Hyderabad is home to several cuisines. There is the popular Hyderabadi cuisine—food inspired from the kitchen of the Nizam of Hyderabad. The unparalleled Hyderabadi Biryani or rich Haleem or the flavourful broth Nihari are part of this cuisine. Then, the three regions—Coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema and Telangana have distinct cuisines. Pachi Pulusu (Tempered tamarind water) and Gongura Mamsam (mutton cooked with sorrel leaves) and Kodi pulusu (country chicken curry) are some of the star dishes from the Telangana cuisine which has an affinity for non-vegetarian food, so much so that meats can be eaten for all meals of the day and many locals dry and preserve meat too. On the other hand, the kitchens of Andhra linger with the aroma of Pulihora (tamarind rice) and Gutti Vankaya Kura (Andhra eggplant curry).
All these regional cuisines have built their characteristics from the local produce and borrowed some traits from neighbouring states. Food is cooked in sunflower or groundnut oil as it is locally grown and pressed. So is the use of curry leaves—abundant in tempering. Talking more about the cuisines, Chitra Reddy of the popular Hyderabad-based restaurant Rayalaseema Ruchulu, elaborates, “All three regions—Coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema and Telangana—have distinctive cuisines yet there seems to be some harmony. The semi-arid Telangana state region has a proximity to Maharashtra and Karnataka, and is a millet-growing region and, so you will find breads made of this grain. Rice is predominant in well-irrigated and largely coastal Andhra, and it is also the leading producer of the red Guntur chilli. The Rayalaseema region grows ragi abundantly and its own chillies.” Elaborating upon the similarities between the cuisines, Janardhan Kasa of Kitchens of Godavari from Hyderabad, said, “The use of tamarind, Gongura and Guntur chilli is common to both Andhra and Telangana cuisine. The Guntur chilli exudes a gorgeous colour to dishes, besides a sharp, pungent taste. The spice quotient varies depending on the area that the chilli is grown in.”
Gongura or Sorrel Leaves and Guntur Chillies
Gongura or sorrel leaves are innate to both Andhra and Telangana delicacies. These are widely used in preparing some of the most delightful pickles, chutneys and curries, many with meats. In fact, during our Thali tasting trail across India for the TV show Utsav—Thalis of India, we noticed that a Gongura chutney found a place in both the Telangana and Andhra Thalis. Read on for the recipe. *
When it comes to souring agents, while raw mango and lemon are used, tamarind is a mainstay. “Tamarind is largely used in curries or Kuras. The Bachali Kura (spinach curry cooked in tamarind paste) and Pachi Pulusu (Tempered tamarind water) are popular in Telangana, while the Pulihora (tamarind rice) is popular in Andhra cuisine,” says Reddy.
Fire and the extinguishers
It’s no secret that the food from this region is spicy. But Janardhan and Reddy point out that there are several fire extinguishers in both Andhra and Telangana thalis. “We end our meal with curd rice or a sweet, or fruits like a banana to cut the spice. And finally, there is buttermilk that balances out the chillies. Else, there are drinks that you can sip on during your meal to douse the fire. The Pachi Pulusu (tamarind water) and Panakkam (jaggery and crushed pepper concoction, which is especially served during Sri Ram Navami) are popular accompanying drinks,” Janardhan points out. He further reasons, “You can also bite into one of the desserts before or during the meal. Infact, if the thali is prepared for a special occasion, it is customary to start with something sweet.” The Bellam Garelu (doughnut-like crunchy jaggery vada that is dunked in sweet syrup) and the Puranpoli-like Bobatlu are beloved desserts.
Reddy, too, feels that there are enough sweet and sour delicacies on the thali that balance the spice. “A sarbath made of Nannari roots and bael fruit is a natural coolant for the body, especially the stomach. There’s also the nutritious Ragi Mudde (bland and soft ragi balls) that will also serve the purpose,” justifies Reddy. Perugu Pacchadi (curd and onion raita), Pappu (Dal with no spices, just ghee), and the ingenious sweet Pootharekulu, made with multiple paper-thin layers of rice flour sheets, are other elements from the thali that stands tall against the piquant Guntur chilli.
4 cups of Gongura leaves
1 tbsp Groundnut or sunflower oil
2 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp mustard seeds
½ cup channa or urad daal
Salt to taste
1. Wash the Gongura leaves well. Drain the water.
2. In a frying pan, heat oil. Then, throw in the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, green chillies.
3. Follow this up with the pre-soaked daal. Toss in the Gongura leaves.
4. Sprinkle some salt to taste. Give it a good stir and cover the pan with a lid. Allow to cook lightly for 5 minutes. Keep checking as Gongura cooks quickly.
5. Take it off the gas and allow it to cool down. Then, crush it with a hand pestle or give it one quick churn in a mixer. The chutney will pair beautifully with just about anything.
Images courtesy: Shutterstock and Joyoti Mahanta