Podavalangai Kootu - Snake Gourd With Lentils and Coconut
Another frequently cooked dish in Palakkad Iyer homes is the "Kootu", which is served as one of the side dishes to the main meal. This dish has its origins in Tamilnadu as it is not traditionally cooked in Kerala. A "kootu" is made with one vegetable (sometimes two), Bengal gram lentils and a spice-coconut paste. This preparation does not have a gravy as such, yet cannot be defined as "dry" because the spice-coconut paste coats the vegetables and lentils resulting in a moist and semi-solid consistency.
This kootu is made with podavalangai which is known as "snake gourd" in English, probably because of its appearance and length. This is vegetable which is very commonly grown and cooked in Kerala.
It is important to use the vegetable in its tender stage, as once it is mature, podavalangai (snake gourd) tends to develop string-like fibres in it making it difficult to chew and tasteless.
The surface of a tender podavalangai/ snake gourd will spring back when depressed slightly. In fact, local vegetable vendors in Kerala would bend the vegetable and break it into two with a "pop" sound (most of them refuse to do this nowadays) to show you how fresh their produce was. Naturally, once broken and having proved that the vegetable was fresh, you would have to buy it if you wanted to come back to that shop/ market again!
- Soak the Bengal gram lentils (chana dal) in a little water for 1/2 an hour. Cook the snake gourd pieces and lentils together (till both are done), along with turmeric powder and salt. The lentils should be cooked well but firm and not mushy.
- I do the cooking in the microwave at 100% for 8 to 10 minutes.
- Now grind the coconut, cumin seeds and red chillies to a somewhat thick and smooth paste adding a little water.
- If you have microwaved them, put the cooked vegetable and lentils, turmeric powder, salt, and about 1/4 cup of water in a pan. Otherwise continue using the pan in which you cooked the vegetable (it should have about 1/4 cup of liquid in it). Bring to a boil and turn down the heat to medium.
- Add the coconut paste and curry leaves, and allow to the mixture to cook for about 2 to 3 minutes till everything comes together and the coconut paste thickly coats the vegetable. The preparation should be semi-solid and very moist. Take the pan off the heat and ladle out the "kootu" into a serving dish.
- Heat the oil for tempering in a small pan, and add the mustard seeds. When the splutter, add the black gram lentils and stir till the turn light golden brown. Add the chili (if using), stir once, and pour this into the serving dish.
- Stir before serving. Serve warm with rice and Sambhar or Rasam.