, we have a whole set of rules laid out for that!! If I may, I would call the south Indian meal as a four course meal. The meals are served on banana leaves and are always eaten using your hands. There is a particular order in which the dishes are served and they have unique positions on the leaf. For example, the sweet is always served on the bottom right. All the vegetable side dishes are served on the upper half of the leaf (each dish again has a specific position, but I don’t want to bore you with too many details!!). Rice is served in the center of the lower half. Ghee is compulsory for the first two courses. You should not start eating until all the dishes, rice and ghee have been served. Once the rice is served, the first course begins, sambar (a lentil, vegetable and coconut stew). Then as people are finishing the first course, more rice is served, followed by ghee and rasam ( tamarind, tomato and lentil soup). The next course is the most delicious one, the sweet course. Sweets are usually rice and milk/jaggery puddings. Then we finish the meal with rice and yogurt, accompanied by pickles. And you are so full by the end that you need help to get up and wash your hands. Most people need a nap after this meal, and the nap completes the delicious, delirious experience!!

Sounds like quite a process right?? But trust me, it is one of the most delicious experiences!! Though we don’t eat everyday meals like that anymore, this is how meals are served at weddings and special occasions. And I cherish each and every one of these meals! :) I am truly sorry that I do not have a photo of this meal :( Every time there is food like this I forget about everything else and start digging. I realize very late that maybe I should have taken a snap πŸ˜› But here’s a snap from my sister’s wedding to give you an idea!Β  The beautiful bride is my sis Arthi and next to her is my BIL Krishna. I tried to find a photo in which I was posing decently, but I am so brazenly eating that all my photos are outright ugly πŸ˜€ When you have such amazing food in front of you, would you care to pose for a photo? Not me πŸ˜€

This is a ritual where the bride and the groom feed each other. This is their first meal as a couple after the wedding!!

After all the talk about the traditional Tamil brahmin meal, I am going to give a recipe from Andhra and a curry which is purely tam-brahm! Andhra Pradesh is known for spicy food and they make such a variety of dals and chutneys!! I absolutely love the food from this state and after you try this dal, you will too!! The recipe is pretty straightforward. You may adjust the spice according to your taste. Use fresh, ripe and sour tomatoes for best taste. Of course you can use canned tomatoes, but you know fresh is always good! The plantain curry is a quintessential tam-brahm curry. You may follow the same process with many other vegetables, eggplants, potato, zucchini, dondakaya (tindora), carrots and cabbage. It is a very flavorful dry curry.


Toor Dal (Split pigeon peas or split peas or mung dal) – 1 1/2 cup
Tomatoes – 3 large (or 14oz can of crushed tomatoes)
Green chillies (Serrano peppers) – 3-4 no. (adjust according to your taste)
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp (optional)
Coriander powder – 2 tsp
Garlic (sliced) – 5-6 large cloves
Onion (chopped) – 1 small
Ginger (minced) – 1 tsp
Salt – to taste
Oil – 2 tsp
Cilantro (Coriander) leaves – 3-4 Tbsp

For tempering:

Oil/Ghee – 2 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Cumin seeds – 1 1/2 tsp
Garlic (sliced) – 2 large cloves
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Dried Red chillies – 2 no.


  • Cook the toor dal with the turmeric powder and enough water until very soft and mushy. I use a pressure cooker for this and it makes my life so much easier!
  • Heat oil in a saucepan/kadai and add in the chopped onions with a pinch of salt. Once the onions are translucent, add in the ginger, garlic and green chillies and saute for 2-3 minutes, until the raw smell of ginger and garlic goes away.
  • Then add the red chilli powder and coriander powder and saute for just a minute, until aromatic. Then mix in the chopped tomatoes and add salt to taste.Β  Cook until the tomatoes are mushy and cooked through.
  • Now add the cooked toor dal and water, as required to adjust the consistency. You may have the dal thick if you are serving it with roti/naan and slightly runny, if you are serving it with rice. I like to keep my dal pretty thick! Add salt to taste and bring the dal to a boil and simmer for 5-8 minutes until all the flavors come together.
  • In the meantime, heat 2 tsp of ghee/oil in a small pan for tempering. Add in the mustard seeds first, let them splutter. Then add in rest of the ingredients and saute until the garlic is slightly brown. Turn off the stove and immediately add into the simmering dal. Immediately cover the pot and turn off the stove. Wait for 5 minutes and then add the chopped cilantro and cover again.

Serve with rice or roti/naan.

South Indian Raw Plantain Curry


Raw Plantains (peeled and diced) – 2 large
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Tamarind paste – 1 tsp
Salt – to taste
Water – to boil the plantains

For Tempering:

Oil – 1 Tbsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Asafoetida (Hing) – 1/8 tsp
Curry leaves – 1-2 sprigs
Dry red chillies – 1-2 no.
Channa Dal (Bengal gram) – 1 Tbsp (optional)
Urad dal (Black Gram) – 2 tsp (optional)

For the podi (spice powder):

Coriander seeds – 2 Tbsp
Channa dal (Bengal gram) – 2 Tbsp
Urad Dal (split Black gram)- 2 tsp
Dry red chillies – 5-6 no. (or less, to your taste)
Coconut (grated, dry/fresh/frozen thawed) – 1/4 cup
Curry leaves – a few (optional)
Oil – 1 tsp


For the podi:

  • Heat 1 tsp of oil in a pan on low heat and add the dry red chillies, channa dal, urad dal, coriander seeds and curry leaves. Roast for about a minute, then add in the coconut. Toast on low heat until the coconut is golden brown, about 5-8 minutes. This might take a little longer if you are using freshly grated coconut.
  • Cool to room temperature and grind into a coarse powder. Keep aside. If you want to save some for later, freeze the podi in an airtight container.

For the curry:

  • Peel the tough, fibrous skin off the plantains and dice them into about 1 inch cubes. Place the diced plantain in a saucepan and cover with water about 2-3 cups and add in salt to taste, turmeric powder and tamarind paste. Bring to a boil and cook on high heat until the plantains are cooked, but remain firm, about 12-15 minutes. They should not become mushy. Drain and keep aside.
  • In another pan, heat the oil on medium high heat. Add in the mustard seeds and them let them splutter. Add in the asafoetida, channa dal and urad dal if using, curry leaves and dry red chillies.
  • Saute for just a minute and add in the boiled plantains. Toss to mix everything together and add some more salt if required. Cook for 5-8 minutes on high heat until the plantains are slightly roasted. Then add in a couple of Tbsp of the podi and turn off the stove.

Serve as a side dish with rice.

And here is a pic of our complete meal –

You might also like:

Baingan Bharta – Roasted and Mashed Eggplant Curry

Keerai Kondakadalai Kozhambu (Chickpeas & Spinach in tamarind gravy)

Mushroom 65 – Fiery!!

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

20 Responses to Tomato Pappu (Dal) & Raw Plantain Curry – A south Indian meal

  • Priya says:


  • Tora says:

    Looks so delicious, I just want to eat it all really! Your sister is beautiful, thank you for sharing this. Yum, my mouth is watering!!!

  • What a beautiful post, Ambika…the pictures are gorgeous, so is the write-up.

    My first traditional south Indian meal at a friend’s wedding would have caused much merriment among the guests. After the banana leaves were laid out, everyone took a little water in their palm, sprinkled it over the leaf, wiped and shook it dry. I looked left and right and followed suit. So far so good. Next came the food. Not being accustomed to eating rasam and rice with the hand I asked for a spoon. The gentleman serving us and the guests next to me gave me amused looks. “No spoon”, I was told.

    I ate with the fingers, far slower than everyone else on the table. To match pace I took smaller helpings.

    After the meal was over and I was walking away from the table, I suddenly saw that everyone else had folded their used banana leaves in half! I rushed back to my seat to fix the faux pas. By then I was sure all eyes were on bumbling me.

    That was three years ago. There have been many south Indian wedding meals since then and now I go through them like a pro :) The food is delicious and, as you say, very balanced.

  • shailaja says:

    Tomato pappu ,aratikaya kura, avaakai super combination with ghee…..

  • Kavita says:

    Awesome post..loved the pics!!

  • Megha says:

    Wow !!! I am hungry now :):)

  • Ambika, this curry looks incredible! I love plantains. I usually make them when I make West India curry. Thanks for sharing, I’ll have to give this a try!

  • kankana says:

    Your sis is so pretty :)
    I love plain and simple meal like this one and the ‘balti’ is such a cute prop!! The husband loves raw plantain .. I make it in different way but have to try your version sometime!

  • Simple meals are always the best.. I havent really had an authentic south indian spread here. Time to fix that and attend a wedding in India!:)

  • vianney says:

    I would love one day to have a traditional Indian four course meal, how lovely. Your pics are amazing, really captures the flavors,color and traditon!

  • myfudo says:

    I have always been fascinated with Indian cuisine and Indian culture. I love the spicy and passionate mix of your flavors. Thanks for always giving us a glimpse of the Indian way of life.

  • I would love to eat like that every single day. But I love Indian food so much I fear that I would over indulge:) What a great tradition, the bride and groom. Thanks for sharing, everything looks amazing.

  • shanthi says:

    Perfectly made and awesome clicks

  • notyet100 says:

    Luv tha t platter,..

  • With that food on my platter, I would definitely feel like being in heaven :-)

  • Anda says:

    I am very intimidated by all this, Ambika. I am planning to travel to India in the near future and I think I have to take courses on etiquette, otherwise I’ll look like an uncivilized ape…
    I think that Indian wedding rituals are so charged with symbolism and beautiful. Your sister’s picture is very moving, thanks for sharing.

  • Anda says:

    Hi again :) I will be going to Mysore to study yoga and after that I’m not sure but maybe to Kerala. I plan to travel to India more than once after I finish my studies. Talking about weddings, though – we do wedding photography and we have an Indian wedding coming up this month. I will be shooting most of it, so not much eating involved there but I know that one day I’ll have to face eating a formal Indian dinner. Anyway, the food is divine so I can’t say I’m avoiding it :))

  • Really nice spread and your wedding pic looks so adorable. Nice clicks and I love the pic of the balti!


  • keertthana says:

    Very nice pictures and looks very yummy

  • shifa says:

    Hai mam…tried out this recipe..came out really well..everyone in our family likes a lot..kudos to u…

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