The term 'semi-gravy' is probably one only Indians can relate to. Of course, we use this to identify the consistency of dishes not only in Indian restaurants but also Chinese restaurants in India. Kootu is one such dish that falls right into this classic definition of a semi-gravy. It's not quite a gravy or a sambar and yet it's not quite stir-fried vegetable, or poriyal or thoran in Kerala. It takes its name from the Tamil word for 'add,' which is used to describe the blending of lentils and vegetables. It's also a regular feature across south Indian banana leaf meals, especially during festive occasions and wedding menus. The Kerala versions I've tried - and there are quite a few depending on the region - tend to be more dry than the versions I'm familiar with from Tamil Nadu, while the Udupi version I've tried from Karnataka tends to swing more towards a gravy.
There Are Two Major Types Of Kootu In Tamil Nadu:
Puli or tamarind kootu is usually served on special occasions and as an accompaniment for rice and rasam or rice with Mor Kuzhambu (that's similar to a Rajasthani kadi). It's a slightly thicker version of kootu and normally prepared with white pumpkin or brinjal. It's not unusual to find bite-sized urad dal vadas in this recipe. Here's the recipe:
- White pumpkin cut (or brinjal) into small cubes - 1 cup
- Soaked (overnight) Lima beans (motchai or motcha kottai in Tamil) - 2 tablespoons
- Green peas fresh or dry - 2 tablespoons
- Channa dal - 1 tablespoon
- Cooked tur dal - 1/4 cup
- Coconut oil - 1/2 teaspoon
- Tamarind pulp - 1/4 cup (size of one big lemon)
- Urad dal - 1 teaspoon
- Grated coconut - 1 tablespoon
- Coriander seeds - 1 tablespoon
- Dried red chillies - 4
- Salt - to taste
- Turmeric - 1/4 teaspoon
- Steam Lima beans, channa dal and peas and keep them aside.
- Now, steam pumpkin (or brinjal) in water and once it's almost done, then add the tamarind water (soak the tamarind in water) along with salt and turmeric powder.
- Fry urad dal, channa dal and red chillies in coconut oil separately and when it turns golden, add coriander seeds and coconut for a minute.
- Grind this in a blender to a coarse mixture once it cools down.
- Mix this mixture with pumpkin and lentils with water and cook on a high flame for 3-4 minutes till it thickens (much thicker consistency than sambar).
- Temper with coconut oil, 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, a pinch of asafoetida and a few curry leaves.
Poricha kootu literally means fried kootu because of its cooking style. This one works with a variety of vegetables, including cabbage, beans, chow chow (Chayote), and snake gourd or ridge gourd. It tastes equally good with rotis or with rice.
- Moong dal - 1 cup
- Channa dal - 1 tablespoon (soaked well)
- Vegetables - 1 cup (you can use any of the vegetables from the above list)
- Green chillies - 2/3
- Jeera - 1/2 teaspoon
- Peppercorns - a few
- Coconut oil - 1/2 teaspoon
- Urad dal - 1/2 teaspoon
- Coconut (grated) - 2 tablespoons
- Cook moong dal and channa dal. Keep it aside.
- Steam the vegetables in water and once it's almost done, add the tamarind water (soak the tamarind in water) along with salt and turmeric powder.
- Fry 1/2 teaspoon of urad dal in a pan.
- Now, add green chillies, coconut, pepper and jeera to it and then grind it.
- Add all the ingredients together to the paste. Add water and cook on a high flame till the gravy thickens (thicker than sambar).
- Temper with one teaspoon of coconut oil, 1/4 teaspoon of mustard, 1/2 teaspoon of urad dal, a pinch of asafoetida and curry leaves.
Kootu is certainly not a dish with an identity crisis. It's actually a dish that's perfect for those days when you can't fix an elaborate meal. You can mix kootu with your rice as a first course and then it morphs into a side dish for your next. It's also a dish that works as an accompaniment for rotis.
About Ashwin RajagopalanI've discovered cultures, destinations and felt at home in some of the world's most remote corners because of the various meals I've tried that have been prepared with passion. Sometimes they are traditional recipes and at most times they've been audacious reinterpretations by creative chefs. I might not cook often but when I do, I imagine I'm in a cookery show set - matching measuring bowls, et all!