Cooking with culture

Published Feb 21, 2016, 12:24 am IST
Updated Feb 21, 2016, 12:24 am IST
Fermented foods that are a natural source of probiotics are the talk of the culinary town.
North Indian Dahi Vada (Photos: Arun chandrabose)
 North Indian Dahi Vada (Photos: Arun chandrabose)

The culinary world is abuzz about fermented foods that have live culture in them which are a natural source of probiotics. As we know, probiotics help us keep a healthy digestive system. Fermented foods have been part of out repertoire for centuries. But our less-than-healthy lifestyles have forced us to expand our diet to include probiotics. This also meant that those foods we thought as condiments have come to be celebrated as main course items.

These days, Indonesian tempeh (deep-fried fermented soya beans), Korean kimchi (fermented cabbage) and gojuchang (pungent sauce made with chili, glutinous rice, fermented beans and salt), German sauerkraut (chopped pickled cabbage), Russian kefir (sour fermented cow’s milk) and Japanese kombucha are talk of the culinary town.


Even the Indian fermented dishes like the Souths’ idli/vada/dosa /appams, West’s dhoklas, North’s jalebis and siddu and the East’s khorisa and bamboo shoot dishes have come to find a prominent place on diners’ preference list. Here, we have a collection of recipes that are truly international and ‘culture’ filled.

(The author is Executive Chef, Lokah restaurant, Kochi)

North Indian Dahi Vada

For vada (makes about 30 vadas)

1 cup urad dal
1 green chili, chopped
½ inch ginger, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
A pinch of asafoetida
3 tbsp water for grinding the batter or as required
½ tbsp raisins
8-9 cashews, chopped
Salt as required


Other ingredients
2 to 2.25 cups yogurt
1 tsp chaat masala or as required
½ tsp red chili powder or as required
1 tsp roasted cumin powder
Black salt or regular salt as required
For tamarind chutney:
½ cup seedless tamarind, tightly packed
1¾ cups water
½ tsp ginger powder
A  pinch of asafoetida
½  tsp cumin seeds
¼  tsp red chili powder
7  tbsp jaggery
Rock salt or black salt or regular salt as required
1 tsp oil

Preparing the tamarind chutney:
Soak the tamarind in water overnight or for 4-5 hours in a small bowl or pan.
With your hands, squeeze the pulp from the tamarind in the same bowl or pan.
Strain the pulp and keep aside.
Heat oil in a small pan.
Lower the flame & add cumin seeds and let them crackle.
Add ginger powder, red chili powder, and asafoetida.
Stir and add the strained tamarind pulp
Cook for 2-3 mins.
Add the jaggery and salt and cook for 4-5 mins more.
The mixture would thicken. Remove from heat
Let the chutney cool.
When cooled, store the saunth chutney in an air-tight dry jar or container.


Preparing the vadas/ fritters:
Pick and rinse the lentils for 3-4 times in water.
Soak the lentils in enough water overnight or for 4-5 hours.
Drain and add the lentils in a wet grinder.
Add chopped green chilies, chopped ginger, cumin seeds & asafetida to lentils.
Add water in intervals and grind to a smooth batter.
Remove the ground batter from the grinder to a bowl.
Stir the batter briskly for a couple of minutes to make it more light and fluffy.
Add raisins and chopped cashews along with salt.
Stir and keep aside.
Heat a kadai or pan with oil for deep frying.
When the oil becomes medium hot, add spoonfuls of the batter in the oil.
When you see the vadas becoming pale golden from the base and sides, turn them.
Fry the vadas till they become golden and crisp.
Drain on paper towels.
Take another bowl of water and add the vadas to the water.
Soak them for 18-20 minutes.
Then take each vada and flatten and press between your palms to remove excess water.
Place them in the serving bowl.
Whisk yogurt till smooth.
Pour the yogurt over the vadas.
Top with the tamarind chutney as required.
Sprinkle the red chili powder, roasted cumin powder, chaat masala and black salt.
Garnish the dahi vada with chopped coriander leaves.
Serve the dahi vada immediately or refrigerate and serve later.



head of green cabbage
tsp canning salt
tsp sugar
tsp vinegar

Cut the cabbage into thin ribbons and tightly pack into a 500-ml mason jar. Add sugar, salt and vinegar directly into the cabbage. Fill the jar with boiling water up to the neck and seal the jar tightly. Let it sit for 15-30 days. To quicken the fermenting process, immerse the sealed Mason jar in a boiling hot water bath for 20 minutes before storing it away.



1 head of Chinese cabbage
½ cup of canning salt
1 carrot
2 stalks of spring onion


for Kimchi paste
5-6 cloves of garlic
1 onion
½ a pear (can be substituted with pineapple or apple)
1 ginger (2 inches long)
2 tsp sugar
½ cup gochugaru (Korean chili pepper flakes) or Kashmiri chili powder
¼ cup water
¼ cup cooked white rice
¼ cup fish sauce (optional)
1 tbsp salted shrimp (optional)


Cut the Chinese cabbage into quarters and give the bottom layer another cut so there are no large pieces left (approximately 2 inch sqaures). Wash and drain them well and mix salt into each layer and mix thoroughly. Let the cabbage and salt mix sit for about 30 minutes and drain the additional moisture released by the salting process. Continue to rinse many times to remove the salt and keep ready


Kimchi sauce
Process all the ingredients in a food blender and bring to a spreadable consistency.
Julienne carrots and slice the spring onions. Mix the cabbage, carrots, spring onions and the kimchi paste thoroughly
Bottle in an air-tight, 500 ml Mason jar and let sit for 3-12 days in a cool and dark place