Onion Vathakuzhambu (Onions in Spicy Tamarind Sauce)

Growing up in Tamilnadu I had vathakozhambu almost once every week. But it never was boring and if there were not many ingredients to make a sambar or kootu or aviyal the easy option was to make a vathakozhambu. The name vatha means thickened or concentrated and kozhambu is the other version of sambar made without lentils.  Vathakozhambus can be made with just onions or okras or even with appalam or vathals. Each type of vathakozhambu has its own taste. Vathakozhambu has to be thick in such a way that it would coat a spoon if its dipped into it. My favorite combinations to eat with vathakozhambu are rice with paruppu podi(spiced lentil powder) and yogurt rice. Yogurt rice and vathakozhambu would be the ultimate combination for the hot summers in India. A spoon of yogurt rice drizzled with vathakozhambu, that too made in the morning and absorbing flavors all day would be like nectar. Vathakozhambus taste good as it sits and can be kept in the refrigerator for a couple of days(as its not made with lentils or coconut ).

There is this friend of mine, M, who after hearing all the stories about vathakozhambu called me for dinner one day. She proudly served me her version of vathakozhambu and declared that its been”vatthing” (thickening) on the stove from morning. Her version was more like a Rasam as she  was boiling it like a pot of water with onions since morning :)

My dad always says that the art of making sambars and vathakozhambus  comes with the “kai-manam” (hand that makes a dish delectable)

I use the  fresh small red onions to make vathakozhambu as the frozen ones do not cook so well and they also taste bland no matter how long you thaw the frozen ones.

Ingredients: (Serves-2)

Pearl onions- 1/2 cup (peeled)

Green chilies- 2 each

Red Chilies- 2 each

Curry Leaves- 5

Tamarind- 1 small lemon size

Red Chili Powder- 1/2 tsp

Sambar Powder-3/4 tsp

Turmeric Powder- 1/4 tsp

Mustard seeds- 1 tsp

Chana dal- 1 tsp

Hing- 2 pinches

Salt- to taste

Gingerly oil- 4 tbsp (You can also use light olive oil)

Rice flour- 1 tbsp

To be ground to a powder

Coriander seeds- 1.5 tsp

Red Chilies-4

Chana dal- 1 tsp


Soak the tamarind in about 200 ml of hot water. You can also substitute 1/4 tsp of tamarind paste for this. Squeeze out the juice from the tamarind, add another 100 ml of water, extract the juice again, filter and discard the pulp.

Peel the skin of pearl onions and chop them into two. Slit green chilies lengthwise.

Heat oil in a thick bottomed vessel(kadai) and add hing and mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds splutter, add chana dhal, curry leaves ,red chilies and green chilies. Stir fry for a minute. Add the onions and salt and stir fry for another 2-3 minutes. Add turmeric powder, red chili powder,sambar powder and stir fry till the raw smell of the red chili powder disappears.

Pour the 300 ml of tamarind water into the pan and simmer for 15-20minutes(till onions are tender and transparent). The tamarind water should have reduced to at least 1/2 of its original volume.

In the mean time, toast(dry fry) the coriander seeds,red chilies, chana dal to a golden brown color. Cool and grind to a fine powder. This powder is my version of the vathakozhambu powders sold in stores. I grind it fresh, but you can also sprinkle some store bought vathakozhambu powder if you want.

In a bowl, mix about 3 tbsp of water and rice flour into a thick paste. Add the ground powder to this paste and add these to the boiling kozhambu. Stir well to avoid any lumps.

Let it simmer for another 4-5 minutes. Switch off. Serve hot with rice and poppadams or rice and potato kari.

Print Friendly

the attachments to this post:


2 Comments to “Onion Vathakuzhambu (Onions in Spicy Tamarind Sauce)”

  1. […] are quite a lot of varieties to choose to go with rice. Regulars for the show are  Sambar, Rasam, Vathakozhambu, or hubbys favorite […]

  2. Linda says:

    I always thought kuzhambu was just another name for sambhar (my very fav!). I have made small onion sambhar (with toor dal) much the same way. There is always so much to learn! :)

    I like your dad’s thought about the hand that makes the dish delectable. Reminds me of a children’s book I read to my daughter when she was young, about a pioneer family in the midwest — the mother made johnnycake (cornbread) with only cornmeal and salt — they had no sugar. The father said, “your handprint on the cake is sweet enough for me”.

    Now THAT is romantic 😉

Leave a Reply