Knowing languages is an art, which helps her craft, dubbing and acting career. Born and brought up in Chennai, Ammu feels she is a true Chennaiite who knows every nook and corner and every great eating joint. When she visits the Kapaleeshwar temple, idlis and coffee in the ancient Brahmin mess is a must. From anchoring to stage production, she has done it all and is proud to have learned to survive well in a competitive industry. Her movies, be it Majnu, Mariyathai or Mandhira, or TV soaps like Ananda Thandavam, Villali Veeran and several others, have helped her to grow as an individual with a deep insight into life. Philosophical and spiritual, she feels destiny is behind every single thing that happens in her life.
Temple and festival prasadams, especially sakkara pongal are special for her and so is her grandmother’s food, who cooked on firewood and grounded masala on stone slabs (ammikal). She not only cooked the food but used to take hot lunch packed and wait outside Ammu’s school at lunchtime and returned only after feeding her. The taste of the food remains unforgotten in her memory and even now her mouth waters when she recollects the food. Even though Ammu loves seafood, her favourite is south Indian vegetarian dishes. A few include curd rice with vathal kuzhambu, paneer butter masala, spongy idlis with small onion sambar. Out of all the dishes, one of her top favourites is a bhindi (vendakkai) dish which is made with masala stuffed and fried crisp. Stuffed bhindi masala is her weakness and she ensures that the dish is there on the dining table whenever she invites people over. She loves cooking for her friends. Her exposure to world cuisine and traditional food was because of her work. According to her, film unit food in south India is irresistible and the taste and quality are unparallel.
Bhindi or okra or vendakkai was mentioned during the reign of King Bhulokamala Someshwara 111 of the Western Chalukyan Dynasty who ruled between 1126 to 1138 AD. A dish describing the crispy bhindi in a bowl of whipped curds seasoned with salt was a dish fit for the emperor, which was created in the royal kitchens. Charaka the historian writes of a vegetable called bhindi and its several uses. It was first grown in Eritrea and the highlands of Sudan and said to have travelled with the Bantu tribe who migrated from Egypt around 2000 BC. Soon it was growing along the great river valleys of India and China. Today, Ammu shares her recipe of stuffed bhindi masala which she makes for her special guests.
— Chef Ramaa Shanker is the author of Festive Offerings to the Gods: Divine Soul Recipes
Stuffed Bhindi Masala Recipe
Besan/gram flour: ¼ cup | Kashmiri chilli powder: 1 tsp | Turmeric powder: ½ tsp | Salt: to taste | Coriander powder: 1 tsp | Jeera (cumin) powder:1 tsp | Amchur powder (dry mango powder): 1 tsp | Garam masala powder: ½ tsp | Groundnut oil: 6 tbsp | Bhindi (tender ones): 12 long ones | Ginger-garlic paste: 1 tsp | Onion: 1 big cut fine | tomato: 1 big cut fine | Asafetida: ¼ tsp | Whole cumin: ½ tsp | Green chillies: 2 cut lengthwise
- Wash and dry the bhindis. Once dry, cut off the cap and a little bit of the tip. Make a 3/4th incision in the side lengthwise. Keep aside
- Take a bowl and pour 1 tbsp of oil in it. Add all the dry masala powder and mix
- Add salt to it
- Take another bowl and mix the gram flour with a little water, asafetida, a little salt to make a thick paste
- Take each bhindi and stuff it gently with dry masala paste and coat with gram flour paste. Keep it ready for frying
- Now place a flat (non-stick preferable) saucepan on the gas and pour enough oil to saute and make the bhindis crisp
- When oil is hot, place all the bhindis in the flat round saucepan and saute the bhindis. When crisp on one side turn over and let it get crisp all over
- Take a separate saucepan, place it on gas. Add the remaining oil
- Add cumin, asafoetida and green chillies and let it splutter
- Add onions, ginger garlic paste add salt
- When cooked well, add tomatoes and saute till it becomes a beautiful mixture
- When done, lower the gas flame and place all the bhindis in the masala. Leave it for 3-4 minutes, then switch off the gas
- Stuffed bhindi masala is ready to be served with rice, rotis, pooris or parathas
Ammu's Kitchen Tips
- Ensure bhindis are fresh or else it will not taste good
- Gram flour should not be too watery then it will not coat the bhindi
- The dish tastes good only when served hot