The quest for the perfect vegetable thogaiyal (tapenade)

we would steal some and rinse them off and eat them

  • Servings: 4-5
  • Difficulty: Expert
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Everyone loves the vegetable thogaiyals I make. Yes, nearly everyone. They eat it as an appetizer with crusty breads, on toast, with rice, with iddly or dosai, even with uppama or pongal. I’ve even served it as a pesto with spaghetti. I have widely shared this recipe that I first learned from Mrs. Rukmini Kesavan. I have posted several versions in various blogs When my friend Sukanya asked for the recipe, I directed her to this blog. But she insisted that she wanted the exact recipe of how I made it that one time when I shared it with her.

Exact recipes are a challenge for me. I don’t cook that way. Most of my recipes become amorphous ideas in my head and, with enough repetition, I prepare these with available ingredients of the day. The proportions and processes are never quite the same. Like a good Bhairavi alapana or a Pantuvarali niraval, they come together and are shared. The ingredients and conditions vary and while there is a basic expectation of what it will become, there is usually something new to look forward to in the flavor and the textures.

Still. I understand what Sukanya is asking. She would like to be able to have a recipe that she can impart to her temperamental cook and still have it turn out well. I would like to think also that she wants it to be as good at the version she remembers eating. That is much harder. For things never taste as good or as bad as we remember them. Our palates vary too much in place and time. A rasam and rice with plain appalam can transport us to heaven after a week of continental breakfasts and lunches. We have all seen South Indians transported into paroxysms of pleasureful clucking by a plain thair saadam.

Still. I promised her I would write it down today and she graciously gave me and extension until June first. The pressure of the deadline hanging over and the fact that the task will not become easier with time impels me write it down today.

The quest for the perfect vegetable thogaiyal (tapenade)


  • Canola and sesame oil blend – 4-6 tbs
  • Dried red chilies – 2-4
  • Hing (asafateda) – 1/4 tsp
  • Ground turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  • Rasam or sambar powder – 1 tsp
  • Chutney Powder (iddli podi) – 2 tbsp
  • Fenugreek Seeds – 1 tsp
  • Tamarind fruit (cleaned) – 2 tbsp
  • Cut red and yellow peppers – 2
  • Cut capsicum – 2
  • Chayote squash cubes – 2 cups
  • Fresh Ginger ( tender) minced – 2 tbs
  • Curry leaves – 12 – 24
  • Chopped fresh coriander – 2 cups
  • Fresh mint leaves – 1/3 cup
  • Chopped ripe tomato – 2
  • Chopped green tomatoes – 2
  • Vellam ( gud) jaggery – 1 tsp
  • Fresh lime juice – 1 tbs
  • Salt to taste – 1 tsp or more


Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauté pan.

Add the red chilies, turmeric, rasam powder and hing and sauté briefly. Add the fenugreek seeds and stir. alternately you can soak the fenugreek seeds in warm water for a few minute and drain them and pat them dry on a kitchen towel and add them.

Add the green chilies and cut vegetables (except ripe tomato) and saute till they begin to caramelize.

Add the tamarind in small pieces.

Add the mint and coriander and curry leaves and gently fold them in.

Sprinkle salt and sauté over medium to low heat while turning gently every few minutes until the squash (chow chow).

Add the idli/chutney powder and stir in the ripe tomatoes and the jaggery and cook for an additional minute or two until the tomato is cooked.

Allow the mixture to cool and chop/ grind coarsely in a food processor or with a blending wand. Use short bursts and mix between bursts so the mixture comes together into a toothpaste-like consistency without becoming smooth or creamy.

A good thogaiyal will have a grainy fibrous consistency.

If your family will not eat anything that doesn’t have fried mustard seeds on top, you can fry some tadka of mustard seeds along with urad and garnish with that and the lemon juice.

NB – Add as many or as few chilies as you would like to make this as spicy or mild as you wish. I like to still taste the other vegetables so I don’t add too many chilies. The ginger and mint are optional. The chow chow or chayote squash can be replaced by other available squashes. Coriander leaves and chilies are the main ingredients you cannot do without.