The spices in this South Indian Cabbage Dal, or Cabbage Kootu, are mellowed by the sweetness of coconut. It is the quintessential Tamil dal and it goes perfectly with rice or a south Indian bread like dosa. A vegan, gluten-free, soy-free and nut-free recipe.
This is an updated version of one of my first posts on this blog in Dec. 2007. I’ve updated it with new photos and tweaked the recipe to make it lower in fat. I’ve retained the commentary below as it was originally written.
Desi was born and raised in Madras (or Chennai, although he insists on calling it Madras still) in a very traditional family. But when we got married, his parents and six siblings were more than welcoming to the new daughter-in-law even though she had short hair, didn’t wear saris and didn’t speak a word of Tamil.
What did rattle them, though, was that I didn’t know how to cook Tamilian food.
Tamilians love their food, and I mean their food. I still remember an attempt I made at trying to get my father-in-law to try out noodles. Even though he was trying to be a sport, I could not help but feel sorry for the man as he struggled with the strange food on his plate, probably wondering why anyone would want to eat this stuff! It is one of my fondest memories of my wonderful father-in-law who has passed away since.
But getting back to Tamil food, since Desi and I lived far from Madras, in Bombay, there really was no way I could learn from my Tamil family members how to cook authentic recipes. One of my sisters-in-law , Lalitha manni, came to my rescue: she recommended a cookbook named, quite simply, “How to Cook.”
The book, by Vedavalli Venkatachary, is very straightforward and unpretentious with no pictures and with directions that sometimes skip a step or two. It has become one of my favorite cookbooks over the years, and one I often run to when I feel in the mood for something simple but wholesome. The book even made the journey with us from India to the United States and now sits in my kitchen shelf here. It is a treasure trove of Tamil recipes for all occasions, ranging from the usual sambhars (kuzhambu) and rasams, to chutneys and side dishes and sweets like sarkarai pongal.
This recipe for Cabbage Kootu is adapted from one of Venkatachary’s recipes.
I have always loved cooking with cabbage, not just because it tastes great, but because of its wonderful versatility. In Indian cuisine, it can be cooked as a side dish, added to curries and even makes wonderful bhujias.
What’s more, cabbage is a nutrition powerhouse, packed with fiber, vitamins, and even calcium. It belongs to the family of cruciferous vegetables, along with cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale, which are known to have anti-cancer properties
I used a half a head of a small cabbage for this South Indian Cabbage Dal which is just the perfect amount, but feel free to use a smaller amount, if that’s what you want. The black pepper gives the kootu a fragrance and taste that is beyond description — you’ll just have to take my word for it. Or make it yourself!
Try these dal recipes next:
Cabbage Kootu Recipe:
South Indian Cabbage Dal, Cabbage Kootu
- 1/2 small head of cabbage (about four cups chopped), finely chopped
- 1/2 cup pigeon peas (tuvar dal). Pink lentils are a fine substitute.
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- About 10-15 curry leaves (not sprigs but the individual leaves)
- 3 tbsp shredded coconut or 1/2 cup coconut milk (fresh or canned is good)
- 1 tsp coconut oil, divided
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
For the masala:
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp blackgram dal (udad dal)
- 1 tbsp chana dal (Bengalgram dal)
- 1 dry red chili pepper, like arbol pepper or Kashmiri chili pepper (use more or less based on your tolerance for heat)
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
- Pressure-cook the split yellow peas and cabbage with enough water to cover and turmeric. If you use an Indian pressure cooker that "whistles" allow the lentils to cook for three whistles. If cooking in a saucepan, cover by an inch of water and cook 30 minutes or until the dal is really soft. If cooking in an Instant Pot, set the pressure to high for 15 minutes.
- Heat 1/2 tsp of the oil and add the masala ingredients. Fry them until the dals turn golden, remove to a blender, and grind into a smooth paste along with coconut or coconut milk.
- Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and when the mustard sputters, add the dal and masala and mix. Add water if too thick.
- Bring the dal to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for another five minutes. Add salt to taste.
- Serve hot with rice and papad.
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