A south-Indian style eggplant dal, Brinjal Pulippu Kootu is a thick, coconut-laced dal tangy with tamarind and spiced with sambar spices from South India. Serve this with hot rice and poppadum for a traditional Tamil meal.
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 green tomato 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!
Brinjal Pulippu Kootu
- 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 or hing
- 2 tsp mustard seeds
- ¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
- 1 tbsp tamarind extract. Or a 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
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- 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.
- For ground masala paste:
- 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
- ¼ cup freshly grated coconut. You can use frozen but thaw first.
- 1 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.