My friend Patty came home for dinner over the Fourth of July weekend, and I thought I’d have some pun fun by making her a Pattypan Kootu with veggies straight from my yard.
This spring, I picked up the plant at my local nursery simply because I got a kick out of the pictures of aliens with the name “flying saucer squash” emblazoned on the tag. I had seen this really cute-looking veggie before at the store, but never picked it up because honestly I wasn’t sure what to do with it.
But when my plant grew to elephantine proportions by early summer and began shooting out plump, star-shaped, yellow-green fruit faster than I could say “unidentified flying object,” I had to learn, and fast.
Google told me that pattypan are rather like zucchini, and indeed they are, with sweet, pristine-white flesh that can be eaten raw in salads but is also great cooked. It was particularly, meltingly delicious in this healthy kootu.
A kootu, to give you a quick backgrounder, is a homey south Indian dish that typically features a veggie cooked in lentils. You are not likely to run into it at Indian restaurants in the United States, which tend to either serve north Indian food or more popular south Indian dishes like dosas and idlis and sambar. If you’ve never eaten a kootu (which can be made with all kinds of veggies, including leafies), it’s worth the trouble of making it at home because it is, quite simply, delicious.
To the uninitiated, a kootu might sound a lot like a sambar or kuzhambu, but here’s the difference: kootu tends to be a thicker, coconutty version of a sambar, and the masala is slightly (but crucially) different from the one you’d use for a sambar. Also, a kootu does not typically contain tamarind, a key ingredient in lots of south Indian cooking and particularly in sambar.
Patty loved the Pattypan Kootu, and so did Desi, so I guess I have a keeper recipe on hand, and a keeper veggie. Next, I might try my alien squash in some Pattypan Bread, a twist on my Zucchini Bread, always a popular summer recipe both at my home and on the blog.
Pattypan (Flying Saucer Squash) Kootu
2 medium pattypan squash, diced into very small cubes (about 1 cm)
3/4 cup tuvar dal (yellow split peas)
1 sprig curry leaves (optional)
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
Salt to taste
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp blackgram dal (udad dal)
1 tbsp chana dal (Bengalgram dal)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2-3 dry red chilies
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
Pressure-cook the split yellow peas until mashably soft. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, use a saucepan and enough water to cover the lentils by about 2 inches. The lentils should take about 45 minutes to become mashably soft. Check often and stir to ensure that the water hasn’t evaporated or the lentils will burn. Add more water if needed).
Fry masala ingredients in a teaspoon of oil. When the dals turn golden, remove to a blender and grind into a smooth paste along with coconut.
Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil and add mustard seeds and curry leaves, if using.
Add the pattypan squash and stir-fry for about five minutes or until it starts to get tender.
Add the ground masala and the cooked split peas and stir well.
Add more water if the kootu is too thick and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the flavors have blended together and the squash is very tender.
Add salt to taste.
Serve hot with rice and papads.
For more kootu love, check out my Cabbage Kootu.