Karnataka curries use the same four building blocks as other South Indian curries – Tamarind, Lentils, Coconut and Yogurt. However, it places different emphasis on these blocks and on the spices used.
Karnataka curries use much less chilies than Andhra curries and use more lentils and coconut than Tamil curries.
Unlike other South Indian states, where curries are eaten with cooked rice, Karnataka curries are also eaten with Jowar ( Sorghum / Cholam ) and Ragi ( Finger millet / Kelvaragu) in addition to Rice.
Karnataka cuisine can be broadly split into the North Karnataka cuisine , South Karnataka cuisine and Coastal cuisine.
North Karnataka cuisine has a large overlap with Maharashtrian cuisine. Rice starts giving way to a variety of flatbreads. Coastal Karnataka cuisine is very similar to Kerala cuisine. Like Kerala, coastal Karnataka curries uses coconut oil instead of sesame oil / ground nut oil. South Karnataka cuisine resembles the cuisine of Tamilnadu.
Different regions use different combinations of the basic building blocks. For example, Coorgi curries are generally coconut based, gently spiced, and usually sour.
Like Keralite cuisine. Mangalore curries heavily emphasize the use of coconut and coconut milk. It is here we see the use of colocasia leaves as a vegetable.
Malenadu (mountainous land) spans Shimoga, Chikmagalur, Hassan, Kodagu (Coorg) and parts of South Karnataka. Its cuisine is a blend of Coorgi and Mangalorean cuisines. Speciality vegetables like tender bamboo shoots, turmeric leaves and raw jackfruit are used in their curries. Use of very little oil and steaming are hallmarks of Malenadu cuisine.
In the temples of Karnataka, we see a unique salad, the Kosambari. It is made from soaked green gram mixed with carrots and cucumber and is served as a ‘prasad’.
Like all south Indian curries, most Karnataka curries are flavoured by various combinations of mustard, curry leaves, ginger, garlic and cumin. Saarina Pudi, an equivalent of Sambar powder is widely used to flavour many curries. Use of spices like cinnamon, clove and poppy seeds is much more common in Karnataka curries than in other states. In certain regions, the flavouring is tempered by religious beliefs. For example the use of onions / garlic is frowned upon in the temple town of Udupi.
Let us now take a bird’s eye view of major Karnataka curries.
0.: Dali Thoye ( Plain Lentil curry) Dali Thoye is just boiled lentils( Tuvar dal / Mung dal), usually eaten with hot cooked rice and ghee.
1.: Kolmbo ( Coconut -Lentil Sour curry) Kolmbo can be seen a sambar with a lot of coconut. See Manisha’s kolmbo
2.: Saaru (Thin lentil curry). Saaru is commonly made by mixing tamarind paste with lentil stock (the water in which lentils have been cooked). Saaru can be looked at as a thin version of the Sambar. If you let the sambar sit after cooking, it separates into two layers. The top watery layer can actually be served as Saaru. See Roopas Pepper Saaru with a twist – using milk in place of tuvar dal !
5.: Chutney is a blended , spicy, uncooked coconut curry. A version called the Thambuli is very popular.
6.: Mosaru Baji is a raw yogurt curry, very similar to the north Indian Raita or the Tamil Thayir Pachadi. See 1001 Raitas for recipes.
8.: Sagu, a coconut- chili curry, is very similar to the Tamil Kootu. It always has a base of blended coconut and chili and is usually bursting with vegetables. You can even cook a sagu without lentils. Sagu has many versions in which soaked poppy seeds / cinnamon / cilantro / mint / cumin / cloves/ pepper etc are also ground up along with coconut. It is so versatile that I’ll be putting up a 1001 Sagu cookbook soon. See Asha’s Sagu, Vegetable Sagu, Latha’s Sagu with lentils.
If you notice an error, or have a recipe that needs to be included here, please comment or mail me. Thanks !