Puzhukku is a dish made of boiled/steamed root vegetables mixed with seasoned coconut paste. These are served either by itself or with Kanji (rice) and a spiced chutney. Thiruvathira Puzhukku is made with a mix of seasonal root vegetables and beans. The tubers are nutritious and filling while the beans are a source of protein making it ideal for ladies who forgo rice based meals as part of the Thiruvathira rituals.
Thiruvathira is a festival that is associated with the story of Lord Shiva, of Hindu mythology. It is celebrated on the Thiruvathira day in the Month of Dhanu, according to the traditional Kerala calendar. This day falls in the month of Dec/Jan. It is one of the coldest days of the season. What better way to celebrate the winter than by going for a dip in the river early in the morning, fasting and staying up all night ? Women follow these traditions and rituals believing that it aids the well being of the menfolk. If you are interested to find out more about the festival click here.
To be honest this is was kind of an exciting celebration while I was growing up , the rare opportunity to stay up all night in itself was a treat. But as I grew older the fascination waned. The adult in me was becoming aware of the patriarchal undertones of celebrations like these. Don’t get me wrong , I still like to have a night out with my girlfriends, but that has more to do with my own health and happiness than the menfolk in the family. On second thoughts they might welcome a time off from me – so there – it is good for everyone 😉 .
The ladies who observe the fast on this day abstain from rice based food and usually consume wheat porridge and thiruvathira puzhukku along with Koova Vilayichathu (Arrowroot Halva). There are a few regional variations for these dishes, but some form of puzhukku and Koova are found all over Kerala. One traditional version calls for the fire roasting the root vegetables and mixing it with a sweetener and another calls for a savory spice mix. The version that I am familiar with, is the savory one.
Though my attitude toward the celebration has changed, I still love root vegetables and the arrow root sweet. Root vegetables are a healthy source of nutrients while being light on calories. They taste delicious as well. What is there not to like ?
Eight different kinds of vegetables (ettangadi – loosely translated into eight things from the market) are used in this dish. Many of the tubers are hard to come by outside of Kerala. Along with the tubers , plantains and beans (cow peas, horse gram , green gram or a mix ) are added. All the vegetables are fire roasted in whole – with the skin on. The beans are roasted and cooked separately. The peeled roasted vegetables and the cooked beans are mixed together with the coconut paste and heated through before serving.
In contemporary cooking instead of fire roasting, the beans and the vegetables are pressure cooked in separate batches and mixed with the spiced coconut paste.
For me it is not easy to get all the root vegetables – especially the ones I know as nana kizhangu and koorkka. Nana Kizhangu is an interesting root with whiskers (for lack of a better word) and tastes similar to colocasia (chembu in Malayalam), but has a firmer texture and sweet aftertaste. Koorkka is difficult to come by even in other parts of south India, but I do find taro roots and elephant yams in the Asian stores.
Some of the vegetables in the picture are sliced and frozen versions. When fresh ones are available I prefer using those.
- Kaachil / Taro - 1 Cup Cubed
- Chembu / Colocasia - 1 Cup Cubed
- Chena / Suran/ Elephant Foot yam - 1 Cup Cubed
- Koorka / Chinese potato - 1 Cup Cubed
- Madhura Kizhangu/ Sweet potato - 1/2 Cup Cubed
- Nana Kizhangu - 1/2 C Cubed
- Raw plantain - 1/2 of 1 large
- Van payar / Red cow peas - 1/2 cup to 3/4 th cup
- Turmeric - 1/2 Tsp
- Salt - 1 Tsp To taste
- Curry leaves- A few
- Chili Powder - 1/2 Tsp To Taste
- Grated Coconut - 1 C loosely packed
- Garlic - 1-2 Cloves
- Cumin Seeds - 1/4 tsp
- Curry Leaves - A few
- Coconut oil - 1 Tbsp
- Soak the cow peas overnight. Drain, dry roast and and pressure cook it until soft - about 2 whistles. Set aside.
- Cut the tubers into large cubes. If using pre-cut vegetables ensure that all are cut into roughly equal size pieces. Cut raw plantain into slightly smaller pieces. Add all the vegetables into the pressure cooker, along with turmeric, curry leaves , chili powder and half the salt. Add enough water to barely cover the vegetables. Pressure cook for just 1 whistle. Let the pressure release naturally.
- Grind the coconut with garlic and cumin seeds into a rough paste adding 1 to 2 tbsp of water as necessary.
- Open the cooker and and check the vegetables - they must be cooked and firm. There should be just a little water at the bottom , but not a lot. If there is excess moisture cook with the lid open to evaporate most of the water. Add the cooked beans along with the coconut paste. Stir and adjust salt as needed. Turn the heat on to medium and bring the mix to a slow simmer - stirring a few times to prevent the mix from sticking to the bottom. Cook on low heat for a few minutes until the raw smell of garlic fades.
- Turn off the heat. Crush a few curry leaves by hand and place on top of the puzhukku. Drizzle a little coconut oil on top and cover with the lid. Keep covered till serving.
- Use available root vegetables to make up the quantity.
- Horse gram, Green Gram and White beans are the other beans used in place of cow peas in this recipe.
- A small piece of pumpkin can be used in place of sweet potato.
- For a spicier version add green chilies while grinding coconut.
Here is another Thiruvathira favorite : Koova Kurukkiyathu