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Pachadi: The Dish That Personifies Rasa

 A cousin of chutney, a peer of raita and yet when it comes to its making, composition and wellness virtues, this puckering tastemaker demands its own stature in the culinary sun. 

 By Madhulika Dash; Image: Byg Brewski, Grand Hyatt Kochi, JW Marriott Juhu, Chor Bizzare

 

Ever looked at a Sadya and wondered why is it that when there are pickles and chutney and the tastemaker essential lemon and salt, what was the need for pachadi – one of the spicy, tangy, delicious dishes in the formal feast that makes everything taste so much alive and better? Is Pachadi presence in the meal – or for that matter any southern thali – a case of culinary ingenuity, traditional wellness or for the count? 

Interestingly for a dish that marks its place in food memory along with instantly beloved dishes like the sambar, rasam, appalam and payasam, the answer to this is slightly more complex and needs a little of time winding to understand not just its purpose in the meal, its variants across the trade route length of erstwhile Deccan that spread from Kerala ports to the Konarkpatnam in Odisha, but its relevance in today as well. In fact, these were a few curious quirks that took Chef Sandeep Sadanandan, Head Chef, Byg Brewski into what he today calls a “Deccan Odyssey.” During which time, the Kerala born Karnataka raised chef along with his mentor culinary anthropologist Chef Sabyasachi Gorai discovered the many gems that made Sangam literature one of the fascinating work on food, all beginning with the dish Chef Sadanandan calls his happy food or pachadi. You can turn almost anything into this delightful dish, be it the fruit one like the pineapple pachadi, the bright hued beetroot pachadi or the traditional inji Pachadi made with ginger or the curiously interesting Kumbalanga Pachadi that is a fantastic introduction to the local white pumpkin, What appeals about it to the guest is its sour-sweet and sour with a hint of umaminess foreplay – a flavour foreplay that has even the denizens hooked on to it.” 

Concurs Dakshina Ghosh, Deputy Director, IIHM Bengaluru, who defines pachadi as this wonderful story that is somewhere between a chutney, pickle and raita, but with the same virtues of indulging, satiating and nourishing. 

A CLEVERLY BRILLIANT FOOD THAT HEALS

Says Ghosh, “although the making of any pachadi follows techniques that is like that of a chutney or raita, what differentiate it is the treatment. Unlike chutney, in which ingredients are primarily used raw finished with a tadka that lends it aroma and taste, pachadi, the central vegetable or fruit goes through some form of minimalistic cooking before other ingredients are incorporated and then tempered for both enhancing the flavour and the nutritive value. Here the chonk is much like layering rather than finishing. 

This technique, says Srinivas A, Senior Sous Chef, Chor Bizarre, “while on one hand makes this Chola Era dish an all-season favourite; it also gives pachadi its many varietals made as per season, body’s rhythmic composition and of course the palate.”

When it comes to pachadi, says Ghosh, “we have two major segments: one, the pachadi that is a sum total of all the spicy, tangy variants including that with Malabar cucumber as its core ingredient; the other though follows the route initially that deviates to using curd and comprises of the milder version of the bold pachadi called Kachadi. In this, the vegetable is of an accommodating character and are cooked to soften it before curd and other seasoning are added and tempered.”

 

MEET THE TWIN SISTER – PACHADI AND KACHADI

Evolved during the reign of Raja Raja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola, known patrons of cuisine and culture, pachadi were so effective with their tastemaking and digestive abilty that they were soon travelled to other royal courts as well. In fact, says Selvaraj N, Chef de Cuisine, Malabar Café, Grand Hyatt Kochi, “pachadi in its traditional form today is found not just in Kerala and Tamil Nadu but Karnataka, Maharastra and Andhra Pradesh; while Kachadi in some format is found in Odisha too, with a few subtle nuances. While in Kerala, pachadi can take both a chutney akin format and that of a vegetable curry much like the Odia Ou khatta or Bengali tomato khejur chatni in texture and appearance, in Andhra and Telengana, the vegetable is ground with chilies and fenugreek and mustard seeds with greens (herbs) added to it give it that distinct taste. In Karnataka where it is called Thambuli, there is a hearty use of curd to give it that tangy-sour taste.”

Likewise, says culinary researcher Chef Viveq Pawar, “is the case with Maharashtra where the kachadi has mused the creation of koshimbir where it takes on a mixed vegetable raita format with a generous use of sengdana powder (peanut powder). In fact, much of the taste of this beloved Marathi take on the kachadi that uses the traditional curry leaf, mustard seeds, chilli and hing in the tadka is created by the peanut powder on which the tempering is poured.”

History had it that the advent of koshimbir which today is also part of Karnataka’s Navratra festival, is credited to the craftsman who were asked to travel to the Chola empire to develop the weave. New to the place, the weavers and craftsman adopted to dishes and techniques that were similar to both coast and found Kachadi, which resembled the raita kind of dishes from the Maratha kingdom, says Chef Pawar, ”and that’s how koshimbir became one of the first muses of kachadi.”

The other muses included the Mangalorean Southekai Pachadi and Odisha’s Nadia Pachadi, which is made with yogurt, coconut and fruits like apple, pears, and pomegranate, and offered in temples during Durga Puja and other ceremonial rituals.  

The brilliance of pachadi that helped it manifests so many different forms and versions, says Chef Srinivasan, “is that lightness which isn’t the case with pickle or chutney. This quality makes it an easy pairing with any dish around any season and can be indulged in more quantity than say pickles.”

THE TASTE NIRVANA

Pachadi, says nutritional therapist Sveta Bhassin, “game changing ability were its two virtues which even today makes it an essential part of the meal: first, it helped built the appetite by jogging the digestive enzymes in the mouth and that aids digestion without any side effects; and the second was the sensory stimulation which begins with a quick lick of pachadi and then continues while it gives this little spurts of aroma and taste while masticating food. This stimulation wheedles a slow digestive system especially the liver, gallbladder, and intestine (the main cartels of our digestion) into effective action – much like a steroid minus the side effects.”

This stimulation is what we call tasty and is often the reason that awakens the glutton within us when we go for a second serve of the same. Call it the brilliance of the dish, the technique that lends it that concentration of six flavours or the way it works the neurons, in spite the natural want that pachadi evokes, it does have a way, adds Bhassin, “to ensure that it also takes the indulgence just up enough to reignite the BMI to be effective, irrespective of the weather.”

This explains not just why pachadi indispensable place not just in Sadya, but also in every day meals down south where the climatic condition make it, ends Chef Srinivasan, “a constant through the year, and preferred more than the pickle – which can be little overwhelming at times.”