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!