Since I started cooking in earnest (soon after my arrival in the UK, out of sheer desperation), I've been discovering that there arent many vegetables that cant be persuaded to take on an Indian flavour, even if said vegetables are foreign to India or at least very difficult to get and therefore not common to Indian cooking.
I kind of like to imagine it as representative of Indian history. Strangers coming into the country and trying to conquer it but ending up assimilated and part of the general culture... sometimes knowingly, but more often without realising it, adding to the richness of the cultural stew, so to speak. Well, it's sort of in reverse - since I'm not in India, but I'm still doing the assimilation thing, at least culinarily. As are thousands of other Indians all over the world. It makes the unfamiliar familiar - and that which is familiar is what makes a place into a home. Or an adopted homeland.
And so to courgettes, or zucchini, for example. A kind of summer squash, but one that I dont remember ever eating in India. I dont know if courgettes are easily found nowadays in India, but I dont have any memories of them being sold in the vegetable markets in Chennai. I didnt even know what they were till I went to Singapore. I cant say I like courgettes - I find them bland and tasteless even in things like pasta. Something about their texture, especially when over- or-under-cooked, gives me a slight feeling of distaste (nothing like the revulsion that aubergines/eggplant arouse in me, though) when I have to eat them.
But put them in a kootu, and they could be almost any other squash you find in India. They are a good replacement for chayote and if I close my eyes, I can almost persuade my tastebuds to believe that courgettes are as good as white pumpkin (pooshanikkai in Tamil) kootu.
This recipe is a mix of almost every kootu recipe I've tried and/or seen. I used everything in sight, almost. So if you get a recurring feeling of "hey, that steps seems familiar", you'll know why! Normally (in my family anyway), onions arent added to kootu. Nor, as I remember, are ginger, garlic or tomatoes. But I used all of those. And a double handful of masoor dal. And to top that off, I added the usual coconut-paste masala (not really required if you're using onions, tomatoes, garlic etc).
It all added up to a flavour-rich, healthy, stew-dal sort of dish that tasted great with rice and, the next day, with chapaties. Welcome to courgettes, Indian style!
This is my entry for ARF/5-a-day #32 hosted by Cate at Sweetnicks.
Recipe for: Courgette (zucchini) kootu
3 cups courgettes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 cup masoor dal
3/4 tsp tamarind paste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tomatoes, blanched peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup frozen green peas
2 tsp oil
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2-3 dried red chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp mustard seeds
5-6 curry leaves
1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
Salt to taste
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, chopped, for garnish
For the coconut masala:
2 tbsp fresh grated coconut
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3-4 green chillies (or to taste)
3-4 tbsp warm water
1 tbsp rice flour
1. Grind the coconut masala ingredients to a smooth paste and reserve.
2. In a large pan, wash the masoor dal well. Add the chopped courgettes to it. Pour in enough water to cover the courgettes and mix in the tamarind paste and turmeric powder.
3. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer till the masoor dal is cooked but not mushy. The courgettes should be cooked by now. Reserve.
4. In a pan, heat the oil. Put in the mustard seeds, cover the pan and let them pop. Then add the cumin seeds, dried red chillies, curry leaves, asafoetida powder and ginger-garlic paste. Fry for 1 minute.
5. Now add the chopped onions, mix well and fry on medium-high till they turn translucent and soft.
6. Then add the chopped tomatoes and 1/4 cup water and cook till the tomatoes become mushy.
7. Add the reserved cooked courgettes and mix carefully so as not to mush up the vegetable.
8. At this point, add the frozen peas and let the mixture come to a boil. Then lower heat to a simmer till the peas are cooked.
9. Now mix in the reserved coconut masala and add salt to taste. Stir well. Simmer the kootu for another 5 minutes. Garnish with fresh chopped coriander leaves just before serving.
The kootu tastes better for sitting 3-4 hours covered (to let the flavours blend), before being gently heated through again. Serve hot with rice or chapaties.