This used to be a speciality of my paternal grandmother, passed on to her daughter and her three daughters-in-law (one of whom is my mother). I wont say it's a totally unique recipe, but as far as I know, my other grandmother never made this, and none of my maternal relatives do so either. Let's say it's a recipe that is tradition only on my dad's side of the family.
And believe you me, it's a recipe well beloved of my siblings and cousins. We all happen to like green plantains, so that helps. They go a step further (my cousins) and even relish it boiled, seasoned and mixed with fresh grated coconut - something that fills me with acute dislike because of the coconut. Dislike for the recipe, mind, not my cousins - they're some of my favourite people in the world, despite their sometimes odd tastes!
My favourite way to have this kootu is with plain steamed rice with a side of microwaved poppadums and a yogurt pachadi (raita) made with baby green mangoes pickled in brine (maavadu or vadu manga, in Tamil).
Usually my mother makes the pachadi with the mangoes that have gone soft and squishy - she grinds them up with a little coconut and a few other ingredients and mixes the resulting masala with yogurt/curds. A neat way to make use of something that would otherwise be discarded. I'm not sure of the exact recipe for the pachadi... but since I dont have the pickled mangoes with which to make it, I cant say I feel the lack!
Preparing the plantains is a somewhat sticky, messy job. I have to say it's not my most favourite task. Greasing my hands and the blade of my knife helps, but does not entirely stop the juices from the peel sticking to your fingers and turning black. But the oil makes it easier to scrub the residue off at the end. Messy task or not, I personally feel it's worth it once in a while, just for the kootu.
Here's how I prepare the plantains (known as Saba banana in the US, according to info received):
Take two medium plantains and cut them in half, chop off the ends. Use a sharp knife to pare off the thick green peel, starting with the ridged parts. Try to take off as little flesh as possible (both yours and the plantain's - or you'll end up losing blood and/or losing a great deal of the edible white part!). Keep a bowl of cold water handy in which to dunk the peeled plantains, or they'll get badly discoloured.
Chop the peeled plantains into small cubes. Keep 'em dunked in the water.
Now go on to the recipe.
Recipe for: Vazhakkai kootu (green plantain "stew")
2 medium green plantains, peeled and chopped
1 tsp tamarind paste dissolved in 3 cups water
4 tbsp chana dal (bengal gram)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 cup tuvar dal (red gram dal), cooked and mashed well
For the masala paste:
2 tsp urad dal
5-6 dried red chillies (or to taste)
2 tbsp fresh grated coconut
1 htsp rice flour
Salt to taste
4-5 tbsp warm water
1 tsp oil
2 tsp mustard seeds
6-7 curry leaves
2 tsp urad dal
1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
1. Grind the masala ingredients to a fine paste using 5-6 tbsp warm water. Set aside.
2. Put the chana dal and the chopped plantains in the tamarind water along with the turmeric powder, and bring to a boil.
3. Lower the heat to a simmer and let it cook until the plantain pieces begin to look sort of translucent. (Skim off any foam that appears on the top). It's cooked when the pieces hold their shape but can be easily mashed between two fingers.
The chana dal ought to be cooked to more or less the same texture by now - holding its shape but easily mashed between two fingers. If not, close the pan with a lid and let simmer for 3-4 minutes longer.
4. Now mix the coconut masala paste with the cooked tuvar dal, using a little water to make it pourable, and mix this with the cooked plantains. Add salt to taste and let the mixture simmer for 4-5 minutes longer.
The cooked tuvar dal-coconut masala mixture
5. In the meantime, heat the oil in a little pan and add the tempering ingredients. Cover and let the mustard seeds pop, then pour the contents onto the cooked kootu immediately, so that it sizzles.
Stir and serve hot with plain steamed rice, pickle and poppadums.