Brinjal Pulippu Kootu

Eggplant Kootu 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?”

Continue reading

Brinjal Kootu

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!

Eggplant Kootu

Brinjal Pulippu Kootu
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Curry
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Remove the masala ingredients to a blender, add enough water to make a paste, and blend to a smooth paste. Set aside.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Saute the coconut and curry leaves until the coconut turns lightly golden.
  8. Add to the lentils and mix thoroughly. Stir in the coriander leaves.
  9. Serve hot with some boiled rice and potato curry.

Potato curry

 

 

Onion Sambar | Vengaya Sambar

Vengaya SambarIt’s almost a given that you cannot go to a Tamil home without being invited to stay for a meal. Tamilians love to feed as much as they love to eat, and when we go to Chennai on our visits back to India it is not unusual for us to have two lunches, two dinners, and umpteen snacks, all in a single day, as we make the rounds of our relatives’ homes.

When we lived in Bombay, we were not above exploiting all this hospitality. The mother of one of our friends, Malathy,  was a great cook. Luckily our home was not far from Malathy’s, and whenever we were craving a great homecooked Tamil meal Desi and I would just drop in for a visit, sure that we’d be well fed.

Continue reading

Vengaya SambarWhile almost any meal you’d eat in a Tamil home would be special, we were never happier than when we were served Vengaya Sambar or Onion Sambar, a delicious dal made with tiny red onions. This dish, one of Desi’s favorites, fast became one of my favorites too because it is just so delicious. It was also one of the first types of sambar I learned to cook when I started to putter around the kitchen.

Many years — and hundreds of sambars later– I want to share with you this classic dish beloved in every home kitchen in Chennai. My version is made with fresh ground sambar masala that takes just minutes to put together. The red pearl onions (chinna vengayam in Tamil) are key to this dish because of their unique flavor. If you can’t easily find them in your grocery store don’t be tempted to substitute with the more commonly available white pearl onions because you just won’t get the same flavor. Red pearl onions are sold both fresh or frozen at Indian grocery stores and buy the fresh ones if possible because while the frozen onions are lower on labor (you don’t have to peel them),   they can sometimes be chewy. If you absolutely cannot find red pearl onions, I’d advise buying shallots instead and cutting them into small pieces.

Vengaya Sambar tastes best poured over some hot boiled rice with a side of crispy potato curry. And don’t forget to toast up some poppadums!

Vengaya Sambar

Onion Sambar or Vengaya Sambar
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Curry
Cuisine: Tamil
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 1 cup tuvar dal or split pigeon peas
  • 1 tbsp of tamarind extract mixed with 1 cup of water. Alternately, if you’re using tamarind pods, soak a 1-inch ball of the pods in warm water for 15 minutes, then extract the flavor by crushing the pods with your fingers. Discard the solids and reserve the liquid portion.
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 3 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 dry red chillies
  • 1 tbsp chana dal or bengal gram dal
  • ¼ tsp dry fenugreek seeds (methi)
  • 2 cups red pearl onions, ends trimmed and papery skins peeled. Tamil cooks sometimes soak the onions overnight which makes it easier to slip the skins off.
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves (about 12 individual leaves)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • A generous pinch of hing or asafetida
  • Salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Mix the lentils and turmeric, add water and cook until tender in a pressure cooker. Or cover the peas with an inch of water in a pot and bring to a boil, then slap on a lid, lower to simmer, and boil for 30-45 minutes or until the peas are tender enough to mash. Add more water if needed as they cook.
  2. Prepare the ground masala by heating 1 tsp of oil. Add to it the coriander seeds, chana dal, fenugreek seeds and chillies and saute until the coriander seeds and dal turn a few shades darker and are lightly golden-brown. Remove to a blender, add enough water to keep the blades moving, and process to a smooth paste.
  3. Heat 1 tsp of the oil, add the pearl onions and stir-fry until the start to turn golden. Add the tamarind extract and let the mixture cook about 8 minutes.
  4. Add the ground masala and stir well to mix. Add the cooked tuvar dal and bring everything to a boil.
  5. Lower the heat to a simmer, add salt to taste, and let the sambar cook for 10 minutes so all the flavors have a chance to meld together.
  6. To temper the sambar– an important flavor-building step– heat the last teaspoon of oil in a small saucepan and add the mustard seeds. When they crackle, add the asafetida and curry leaves. Fry for a few seconds, turn off the heat, and pour over the sambar. Mix well.

Onion Sambar

Pongal

Pongal Rice CakesA short post today to wish a very happy Pongal to all the readers of Holy Cow!, and especially my Tamil readers, friends and family.

The Tamil harvest festival — a Thanksgiving of sorts– is determined by the Hindu calendar and this year it falls on January 14. Pongal’s always especially welcome because it brings with it two of the most delicious dishes you’ll ever eat that are also named Pongal — Venn Pongal, a salty, cumin-scented, risotto-like preparation of rice and mung lentils, and Sakkarai or Chakkarai Pongal, a sweet, cardamom-scented pudding made primarily– again– of rice and mung beans.

Continue reading

Over many years of cooking for my readers– and my Tamil husband Desi– I’ve tried and tested many vegan versions of Pongal. Traditionally both the sweet and savory Pongal recipes include tons of ghee, but my vegan avatars are just as delicious and far healthier — not to mention more compassionate, which just seems right for a celebration of any sorts, doesn’t it? For all you gf’ers out there, all these recipes are also gluten-free.

So here they are, including a recipe for fun Crispy Pongal Cakes, a delicious way to makeover leftover Venn Pongal. Try them, to make your Pongal just a little bit more special.

Pongal Vazhthukkal,  all!

venn pongal avialVenn Pongal, Sakkarai Pongal, Avial (made with a vegan “ghee”)

Venn Pongal GotsuVenn Pongal with Eggplant Gotsu 

sakkarai pongalSakkarai Pongal

pongal cakesCrispy Pongal Cakes (with leftover Venn Pongal) and Sweet Potato Gotsu

sakkarai pongalSakkarai Pongal with Coconut Milk

Vegetable Kurma

Vegetable KurmaMy cat Pie does not want me to write this post for you. No, really, I am not kidding. In the time that I put down these first few words for my Vegetable Kurma post, she has prised my fingers off the keyboard with her little head at least a half dozen times, insisting that I attend to the far more important job of scratching the top of her head.

So I did, and now I am back, and she is sitting right next to me purring. And I can bet you that before I reach the end of this paragraph she will be back for more. She’s been doing this so often of late that I found myself telling Desi the other day how much she has started to remind me of my grandmother. Not that my grandmother, Amma, wanted her head rubbed, bless her heart, but I remember how much she loved it when we gave her our undivided attention so she could tell us all about the wonderful life she had lived in her 70-plus years.

Pie is nearly 17 now —  middle-aged, I like to think, because hasn’t the oldest cat ever lived to be 38 years old, according to the Guinness Book of World Records? But no matter how much I try to convince her of that, she has decided she’s a grand old lady. And like a grand old lady, she wants the entire household to be at her beck and call every moment of every day, thank you. Not that I remember a time when we weren’t at her beck and call. Oh, those cats!

Pie the cat

Veg KurmaComing back to the Kurma, I was trying to think up a healthy recipe packed with a rainbow of vegetables that we could scoop up with some Phulkas. A kurma, sometimes called a kuruma or korma, is made with vegetables and you can find many versions of it in different parts of India. A richer version that I love is Navratan Kurma — richer because it incorporates dry fruits and nuts– but this time I was looking for something healthier and less complicated.

I found this exquisitely easy recipe from the Vah Chef that I tweaked only slightly. I also added more vegetables, because I like my kurma as veggieful as possible. There are carrots here and green peas and bell peppers and green beans. You can change up the veggies, if you like– cauliflower is wonderful in kurmas, and zucchini and mushrooms and sweet potatoes would be good too. Kurma is great with Indian flatbreads, but you can also serve it with some rice and dal  for a delicious meal.

Uh-oh, Pie’s looking at me rather purposefully and I think you know what’s next.  Here she comes! Gotta run, all, to scratch a handsome little head. But first here’s the recipe.

Veg Korma

Vegetable Kurma
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
An easy and delicious south Indian style kurma made with mixed vegetables
Author:
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (canned is fine here)
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (use less if you prefer)
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped into roundels
  • 1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves
  • 2 tsp garam masala powder
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp poppy seeds
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
Instructions
  1. Place the beans, carrots and potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl and zap for seven minutes on high or until the potatoes are tender but not mushy.
  2. Place the coconut milk and poppy seeds in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Add a little bit of water if needed.
  3. In a pressure cooker or in a large saucepan, heat 1 tsp of oil. Add the onions, stir and cook for about a minute or two, then add the tomatoes, ginger-garlic paste, cayenne, turmeric, coriander powder, cumin powder, and a generous pinch of salt.
  4. Stir everything together and then pressure cook for about 10 minutes after the cooker reaches cooking pressure.
  5. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, place a lid on the saucepan and cook for about 20 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onions and tomatoes are really well-incorporated.
  6. In another saucepan, heat the remaining 1 tsp of oil. Add the curry leaves and then add the coconut-poppy paste. Stir frequently and cook until the paste becomes a couple of shades darker. Don’t walk away at this stage because the paste can easily burn.
  7. Add the diced bell pepper and peas and stir well. Add the cooked vegetables and the tomato-onion paste. Stir everything well to mix, add water if you want a thinner curry, bring the mixture to a boil, slap on a lid, lower heat to a simmer, and cook about five minutes for all the flavors to meld.
  8. Add the garam masala and more salt. Stir in the coriander leaves. Serve hot.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 142 Fat: 6.7 g Carbohydrates: 18.4 g Sugar: 4.9 g Fiber: 4.5 Protein: 3.5 Cholesterol: 0

vegetable kurma

White Pumpkin Sambar

pooshnikai sambar 3When you’re married to a Tamilian as long as I have been, everyone pretty much considers you an honorary member of the club. But when it comes to my in-laws, nothing wins me more Tamil points than cooking up for them a fabulous south Indian meal that leaves them licking their fingers.

Because Tamilians love their food. And by that I mean their food. After years of living outside Tamil Nadu, Desi claims he can barely speak Tamil without stumbling mid-sentence (although he sounds just fine to me!). But, I can assure you, his Tamil tastebuds are quite intact. When I put a plate of sambar, rasam, curry and rice with some crispy poppadums in front of him I can tell he’s doing cartwheels in his head.

white pumpkin sambarOne popular Tamil ingredient Desi loves– and one he never fails to point me to when we go shopping at the Indian grocery store– is white pumpkin, or poosanikkai.

White pumpkin has, as the name suggests, stark white flesh and a brilliant green skin that’s inedible– just like your regular orange pumpkin. The flesh is rather bland and takes on the flavor of the masalas  you add to your dish. Which makes it perfect for sambar, a south Indian dal flavored by a vibrant melange of spices.

I’ve shared many sambar (kuzhambu) recipes with you over the years, but this one has got to be one of my favorites. The white pumpkin just melts in your mouth and if you haven’t had it before, trust me, you’ll soon be a fan.

Here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

poosanikkai kuzhambu

White Pumpkin Sambar or Poosanikkai Sambar
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A delicious south Indian sambar made with white pumpkin cubes
Author:
Recipe type: Dal
Cuisine: Tamil
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • 1 cup tuvar dal
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp chana dal (bengal gram)
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 2 dry red chillies (use more if you want a spicier sambar)
  • ¼ cup grated coconut or ¼ cup canned coconut milk
  • 2 sprigs of curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp sambar powder
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste or, if you are using tamarind pods, a 1-inch ball of tamarind soaked in a cup of warm water for at least 30 minutes. Crush the tamarind with your fingers to extract the pulp and discard the stringy solids. Reserve.
  • 4 cups of white pumpkin cubes. Trim off the dark green skin and dice the white flesh.
  • 1 tbsp grated jaggery
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • A generous pinch of asafetida (hing)
Instructions
  1. Pressure cook the dal and turmeric until the dal is soft and mashable. You can also do this on a stovetop. Cover the dal with an inch of water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer until soft, about 45 minutes to an hour. Add water if the dal gets dry.
  2. Heat 1 tsp oil and add to it the coriander seeds, chana dal, fenugreek seeds, and red chillies. Saute, stirring frequently, until the coriander seeds and dal are a couple of shades darker. Don’t let anything burn.
  3. Remove the coriander seeds mixture to a blender, add the coconut and enough water to make a smooth paste. Blend.
  4. Place the tamarind extract in a saucepan with 1 cup of water or, if you used the tamarind pods, place the pulp you extracted in a saucepan.
  5. Add some salt and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the curry leaves.
  6. Add the pumpkin cubes, return to a boil, cover, lower heat to a simmer, and let the pumpkin cook until it’s almost tender, about 8-10 minutes.
  7. Add the ground masala, increase heat, and bring the mixture to a boil.
  8. Add the cooked dal and sambar powder and stir well. Add more water if needed.
  9. When the dal comes to a boil, lower the heat once again and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add water if the sambar gets too dry. You want a fairly fluid texture.
  10. Heat the remaining 1 tsp of oil and add the mustard seeds and asafetida. When the mustard crackles, pour the oil over the dal and mix well.
  11. Serve hot with rice.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 103 Unsaturated fat: 1.3 g Carbohydrates: 15.2 g Sugar: 3.3 g Fiber: 2.7 g Protein: 4.6 g