'' Today the tovve is really good Amma!'' declares my ten year old son at the dinner table. Before I can smile a modest thank-you he promptly asks ''Ajji sent it right?''. I try not to sound like an indignant ten-year-old with a deflated ego and say ''No, I made it!''. His spontaneous 'Oh!'' in reply is hastily replaced with a placating ''Great job Amma, looks like you have a bit of Ajji's touch in your cooking today, what say?''. When you are a foodie, take not any chances and irk the cook. Specially if she happens to be the only cook around!!
These instances happen, though not very often in my home. Pitting 40 years of solid experience against 12 stumbling years of it - tough competition! But then I guess even when I graduate to having 40 years of experience, I will still think my mother's cooking had that extra bit of yumminess to it...
Guess being born a South Indian invariably brings with it the fondness for rice and all things coconut. From chutneys to payasams to simple everyday garnishes, coconut finds its way into most cooking. And when life hands us more coconut than we normally use, more often than not, it goes into Kobbari Tovve. Tovve is basically a lentils based dish either with or without vegetables, mostly without sambar powder in it. Needless to say, kobbari or coconut is the star ingredient in this dish. A spice mix made with roasted coriander seeds, cumin and fenugreek seeds add that subtle but very certainly there aroma and taste to the dish.
These spices are roasted and ground together and stored for a couple of months like sambar powder, rasam powder and the rest. But since everyone doesn't have this spice mix at home, I have made it using the three individually. The taste of the tovve is pretty much close to what my mother makes, though may not be exactly the same. If she lived closer by, probably I could have got each of these dishes made by her..sigh!
Spicy with the green chillies, subtle but flavorful and loaded with fresh coconut, it may not be entirely disappointing to try this. This makes about 4 1/4 cups of tovve, I would suggest to maintain the level of spices (the coriander, cumin and fenugreek) and alter the amount of the rest to suit your taste. This tastes good with good quality hing, generous amount of chillies and enough tamarind and jaggery to balance it out.
Toor dal - Pigeon pea Dal - 3/4 cup
Oil - 1 teaspoon
Fresh tomatoes (sour or plum), chopped - 1 cup
Turmeric powder - 1/4 teaspoon
Roasted coriander powder - 1 teaspoon
Roasted cumin powder - 3/4 teaspoon
Roasted methi / fenugreek powder - 1/8 teaspoon
Green chillies, 6-7 (or even more) - ground to a paste, smooth or coarse
Thick tamarind pulp - 1/4 cup (If using sour tomatoes, use less, say 3 tablespoons)
Grated jaggery - 3/4 tablespoon
Grated fresh coconut - 1 cup
Water - 1/2 cup if needed.
Salt to taste
For the tempering
Oil - 2 teaspoons
Mustard - 1 teaspoon
Hing, good quality - a good pinch
Curry leaves - a few
Pressure cook the dal with the turmeric and enough water till the lentils are well cooked and soft, but not completely mushy (this cooked dal will be about 3 cups and a little more) Set aside till the pressure drops completely. In a thick bottomed pan, heat a teaspoon of oil. Add a dash of hing, add the chopped tomatoes and a bit of salt. Cover with about 1/4 cup of water and cook covered till the tomatoes are very soft. Add the cooked dal, the spice powders, jaggery, tamarind pulp and the chilli paste. Add the coconut and salt to taste. The tovve is meant to be on the thicker side. Add about 1/2 cup of water if needed to adjust the consistency. Bring to a simmer, cook for about 10 minutes on low heat. Check and adjust the seasoning if needed. Turn off the heat.
Heat the remaining oil, add the mustard. Once it sputters, add the curry leaves and the hing, Pour over the dal and mix. Serve with hot rice, ghee and uppu hacchida menasinakayi (deep fried sun-dried stuffed chillies). I like the flavor best when it is warm (not hot), even better a few hours after its cooked.