The Basic South Indian Meal

As readers will know, I’m South Indian, born and brought up in Bangalore. Growing up, I’ve been fortunate to eat a wide range of South Indian food, because my parents (and therefore me) came from a very mixed background. But the basic essence of a meal is pretty much the same across the southern part of the country.

oota (Kannada: meal)

bhojanam (Telugu: meal)

unavu (Tamil: meal)

This is what I’ve grown up eating, and only recently succeeded at cooking for a total of 4 people.


I cannot sleep if I haven’t had rice atleast once a day. For most of my adult life, I’ve had hand-pounded brown rice, which is a healthy middle ground between white and brown rice (because my stomach has never been able to fathom the idea of wholly brown rice, despite the health benefits).

Rice is super easy to make.

You’ll need:

  1. Rice
  2. Water


  1. In a pressure cooker, pour some water at the base and place a container.
  2. The container must contain 1 cup of rice and 2.5 cups of water.
  3. close the container with a lid.
  4. Close the pressure cooker and place it on the stove.
  5. Turn on the stove to medium heat. Let it cook for 5 minutes
  6. Once steam begins to emit from the cooker, place a whistle weight.
  7. Let it cook till the whistle has blown thrice.
  8. After the third whistle, turn down the stove heat to sim for 10 minutes.
  9. Turn off the stove and let it cool.

In the alternative, you can cook it in a fancy-shamncy electronic cooker for 25 minutes.

Vegetable [Palya (Kannada)/Kura (Telugu)/Poriyal (Tamil)]

This is what is usually known as sabzi in the rest of the country. I decided to make carrot for today.

Depending on the vegetable, you will either have to boil it before you sauté it or sauté it directly.

Carrots will have to be boiled before they are sautéed.

You’ll need:

  1. 2-3 Carrots
  2. Water
  3. Oil
  4. Mustard Seeds
  5. Cumin Seeds
  6. Urad dal
  7. Red chillis (optional)
  8. curry leaves
  9. grated coconut (optional)


  1. Take 2-3 carrots. Cut them finely. (Hack: There is this amazing Prestige vegetable cutter that makes life so easy- I use this to cut vegetables)
  2. Grate some coconut.
  3. Once cut, boil it for about 10 minutes.
  4. Once boiled, drain the excess water.
  5. In a pan, add 2 tablespoons of oil and let it head for a minute.
  6. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds (jeera) and urad dal (Kannada: uddinabele) and fry.
  7. Add red chilli, some salt and curry leaves and sauté for a minute.
  8. To this mixture add the carrots and stir well.
  9. Add the grated coconut and mix.
  10. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Tomato Saaru [Rasam (Tamil)/ Saaru (Kannada)/ Chaaru (Telugu)] 

Confession: I wasn’t the biggest fan of Saaru growing up. I developed a love for it only after I left home for law school and was subjected to sweet dal and mishti doi for five years. Lesson learnt? A South Indian needs his or her spicy water.

You’ll need:

  1. one medium tomato
  2. 3/4 cup of tur dal
  3. 1 tbsp of turmeric
  4. Curry leaves
  5. chopped corriander
  6.  1 tablespoon rasam powder
  7. 3/4cup tamarind (soaked in hot water)
  8. 1 tbsp mustard seeds
  9. cumin seeds
  10. asafoetida (optional)
  11. Salt


  1. Take a cup with hot water and place some tamarind in it. Let it soak, we’ll come to it later.
  2. In a container, add 1/2 cup to 3/4cup (depends on how watery you want your saaru to be) of tur dal. Add 2 cups of water. Add turmeric.
  3. Cut the tomato into quarters and place them over the tur dal.
  4. Place the container in the pressure cooker and let it cook the same way as rice (3 whistles)
  5. Chill and have a glass of wine, or eat some chocolate (works for me!)
  6. Once the dal and tomato are cooked and your tamarind soaked, take a tava (big frying pan) and heat oil (about 1 tbsp).
  7. Add mustard seeds, curry leaves, asafoetida and cumin seeds and fry.
  8. Add the cooked dal, tomato and the tamarind-soaked water (and not the tamarind itself) into the tava . Add some water to get it to the consistency you’d like.
  9. Garnish with corriander.

Sambhar (Tamil)/ Huli (Kannada)/ Pulusu (Telugu)

I love huli! Especially with chips, or sandige or vadiyaloo (Kannada, Telugu: fryums).

You’ll need:

  1. A vegetable of choice. I picked Lady’s Finger/Okra- I took about 12 medium sized ones.
  2. 1/2 tbsp turmeric
  3. 1/2 tbsp salt
  4. mustard seeds
  5. oil
  6. 1/2 cup buttermilk
  7. 3/4 cup tamarind (soaked in hot water)
  8. curry leaves
  9. tur dal
  10. 1 tbsp sambhar powder


  1. Cook the tur dal in the same way as above.
  2. Soak the tamarind rice the same way as described above.
  3. Chop the okra into pieces and keep aside.
  4. Take a tava and heat 1 tbsp of sunflower oil for a minute.
  5. Add mustard seeds and let them splutter.
  6. Add the okra pieces, turmeric and salt. Sauté for five minutes.
  7. Add 1/2 cup buttermilk and let the okra cook.
  8. Add the turmeric soaked water and let it boil for 5-7 minutes.
  9. Add curry leaves
  10. Add a cup of water and a tbsp of sambhar powder and let it cook for 5 minutes.
  11. Add the cooked tur dal and stir. Add more water depending on the consistency you want.
  12. Mix well and turn the stove off. Transfer to a serving dish.


There you go! Below is a picture to prove that I actually made all of this:



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