Discussion/cooking thread for Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from South India by Chandra Padmanabhan. I received Dakshin as a Christmas present. Now I'm going to post my cooking results here and I hope others will do the same!
The first thing I made is Mashed Potato Poriyal (Urulaikizhangu Podimas). It's a pretty simple dry curry dish. First you boil and mash a couple of potatoes. Then you cook urad dal, Bengal gram dal, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, red chili, asafoetida and curry leaves in a bit of oil. When the mustard seeds start popping, you add two halved green chilis and some minced ginger, followed by the mashed potatoes, grated coconut and turmeric (and salt). Finally, you add lemon juice and fresh cilantro. (I share Julia Child's opinion of cilantro, so I left that out).
I had chosen a potato dish to start with because, well, potatoes are delicious and they seem like a good, neutral ingredient for evaluating recipes. The first issue I ran into was that the book calls for "1 red chilli (chili pepper), halved." I really wasn't sure whether this should be fresh or dried; the book doesn't seem to specify this in any of its recipes. I went with fresh.
Plain boiled mashed potatoes aren't that inspiring to look at, so by the time I dumped them into the frying pan, I was starting to get dubious. The amount of oil in the pan seemed so small that I wasn't sure any flavors would carry. I was worried that I would basically just end up with bland mashed potatoes with bits of ginger in them. Although I like ginger, it's not my very favorite spice, and I tend to go for more savory dishes.
Happily, I was wrong. The dish is interesting and tasty, and the flavors are well-incorporated. The turmeric gives the potatoes a nice, bright yellow color. The most noticeable flavors are the lemon juice, ginger and coconut, so the poriyal is bright, tart and slightly sweet. It has just a bit of crunch from the dal and seeds. I'll definitely make it again, and I'm looking forward to eating it alongside other Indian recipes.