Vadiyaalu paalu koora: Of the uses of cold cream…

“Dochi, do you know that is very expensive? It costs ten rupees a bottle!” admonishes the great-aunt.

Ten rupees???!” Her eyes grow saucer-like trying to grasp this enormous figure! And she gets back to her task with added vim. All of two years old, the little girl is engaged in polishing the floor of her grandmother’s house – dipping her chubby fingers into a jar of – cold cream!

The lesson my aunt is trying to teach is about valuing things and waste – obviously! The lessons that are learnt by little kids sometimes make you sit back on your feet – Dochi takes it to mean that the cold cream is so valuable that she had better do a really, really good job of trying to make the floor shine!

A few years later, the same little girl, now slightly older, has acquired a brother, Arjun, whose antics challenge the world around him – all with the sweetest, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth beam on his face that made it impossible for anyone to be cross with him for long (come to think of it, a little over two decades later he hasn’t changed much!) And so one day, at the lunch table, he’s at his favourite pastime – pushing the food around his plate. His patient grandmother is cajoling him to eat and he tells her, “But, ammamma, see the eagles are landing!” pointing to one lone fly buzzing around! The word in Telugu for fly (the insect variety that is, not the action it performs) is “eega”. The plural would be “eegalu”. Our pal, caught in a hard place between his Telugu genes, the Tamil-speaking Madrasi setting and the primarily English-speaking home, tries to make sense of his world by Anglicising whatever words he knows of in Telugu and Tamil! Thus paraphrasing Jack Higgins without ever having heard of him (he was only three years old!).

Another cousin, angry with his mother about some withheld privilege, chases her around the table, yelling, “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you!” The shocked mother scrambles around the table, evading the boy’s hands, wondering where she’s gone wrong and pleading with him to please not use such language. The seven-year old pauses, “Oh, I meant only the Tamil “kill” ma. not English “kill”!” The word “killu” in Tamil means to pinch! The mother devoutly delivers up a prayer of thanks!

For most of us living in countries/cities not native to us, our vocabularies have been hugely enriched by the things our children say and do…

Unlike this “pure” Andhra dish which stays completely true to its origins…


VADIYAALU PAALU KOORA/Milk based gravy with ashgourd fries (for 2 servings)

[Recipe courtesy my dear friend Shreesha’s mother]


  • 1 small katori (about the volume of 1/3 cup) – boodide gummadikaaya vadiyaalu/ashgourd fries/petha vadis – these are made by soaking urad dal overnight, draining and grinding along with green chili paste, salt and grated ashgourd (wintermelon) from which the water has been drained. This water is used for grinding. The paste is then made into little flattish discs and sundried for 2-3 days till crisp. These are stored for the whole year and fried as needed. I microwave them sometimes – when I have guilt pangs, basically!  They also make a great substitute for vegetables in a gravy or you could add them to a curry or a gravy when you have unexpected guests and need to “multiply” food!
  • Hot milk – 1 cup
  • Chopped onion – 1 medium
  • Green chilies – chopped – 1 or 2
  • Curry leaves – chopped – 2 sprigs
  • Salt
  • Koora podi – 1/2 tsp – optional. See this link for the powder
  • Oil – 1 tsp
  • Ghee – 1/2 tsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
  • Jeera – 1/4 tsp
  • Asafoetida – 1 pinch


Heat the oil in a pan and shallow fry the vadiyaaly till they turn a deep golden brown – see pic. This will take about two minutes. Set aside. You could deep fry the vadiyalu and drain.

In the same pan, add the ghee. Heat and splutter the mustard seeds in it. Add the urad dal and jeera and roast till the dal is golden. Add the onions, curry leaves and green chilies and saute for 3-4 minutes till the onions turn golden brown.

Add the hot milk – if the milk is cold, it will curdle.

Add the koora podi (curry powder) and salt. Remember the vadiyalu already have salt so add just enough for the onions and milk. Add the fried vadiyalu and cook on a very low flame for about 5 minutes. The milk may curdle but it will taste just as good!


Yummy with rice or rotis – this has a distinctively smokey flavour which is quite delicious.