Saturday, September 8, 2007

Kongu Foods 1 - Kambu Dosai (Pearl Millet Dosai)

I have often referred to Kongu food in these pages and for many years now I have eaten these Kongu dishes pretty much every day but I have never consciously tried to find out what Kongu cuisine is all about. I set about trying to find out more and also employed the services of my dad in this quest. Here is the first installment of my analysis.

Where is Kongu Naadu?
The areas of Salem, Namakkal, Erode, Coimbatore, Karur districts in Western Tamil Nadu is what is referred to as the Kongu Naadu region. The people of this region speak Tamil with a very specific accent which is very respectful and it easily distinguishes people who belong to this region (for those who watch and are familiar with Tamil movies, actor Sathyaraj anyone). This is a region very well known for its hospitality and guaranteed no one leaves a Kongu home without a satisfying meal.

What exactly is Kongu Food
I don't know if there is something as specific as Kongu food but it is mostly about the foods that is common among the people of this region. The occupation of most Kongus was in one way or the other related to farming and dairy and hence fresh fruits and vegetables and milk readily available and most dishes incorporated them.

Any well balanced diet contains both Macro Nutrients which include Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins and Micro Nutrients which include Vitamins and Minerals. Almost all regional foods incorporate them into the diet by way of local ingredients available easily. Using local ingredients and supporting local farmers is hip now but it was a way of life not too long ago and it made perfect sense.

Cereals or grains
Best the other ingredients Kongu foods also included a lot of cereals. Foods made with cereals, (these are grains which are seeds of cereal plants) such as Ragi(Finger Millet), Cholam (maize) and Kambu(Pearl Millet) were common. These grains are rich in fibre and can be good alternatives to rice. My grandma talks of Kambu Saatham and Chola Saatham being common during her childhood. The love affair with rice and moving away from rotation crops which include most of the cereal grains have proved harmful to both the land and the humans. Besides overworking the lands and drawing on the ever scarce water resource has also added to the lack of diversity in the carbohydrates we consume.

Besides being suited to grow in semi arid regions, cereals are very close nutrition wise to rice and wheat and in most cases even better. These grains besides being gluten free also don't have the high glucose content of rice and are also richer in vitamins and minerals compared to rice. I am surprise at why they lost popularity as as a staple. They could be eaten cooked and also used in dosais and paniyarams. Due to their abundant protein and are a main source of energy and protein for vegetarians and dad says it is described as "poorman's meat". This might not be valid anymore as more and more it is the rich man after his ultra rich fatty glucosy diet has been advised by his doctor to switch to a more appropriate diet which includes more of these cereals.

I will attempt to recreate some dishes which are popular and common today and some that are not so common. I have probably touched on the most common ones already, I will attempt to find ones that are mostly forgotten.

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Kambu Dosai
I had bajra flour left over after my experiment with making bajra roti, the slight bitter taste of the bajra made the roti unpalatable and did not know how to make them correctly. In one of my pantry cleaning sprees I was getting ready to toss it into the trash but MIL stopped me suggesting we make dosai with the flour. And boy was I glad that she did. The dosai was absolutely delicious. It should only taste so much better with some whole Kambu.

For the batter
1. 1 Cup Kambu/Bajra (1 1/4 Cup Bajra flour)
2. 1/4 Cup rice
3. 1/8 Cup Urad Dal
Soak the above overnight
4. 1/2 Medium Red Onion
5. 1 tsp cumin seeds
6. Curry leaves
7. 3 Red Chillies
8. pinch asfotetida
9. Salt

Add the first 3 to the grinder/blender and when it is halfway blended add the rest of the ingredients and blend to a consistency of dosai batter, smooth but not too watery. If using the bajra flour add it right after 2 and 3 are blended.

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1. Heat a dosai pan or griddle and when hot add ladle full of batter and spread it around as a circle. It should not be thick.
2. Add oil on the edges
3. When cooked, flip and cook on the other side.

Serve with chutney of choice, usually a mild one because the dosai is on the spicy side. Coconut chutney goes well. We had it with some sweet pepper chutney. Mildly sweet it went well with the dosai.


  1. Indo, after your 'kambu saadam' and your helpful tips, I got a packet of kambu and still too chicken to try it.. I don't have a 'muram' and wondering how to 'pudaikaradhu'. :) I think if I am still chicken to try it in the next 2 weeks, I might take it backhome (here we come!) and try it there... (Amma is going to fall in fits of laughter when she sees me bring a packet of kambu from Canada! LOL)

  2. Indo, I enjoyed this post very much. I learnt something new. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I am liking this Kongu naadu peeps! I always thought spoken Tamil is different from movie Tamil, never understood when Madrasi Tamilians spoke but understand movie Tamil perfectly.Now I know why!!!:D
    You should have posted this for Tamil RCI. Cumbu Dosa, north Karnatakites make it as Jolada dose,healthy and beautiful color.Looks yum!:))
    Bye to Kongunaad girl from Karunaad girl!! Beautiful ,huh? I LOVE blogging!! HeHe!! Bring on a Karunaadu dish too, will ya!;D

  4. HAven't ever cooked anything using bajra before. Didn't know that we could make dosa with it. Thank you for sharing.

  5. LOL :) Sure she will Kay, but try this dosa maybe you don't have to pudaichufy, it might be pre husked I am sure if you bought it in a packet here.

    Cynthia you are welcome. I learn a lot from your posts, besides teaching me delicious stuff they make me more aware about the diversity of the Caribbean cuisine. This is a tiny contribution from me.

    Asha, each region has its own dialect, Madras colloquial street it lets call extreme Tamil, the movie Tamil is probably more mainstream. I have to buck up and bring a Karunaadu dish for your party for sure.

    Jayashree, it is nice to see you back! Bajra is slowly gaining popularity again, give it a try, it truly is tasty.

  6. wish i could be a guest at a kongu house.:) it was really good to read abt a region i am not familar abt.. this is the best part of a food blog. nicerecipe with bajra. usually i make methi thepla with the bajra flour.then it doesn't taste as bitter.

  7. wow thats a great touch with the bajra. i have a lot never thought of dosa. now i can try the dosa its looks real crisp:)

  8. wow that dosai looks amazing and crunchy, hope it is? never heard of bajra ka dosa and will def tr this... thank u for letting us know about the kongu naadu people...

  9. That was a very informative post, makes me aware that being in India all these years how little I know about most states.

    The dosa looks yumm

  10. lovely and crispy dosa :)

  11. I have never heard of this before, certainly looks delicious ISG. Also BTW, we tried the pepper rice, was delicious. Thanks :)

  12. wow, that was quite informative..and the dosa is looking great too:) thanks for sharing!

  13. Nice post Indo. I'm from kongu Naadu too. Keep posting these healthy dishes. Thanks for sharing so much of info.

  14. Hi ISG, just got to see this post today - bajra flour was the millet right? The dosa looks delicious with that pretty colored chutney. Very interesting reading and learning about Kongu Naadu and its cuisine from you and your dad... thanks for sharing that! :)

  15. my parents live in salem and I was introduced to cambu dosai, arisi paruppu sadam, kollu rasam only in salem...

  16. That was a very good post ISG. I am from kongu-naadu. You seem to have covered most of the dishes, like gongura chutney/kadanjadhu(mashed), kambu saadam, kollu rasam etc. I know one dish, which is called 'thalai rasam'('thalai' means leaves actually which is how it is spoken in deep villages where I come from). In villages of salem districts(like Rasipuram and the surroundings),this rasam is very famous, and it goes well with kambu rice/ cholam rice.
    I don't think you will get the ingredients in the US to make it, you can check with your home about getting a pack of dried-powder of these leaves, and use it in normal rasam.
    It consists of using 2-3 varieties of leaves from some creepers that grow in the village side. Sorry, I donot know the english names for those leaves, I know only the tamil names. My granny used to roast a bunch of these leaves, with red-chilli, pepper, jeera, garlic and some poppy seeds and mix it with tamarind and boil, you have the rasam. It is very tasty & spicy, she suggests me to just drink a cup of it when u have cold or something.
    I will try to get more info on that.

  17. Hi Indo,
    I tasted once in Balaji Mess.(Coimbatore) Now I have the recipe, Next week I am going to India I will buy kambu and try this one for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  18. that was a lovely write up. I got a lil nostalgic :)

  19. A great post ! am definitely going to try this. Having lived outside of Tamilnadu state all my life I love these little snippets about the traditional Tamil cuisine. Thanks for sharing.

  20. hi , i wanted to try this recipe, do we need to ferment the baterr overnight or just prepare right after grinfing?

  21. Hello Anon,
    You don't have to ferment the batter, grind and use. Let me know how it goes.

  22. Hi Indusgod!
    So good to see someobody proud of their Kongu heritage; I'm from Karur and I remember seeing my grandpa enjoy his Cumbu rice and even though I'm not crazy about it, I think I'll give this dosa a shot and let you know how it goes.
    GO KONGU!!!

  23. I tried this dosa last night. It turned out really well. I used the flour and did not ferment the batter. Thanks for the recipe.

  24. Indo, I tried this for brunch today and it came out wonderful. Even the little one loved it and had about one and a half dosa. :o

    Next time I'm going to soak it and try it the authentic way.

    Thanks buddy!

  25. Hi,
    In general, your recipes are meant for how many people ? I am very bad at 'alavus' and this info will really help.


  26. starlight, the measures are for 4 people, would make about 20-25 dosais depending on how thick you pour them. I will add the info to posts from now on.


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