Monday, March 5, 2007
Pickles -- Veppilaikkatti (Spiced Citrus Leaf Mince)
This post demonstrates how "veppilai katti" is prepared. I still wonder why it was named so! You will be fooled if you think that it is made from "veppilai" or neem leaves. Neem leaves are the bitter, medicinal leaves of the neem tree. While this pickle seems to indicate that it is made of neem leaves, it has no neem leaves in it whatsoever. The leaves used in this pickle are the tender leaves of lime or lemon trees, and citron (naarthangai) trees, along with a few curry leaves (kariveppilai) for added body and flavor. This pickle is more of a mince than a pickle in the traditional Indian sense -- every ingredient in it is raw or uncooked. There is no oil in it either. The end result is a piquant, fragrant, mince that dances in your tastebuds. This mince is also called "Bhojana kasturi" because it enhances the food with an incredible flavor. The pickle is also an excellent digestive-aid.
It is typically served with curd rice or is mixed with neeraahaaram -- which is a cooling mixture of leftover cooked rice kept overnight in water, with some buttermilk and salt to taste. When veppilai katti is added to neeraharam, there is no need to add extra salt. Neeraahaaram is usually had in the summers to cool the body down.
Whenever I prepare this pickle, I am reminded of an incident that took place in my school days. I was probably in 2nd standard, about 7 years old, and really loved this pickle. One day, on my way back home, I found some cut neem branches full of leaves on the road-side. Assuming that these leaves were key to preparing veppilai katti, I gathered as many bunches of leaves as I could muster in my little hands, and huffed and puffed my way back home with the load. I handed them over to my mother with great excitement. She looked at me puzzled. "What's this for?" she asked. When I explained the reason, she burst into laughter. That's when she told me what veppilai katti was made of! My mother never forgot this incident till her last days. She would jokingly ask me to go collect some neem leaves whenever she prepared this pickle.
On to the recipe....
Veppilai-Katti (Spiced Citrus Leaf Mince)
2 C fresh, tender leaves of lemon or lime
2 C Citron (bitter-lemon or naathangai) leaves (OR) 1.5 C Kaffir lime leaves
1 C Curry leaves (kariveppilai), stripped from stem
1/3 C Thymol seeds (Ajwain or Omum)
2 Tbsp. Salt
25-30 Whole, dry, red chillies
1" cube Asafoetida (hing or perungaayam) (OR) 1.5 tsp. asafoetida powder
Juice of 1-2 large limes or lemons, as needed
1. Wash the leaves well, and pat very dry with a kitchen towel.
2. If the citrus leaves are not tender and are a bit tough, remove the hard stalk/vein/petiole in the middle of the leaf as shown in the pictures above.
3. In a dry-spice grinder, grind finely the following together: ajwain, red chillies, salt, and asafoetida.
4. In a blender, dry-grind (no water) all the grind all the leaves till it becomes a moist and crumbly paste. Using a spatula, stir it form time to time in between grinding cycles.
5. Put leaf mixture into a bowl. Add the ground spices, and mix thoroughly.
6. Add enough lime/lemon juice a little at a time so that the mince can be shaped into several walnut sized balls. You may or may not use all the lime juice indicated.
7. Store in a covered container, preferably in the fridge, so that the it remains flavorful and moist.
8. Pinch off required amounts from each ball to serve with your curd rice.
Other uses: You can prepare an unusual raita or a dip with veppilaikkatti. For raita, simply mix desired amount into yogurt, you can blend in a mixie or blender it if you want. No salt is necessary. For a dip, mix some sour-cream and cream cheese with veppilai katti. Serve as a dip for toast points or fresh vegetable pieces.