Vathakozhambu: The Sweet-Spicy Gravy To Eat With Curd Rice
Image Credit: Smitha Kalluraya

Vathakuzhambu – a delicious South Indian curry that is known for its tangy and spicy flavours is a staple side dish in Tamil Brahmin homes. This tamarind-based gravy is usually paired with curd-rice and roasted urad dal papad, and made with turkey berries (sundakkai) and sun-dried vegetables (also called vathals) like drumstick, eggplant or okra. Hailing from the district of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, where sun-drying vegetables during the summer is commonplace, the vathakuzhambu is essentially a pantry gravy that can be thrown together in a few minutes, but tastes best when eaten the next day, at room temperature.

The robustly spiced and tangy gravy has a consistency similar to that of a good sambar but has sweet undertones, which make it unique in flavour. It is said that the town of Srirangam, a town that is few kilometers from Thanjavur, is where the vathakuzhambu is celebrated in all its glory – with the kuzhambu from the town enjoying a popularity of its own. This kuzhambu also pairs wonderfully with dosas, idli and even appams as these rice dishes balance the spicy-tangy-sweet flavours well.


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  • 1 lemon-sized ball tamarind
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 2 dried red chilies
  • 7-10 curry leaves
  • ¼ cup baby shallots, peeled
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup eggplant, quartered
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon sambar powder
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • Salt to taste


  • Soak the tamarind in warm water for about 10 minutes and squeeze the tamarind pulp to extract the juice. Heat oil in a wide-bottomed pan and temper the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. Once it starts spluttering, add the dried red chilies and curry leaves.
  • Add the baby shallots and minced garlic to the pan and sauté until the onions turn translucent and lightly brown. Tip in the chopped tomatoes and cook until they become mushy.
  • Add the eggplant to the mixture in the pan and cook for a few minutes until the eggplant softens slightly. Add the spice powders and season with salt before mixing well.
  • Pour in the tamarind extract and stir well before you bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the vathakuzhambu simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the flavours have melded together. Adjust the consistency by adding water if needed but ensure that it remains thicker than your usual gravies.
  • Remove from the heat once done and serve it after letting it sit for at least 4-5 hours, with hot steamed rice or dosa for a complete meal.