I say brinjal, you say eggplant, and they say aubergine. Whatever. It’s delicious, it’s my favorite veggie, and today I have for you one of the most delicious ways you can cook it up and eat it: Brinjal Pulippu Kootu, a tangy dal you might never have eaten before unless you’re a native of Tamil Nadu.
When I first started cooking up Tamil food, I was a little amazed at how Desi’s vegetarian family managed to cook up the same basic ingredients — lentils, curry leaves, veggies, tamarind, and spices like coriander seeds, red chillies, mustard seeds and turmeric– into very different-tasting dishes every day of the week. These “dals” (as lentil-based dishes are known through the rest of India), went by different names too: sambar or kuzhambu, kootu, and masiyal. Befuddled, I’d ask Desi: “How can you tell which is which?”
Over time I learned. Here, if you are interested, are the most glaring differences: A sambar is tart with tamarind, whereas a masiyal is tarted up by souring agents other than tamarind, like green tomatoes or lemon or raw mangoes and may or may not include lentils except as a seasoning. Masiyals also typically use lentils other than tuvar dal or split pigeon peas, like moong dal. And then there is the kootu which is not tart at all-and is typically thicker than sambar. A kootu also often includes black pepper and coconut which makes it quite distinct and utterly delicious.
But exceptions, as you know, make up the rule, and today I have for you a recipe for the renegade Pulippu Kootu: the Kootu that’s tart like a sambar but is otherwise the spitting image of a kootu. Go figure.
If your head’s spinning by now, stop, get up, and go to the kitchen and cook up this kootu– that’s all you really need to do anyway, right? If you want to stick with tradition you should make this kootu with brinjal or eggplant, like I did, or with chow chow (available here in the United States as chayote squash). Or you can experiment with another veggie, although here’s a little tip: you really don’t want to stray from the deliciousness that eggplant brings to this dish.
TGIF, everyone, and hope you have a lovely weekend!
- ½ cup tuvar dal or split pigeon peas
- 9 small round eggplants, cut into a ½-inch dice
- 2 tbsp freshly grated coconut (you can use frozen, but thaw before use)
- ½ tsp turmeric
- A generous pinch of asafetida (hing)
- 2 tsp mustard seeds
- ¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
- 1 tbsp tamarind extract. (or 1-inch ball of tamarind pods, soaked in ½ cup of water for 30 minutes. Extract the tamarind pulp by crushing with fingers and discard the dry solids)
- For ground masala:
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp udad dal or black gram dal
- 1 tbsp chana dal or bengal gram dal
- 2 tsp black peppercorns
- 2 dry red chillies
- ½ cup peanuts, covered with water and microwaved for five minutes. Or you can bring them to a boil on the stovetop, lower heat, and let them cook 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- ¼ cup freshly grated coconut. Again, you can use frozen but thaw first.
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- Mix the lentils and turmeric, add water and cook until the lentils are really soft and mashable. Pressure-cooking works best here — and the fastest– but you can do this on the stovetop. Use enough water to cover the lentils by an inch, bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook the lentils until they are soft and mushy. You will need to check frequently to ensure the water hasn’t dried out.
- Make the ground masala. Heat 1 tsp of oil and add the masala ingredients. On medium heat, saute the ingredients, stirring frequently, until the coconut turns a few shades darker. Be watchful because coconut burns easily.
- Remove the masala ingredients to a blender, add enough water to make a paste, and blend to a smooth paste. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan, place the chopped eggplant, add the tamarind, some salt, and enough water to almost cover the vegetables. Bring the mixture to a boil, turn heat to low, cover and cook until the brinjals are thoroughly cooked. Don’t take shortcuts here because half-cooked brinjal is worse than no brinjal at all.
- Add the cooked lentils, peanuts, and ground masala paste. Stir well, add water if the mixture is too thick, bring to a boil, lower heat, and cook at a gentle simmer for about 10 minutes.
- In a small saucepan, add the remaining 1 tsp of oil and then add mustard seeds. When the mustard sputters, add the coconut and curry leaves.
- Saute the coconut and curry leaves until the coconut turns lightly golden.
- Add to the lentils and mix thoroughly. Stir in the coriander leaves.
- Serve hot with some boiled rice and potato curry.