When you want to avoid sambhar but are craving for a dish that has it all – vegetables, lentils and all the lovely spices – try pitlai. Traditionally made with bitter gourd or aubergine and some boiled peanuts, this thick gravy gets its texture and flavour from the ground pitlai podi (spice powder). Since the podi has dal, the gravy – unlike a sambhar – does not need it.

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For Pitlai Podi

  • 1/3 cup grated coconut
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 2 tsp chana dal
  • 2 tsp urad dal
  • 3-4 dried red chillies, broken
  • A pinch of asafoetida
  • Salt to taste

Other ingredients

  • ¾ cup chopped bitter gourd
  • ¼ cup boiled peanuts
  • 2 tbsp Pitlai Powder
  • 1 tbsp sesame seed oil
  • ½ tbsp jaggery
  • ¾ tsp mustard seeds
  • A pinch of turmeric powder
  • A pinch of asafoetida dissolved in water
  • Lime-sized ball of tamarind, dissolved in water
  • A handful of curry leaves
  • Salt to taste


For The Podi

  1. Dry roast the grated coconut on medium flame until it turns pale brown. Keep aside to cool.
  2. Heat oil and stir in the hing.
  3. Add the lentils and roast them on medium flame until they change colour.
  4. Toss in the coriander seeds and dried red chillies. Continue roasting on medium flame until they exude an aroma and the chillies begin to chance colour.
  5. Pound the spices and lentils in a grinder along with the roasted coconut and salt to a semi-coarse powder.

For The Curry

  1. Heat oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. Once the seeds crackle, drop in the curry leaves, bitter gourd, turmeric and asafoetida and cook on medium flame for a minute.
  2. Add the tamarind water and continue cooking on medium flame until the raw aroma of tamarind disappears.
  3. Stir in the ground Pitlai Powder, peanuts and water (just enough to make a gravy).
  4. Finish by putting in the jaggery and let it simmer on medium flame for 2 minutes. Adjust salt.
  5. Serve hot with rice and appalam.
Preetha Srinivasan

Preetha Srinivasan

A champion of the cuisines of South India, Preetha Srinivasan runs the popular YouTube channel Dakshin Curry. A graduate of the Institute of Hotel Management in Mumbai, Srinivasan has worked as a chef at The Orchid and Hilton Towers, Mumbai. She has also worked on culinary shows like ‘MasterChef India’ and ‘Food Food Amul Mahamuqabla’.

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