Kuzhambu is a generic thick, sour gravy in Tamil cuisine, meant to be eaten with rice or as a side for idli/dosai/pongal/etc. It is generally made with a tamarind base, although it can also have buttermilk/yogurt as base. It is not the same as sambar, although the base stock is tamarind for both. Kuzhambu may or may not have dal (paruppu/lentils) whereas sambar will always have dal along with the tamarind stock. Both may have vegetables. Sambar is generally slightly thinner than kuzhambu. This recipe is one of those which is by definition hot and spicy – “kaaram” means hot (red chili hot). Kuzhambu means a thick slurry/gravy. The stars of this recipe are shallots, garlic, and lots and lots of curry leaves (kariveppilai). The flavor is enhanced by using virgin, cold pressed nallennai (unfiltered sesame oil).
This recipe was taught to me by my husband’s cousin, Indu, who is a fabulous cook. The title “pagarkai gojju” means Bittergourd Gravy. Bitter gourd, or as its sometimes called, bitter melon, is a green vegetable that is very bitter and is used extensively in Indian cuisine. Gojju is a Kannada term for a spiced gravy that typically incorporates sour, pungent, heat, and sweet tastes. Add to it the bitter taste of the gourd, and this dish truly tickles every inch of the palate. The sourness comes from the tamarind, the heat from the red chilies, and the sweet comes from jaggery/gud/vellam/brown sugar or raw, unrefined sugar. This dish is my husband’s favorite and is a real adventure in your mouth. On to the recipe now.