Pulikaachal is the paste that is mixed with rice to make tamarind rice. A specialty of the Iyengar community it finds mention in 10th Century inscriptions and the literature of the 4th Century A.D. I learnt this recipe from my aunts, who were chefs extraordinaire!

What you need

Tamarind - a fistful

Fenugreek – 1 tbsp

Sesame seeds – 1 tbsp

Chillies, dry - 25

Gingelly oil - to cook

Bengal gram – 1 tbsp

Black gram – 1 tbsp

Mustard seeds – 2 tbsp

Curry leaves – 10

Asafoetida – 1 tsp

Groundnuts and cashewnuts lightly roasted - 2 tbsp

Turmeric – 11/2 tbsp

Salt - to taste

Cooking instructions

Soak a fistful of tamarind, preferably a year old, in a glass of warm water for three hours.

Strain the tamarind to get a concentrate, where the water consistency is a little thick.

Dry roast and powder a tablespoon each of fenugreek and white sesame seeds and keep aside to cool.

In a large deep pan heat gingelly oil and roast 25 dry chillies. If you want it really spicy, after roasting, crush them and keep them separately. If you want medium spice crush half and keep the rest as it is.

To the heated oil, add the Bengal gram, black gram, mustard seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida. When these have roasted, add the tamarind water. Add a few tablespoons of ground nuts and cashews and allow them to get fried in the oil.

On a low flame let boil and as the oil separates, add the dried powder, chillies, turmeric powder and salt.

Keep stirring till you smell the flavours and the paste thickens.

Pulikaachal can be eaten as a dip, chutney or mixed with hot rice. Don’t refrigerate — it will lose its flavour and consistency.

Pradeep Chakravarthy is a management consultant and historian, with three books to his credit. He also co-hosts a channel on YouTube that explains Sanskrit and Tamil literature.