Kootu is traditional South Indian fare, dal with vegetables, but very different from sambar. For one thing, it’s a lot milder. The vegetables used seem to be those that mix well with dal. This is hard to explain, but you can use things like cabbage, knol-khol (kohlrabi), greens, potato, beans, turnips, squash, etc.
You need: 1 cup dal (moong or toor dal is best, but masoor is just fine as well); 1 tsp kootu podi (kootu masala – I’m going to tell you how to make it, don’t fret); ghee.
I’m listing three different recipes for kootu podi here. Pick any one and run with it. The first two recipes are adapted from recipes courtesy my aunt (Thanks, Prabha Periamma!). The third is my own.
Kootu podi 1:
You need: 1 tsp urad dal (this is small white dal available at any Indian grocery); ½ tsp black pepper; 1/3 tsp jeera.
Dry-grind the lot together and bottle in a dry glass jar.
Kootu podi 2:
You need: 1 tsp garlic; 2 small green chilies; 1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera); 1/8 cup shredded coconut; 4-5 curry leaves (kadipatta); 1/2 tsp ginger; and 1/2 tsp turmeric powder (haldi), if you haven’t already added it to the dal.
Blend all ingredients together (I think one of those tiny little blenders is a must for every kitchen. I use a coffee grinder for dry masalas).
Kootu podi 3:
You need: 1 tsp coriander seeds (dhania dana); 2 red dried chilies; 1 tsp peppercorns; 1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera); 1 tsp urad dal; 1 tsp dried curry leaves (you can briefly toast them, don’t let them burn).
Roast the ingredients in the following order (that means a dry pan with no oil, on a low flame): dal – 1 minute by itself, then everything else except the curry leaves. If you smell burning, toss it out and start again. When the dal turns nice and reddish-brown, take it off the heat. Add the curry leaves and grind it all to a fine powder. Store in a dry glass jar.
Boil the dal with turmeric and salt. I usually eyeball it when it comes to water, but let’s say you can add 3 cups of water to every one cup of dal. Add more if needed. (If it becomes glutinous, you need more water).
When the dal is half-cooked (before it gets mushy), add the vegetables and salt to taste.
When the vegetables are cooked, add the kootu podi and bring to a boil. Turn off heat. Add ghee. Eat with rice/chappatis.