Saturday, July 30, 2011

On Beyond Chutney.....Foogaths: A South Indian Accompaniment

Now that gardens are overflowing with fresh vegetables, it's time to check out new ways of preparing them.  A Foogath is a savory accompaniment usually made with vegetables or green fruit and coconut.  It is different from a sambal in that it is cooked.  These recipes are adapted from an old cookbook of my dad's, "Indian Cookery" by E. P. Veerasawmy, originally published in 1936, London. The cooking process for foogaths is basically the same as for stir-fry.  First you prepare vegetables by washing, slicing, and sometimes parboiling. Adding seasonings to hot oil comes next: spices, ginger, chilies, seeds--whatever needs to
cook a few minutes first.  Then the onion are cooked to a soft transparent state, and the vegetables are added and cooked to doneness.  Lastly, the coconut, and fresh leaves of coriander are added before serving.

Almost any vegetable can be turned into a tasty foogath, and they are well-suited for using up leftovers.  In India, freshly scraped coconut is used, but few in this country have the time or resources to do this, so dried coconut can be used instead, finely shredded or flaked.  Just make sure it's unsweetened coconut.  Serve the foogaths hot with rice or chapatis, as a side dish or a dip.

One of the many popular Foogaths is made with fresh green beans.  They are abundant in the garden this time of year and readily available in markets almost year round.  This recipe includes the addition of fresh curry leaves, common in South Indian cooking, but not often available in this country outside Indian and Asian Markets. has a few listings for the fresh leaves at this time. Dried is available and can be substituted, or you can grow your own plants in a warm place.  The Murraya koenigii plant is an attactive bushy shrub; it grows from fresh seeds which are available seasonally on the Internet from Amazon, eBay and Tropical Seed companies.  The sauteed leaves add a pungent tone to the dish.

Green Bean Foogath with Quinoa Pilaf

For the Foogath:


1 lb. french beans  cut into approximately 3/4" lengths or sliced into thin rings if dish is for a dip
2 tbsps oil
3/4 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 green chillies chopped fine
6-8 curry leaves washed and dried on paper towels
1 large onion chopped fine
8 Tbsps fresh grated coconut or substitute finely shredded dried coconut
Salt to taste
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsps finely chopped coriander leaves


Heat the oil in a shallow pan and add mustard seeds. When they stop spluttering add the curry leaves and green chillies and sauté a little.
Now add the onion and fry until it softens.
Add the green beans, salt to taste and cook till they are done to your liking.  I like mine to be crisp, but tender and still very green.
Add the grated coconut, squeeze the lemon over all,  and mix well. Cook for another minute and then turn off the flame.

I had this for lunch with the leftover quinoa pilaf from the previous night's dinner.  Fabulous, vegan, and nutritious.

Drumstick or Zucchini Foogath (Mooroongkai) 

This popular foogath is raditionally made with "drumsticks" in South India, the immature green pods of a tree,
Moringa oleifera. Other more familiar vegetables, zucchini beans, squash, eggplants or potatoes, can be substitued with excellent results.  I used zucchini because, you know, they are as abundant here this time of year as drumsticks in Sri Lanka.

Preparation and Ingredients:

Wash the 1 lb.zucchini well and cut into convenient sizes, about 1/4" slices. Then they are boiled in water with a little salt until done, just crisp tender, and drained.

Fry lightly in 2 Tbsp. ghee or olive oil for 3 or 4 minutes the following:

1 onion  and 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon of less of cayenne

Now stir in 2 Tbsp. of coconut, finely shredded, and the prepared zucchini.  Salt to taste, and stir lightly as the zucchini should not be broken. In the case of eggplant, do not boil, but saute in a little extra oil first.

Plantain Foogath

Banana or Plantain Foogath (Kayla ka Foogath)

The plantain foogath was served with Chicken and Zucchini Satay, Simple Peanut Sauce, and Grilled corn.    It was sweet, but not too sweet.  A squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of cayenne made it all rather glorious.  The ripe plantains were a lovely coral color when I started and then turned a deeper coral yellow with the addition of the turmeric.  I like to incorporate as much turmeric as I can into my cooking since I learned that is a valuable medicinal spice for reducing inflammation.

Preparation and Ingredients:

6 raw or green bananas (plantain), cut in 1-inch lengths and soaked in cold salt water for an hour or more and drained.

In 2 Tbsp. ghee or vegetable oil, fry lightly for 3 or 4 minutes:
1 onion and 2 cloves of garlic, sliced finely.
2 or 3 fresh or pickled chillies, cut lengthwise, in halves
1/2 teaspoonful of fresh or pickled green ginger, finely minced

Then add:
1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
1/2 tespoon of ground cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon or less of cayenne

Cook on a slow fire for 3 or 4 minutes longer.  Now add the bananas or plantains.  Mix, cover the pan, and on a very gentle heat cook until the bananas are soft but not pulped.  Now stir into it half of a fresh coconut, scraped, or 3 Tablespoons of finely shredded, dried coconut.  Salt to taste.

Toss lightly and simmer for a few minutes longer with the pan uncovered.


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