March 6, 2013

Pulikaichal / Puliyodharai

Here it is! The "most wanted" recipe from a Brahmin's kitchen!

Pulikaichal, if literally translated, means boiled/condensed tamarind pulp and puliyodharai is pulikaichal mixed with rice. In a more elaborate sense, tamarind pulp is cooked with spices (like coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, dry red chillies etc) and thickened into a paste like consistency. Pulikaichal can then be used as a instant rice mix especially during the days when you are just too tired or plain lazy to cook. Works like a charm for lunch boxes & travel. With just chips/vadam on the side, puliyodharai makes a perfect picnic lunch.

Puliyodharai is so famous that south Indians consider it as a festival food, is given as prasadam in temples. Of all the varieties known, Iyengar puliyodharai tops the list and perumal kovil (Lord Vishnu temple) offers the best-tasting puliyodharai. The tanginess from tamarind & spiciness from the chillies strikes a perfect balance as it cures in gingelly oil and with the addition of crunchy peanuts, what's not to like in this 'divine' combo?!

This recipe here is my mom's and I am a big fan of her pulikaichal, especially when she makes it in kal-chatti (stone cooking-pot) - tastes out of the world! Don't be surprised with the recipe using less number of red chillies, you will still be able to achieve that spicy-tangy authentic taste.

Basic Info
Complexity - Medium
Prep time - 20 mins
Cook time - 30 mins
Serves - 1 cup

Tamarind - about the size of a lime
Water - 2.5 cups
Urid dal - 2 tsp
Channa dal - 2 tsp
Dry red chillies - 4 nos (broken into 2 halves)
Hing - 1 small piece
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Gingelly (Sesame) oil - 1/3 cup
Curry leaves - 8-10 nos
Peanuts - 1/4 cup
Salt - 1 tsp

To dry roast
Dry red chillies - 7 nos
Fenugreek seeds - 1/2 tbsp
Corainder seeds - 2 tbsp

Extract about 2.5 cups of tamarind juice and set aside. Refer Notes below to learn how to extract tamarind juice.

Roast peanuts in a tsp of oil until golden brown and set aside.

Meanwhile, dry roast all the ingredients under "To dry roast". Let it cool completely and grind it into a fine powder. Set aside.

Heat a tsp of gingelly oil in a deep saucepan preferably non-stick. To this, add mustard seeds and let them splutter, fry broken red chillies, urid dal & channa dal until golden brown. 

Add rest of the gingelly oil, and when the oil gets hot, add the tamarind juice extract, turmeric powder, hing and let it come to a boil. Be very careful when adding tamarind juice to hot oil, as the oil might splutter on your hands & face. After boiling on medium heat for 10 mins, add the ground spice powder, curry leaves, salt and stir to mix. 

Let the mixture boil (on medium heat) for another 20 mins and voila.. pulikaichal is ready! Can you see the mixture reduced down to 1/3 rd of the initial quantity in the pictures above & below?

Remove pulikaichal from heat, add roasted peanuts, mix well and let it cool.

Enjoy puliyodharai (pulikaichal mixed with rice) with chips/vadam on the side.

  • Note that pulikaichal might look a little runny when hot, but it thickens to a paste like consistency as it cools. 
  • Pulikaichal tastes great as it sits for a day or so - needs time for all the flavors to mingle. 
  • If you store pulikaichal in a air-tight container and use only dry spoons, it stays good for even more than a month.
  • Gingelly/Sesame oil is the key to get the right flavor, nothing else works. Also, be generous when it comes to oil for couple of reasons - oil helps to preserve pulikaichal for weeks together & gingelly oil is good for health.
  • Do not let the number of red chillies being added to bother you. You need them all to perfectly balance the tanginess from tamarind juice. After a week or so, you 'll see the spice level to even out and pulikaichal becoming less & less spicier. 
  • If needed, you can always add more salt when mixing puliyodharai. 
  • When mixing with rice, add more/less pulikaichal depending upon the spiciness you prefer.
  • Pulikaichal works best with fluffy, perfectly cooked rice.
  • Pulikaichal can also be used as a side (as pickle) for curd rice / idli / dosas.
How to extract tamarind juice
Heat about a cup of water and soak tamarind in it for atleast 15 mins. This is basically to soften the tamarind for easier handling.

After 15-20 mins of rest, 
- Squeeze the tamarind hard enough using your fingers to release its juice. 
- Now, strain the juice into a clean bowl. 
- Add half of the remaining water to the tamarind pulp and repeat the first step.
- Strain the juice into the same bowl used in step 2 above.
- Add rest of the water and repeat the first & second steps again.
- I used about 2.5 cups of water for this recipe that yielded about a cup of pulikaichal.

The basic idea is to extract as much juice as possible out of the pulp. Finally, discard all the membranes & seeds.


  1. OMG have you got my telepathy Sasi! Really I have been keep on wondering why you didn't post this item so far! You know I made Pulikaichal two days ago only!

    However I like reading your blog. I like the humor, incident and narration! And ofcourse I like your recipes too! Thumbs up to your blog always!!