Andhra vegetarian cuisine is noted for its spicy chutneys, which are called Pachaddlu in Telugu. Andhra meals remain incomplete without a course of pachadi annam, plain rice mixed with pachadi, usually with some ghee. Pachadi is usually made with raw or partly cooked or smoked vegetable. Sourness from the vegetable or tamarind, if the vegetable itself does not have intrinsically sour taste, is important. Even more important is the usage of a healthy amount of green and/or red chili peppers. Occasionally there are non-sour varieties of chutneys. Fenugreek seeds are an important ingredient, except in pappu pachadlu (dal based chutneys), in which they don’t belong! This chapter will group several types of pachadlu together as they all have similar if not identical recipe. Because of spice, oil and sourness, often pachadi lasts long. Some pachadlu are almost pickles, lasting at room temperature for weeks without spoiling. It is a good thing that they last long, as one can not consume large helpings of pachadi at once. Whenever I was about to eat my third helping of pachadi, my dad would say: pichchi vedhava pachchadi anta tinnadu – meaning the fool ate the entire amount of pachadi. Consumption of excess amount at once is not good for your stomach. However, it is hard to keep away from mouth watering pachadlu of Andhra!
Gongura pachadi is perhaps the most well known of Andhra recipes. It is also my favorite. My father told me about his uncle from Guntur used to arrive late evenings with a bag full of gongura and red chili peppers that Guntur district is famous for. He worked for the Indian Railways and was a frequent guest. Apparently the best gongura pachadi that my father ate is made by his Janaki attayya, whose husband is this late arriving uncle from Guntur. My grand mother told us stories of how she had to cook late evening to feed him a hot meal. However, you don’t need an uncle from Guntur to arrive late evening to get started. You start by acquiring couple of bunches of Gongura leaves from the New India Bazar on El Camino. These sour leaves are available in most big Indian stores in US metropolis these days. My father says that it is easier to buy Gongura leaves in the USA than in North India. If you do not have whole dry red chili peppers, fenugreek and black mustard seeds, you should pick those up at the store, along with a box of LG asafetida powder. If you can buy Guntur dry hot chili peppers, you are in luck. I am assuming you stock salt and a heavy oil like Peanut or Sesame or Safflower at home. You should, if you want to cook Indian!
Gongura leaves need to be plucked (remove the red petiole entirely), washed and laid out on cloth to soak out the water on them. The task is easiest accomplished by spreading out on the kitchen table and get your family to help with the task. Most of the bunch you picked up from the store is wasted because of branches and all the tough matter – you should avoid paying by-the-pound for gongura bunches. We often do the leaf preparation the night before and collect them in a bowl before breakfast. Heat a cup of oil for preparing three bunches in a large pan. Add one table spoon of fenugreek seeds, and when it darkens a bit, one table spoon of mustard seeds and one dozen dried whole red chili peppers. Add quarter spoon of asafetida powder and the green gongura leaves. Add two spoons of salt, mix and cover the pan. When the gongura leaves reduce to a small lump and are cooked turn the heat off. Grind to a rough paste in a blender, and you are done.
I hope you remembered to have started cooking some plain rice ahead of the gongura pachadi making. Your mouth will be watering and you can dive in promptly. In principle, the pachadi can keep for days at room temperature and weeks in the fridge. In practice, the pachadi will be finished long before that.
Gongura leaves – 3 bunches, yielding leaves that fill 1 gallon container
Oil – 1 cup
Fenugreek seeds – 1 table spoon
Mustard seeds (black) – 1 table spoon
Whole red chili peppers – 1 dozen (20 if you want it hot)
Asafetida powder – quarter tea spoon
Salt – 1 table spoon