Monday, July 8, 2013

Moong dal-Cabbage kootu - simple, elegant and delicious

I first ate this yummy cabbage kootu in a Tyagaraja Aradhana festival here in the US. If you are not familiar with classical South Indian music a.k.a Carnatic music, this is an annual celebration in honor of the great Saint Sri Tyagaraja who is one of the trinities of Carnatic music. Growing up, this genre of music surrounded us all the time especially in Mysore which hosts multiple musical events year round. If your music teacher had a lot of students, then a tiny aradhana celebration would sprout just within that community. As any typical Indian get together, these are marked by food at the end.

Cleveland hosts one of the biggest (outside India) Tyagaraja Aradhana every year around Spring. 2013 is their 36th celebration of this festival. Over the years it has grown in size, duration, artists it presents and the number of participants it attracts from all over. This festival is organized during the Spring break so the Cleveland university auditoriums and halls are available for the performances while students are out on vacation. If you are interested in Carnatic music and live anywhere closer to Cleveland, make a trip and your will have once a kind of experience. The entire city comes alive with buzzling artists, students, teachers and the entire 12 days is packed with music and dance.

We have gone to this festival every Spring for the past few years. DD is a music student and we all love to catch a few concerts atleast during the season. While the music and dance fills you up at one level, being mere mortals, the stomach still needs its fuel especially after all the unaccustomed exercise the body gets by running around from one venue to the other in the still nippy early spring. Since the schools are out, the eateries around the place wear a deserted look or close down completely for Easter so you hardly get food to eat outside, it is harder if you are a vegetarian :-). Among the couple of Indian joints, there is a Udipi restaurant but it is so crowded with people participating in the festivals that you should be prepared to wait for hours before being served. So after our first year experience, we started packing food from home and supplemented with an excellent Jimmy John's sandwich from the joint on the main street. But the second year, we also found out that the Aradhana committee serves food (donations welcome and encouraged to sustain the practice), they do a great job of serving food for fixed duration and thus reaching maximum number of people. Food on the starting Saturday is more elaborate as there are many more people that day than others and then it dwindles down in size. Also, you have to keep track of the venue of where the food is served :-). Amid all this confusion and running around for DD's practices, one of the days we found ourselves right in the middle of  what seemed to be a food line. It was past lunch time, we were famished as the tiny breakfast had long been digested, so we stood there and waited for our turn. Volunteers brought in trays of hot food and we were served steaming white rice and this cabbage kootu. It was a meal from heaven.
The kootu is very simple yet elegant and delicious. It is a combination of moong dal and cabbage, upgraded with a flavorful masala bringing in heat from the chilies and flavor of cumin. It is a notched up basic dal but the beauty of it is that it has proteins(moong dal) and nutrients (cabbage) in addition to being really tasty. For me, kootu always had black pepper but I make an exception in this case and accept the name as was given to me :-). I carried that taste home and made it a couple of times, though it was close enough my instinct told me that I didn't get it 100% right. Then the year after we had one of the music teachers stay with us and I made this kootu for her one of the days. This wonderful lady from Chennai watched me fry the green chilies and take it to the blender said that I should roast a spoon of Urad dal and add it along. There you had it, the missing ingredient :-). The kootu was delicious and just like I remembered from the Aradhana lunch. Roasted Urad dal and par toasted cumin give this kootu the flavor that makes it special. I also learnt from her that this is a traditional dish made often in Tamilian homes. You can switch cabbage with chopped spinach and it tastes yummy too.

So here is an everyday easy kootu with a musical background :-)

What do you need to make Cabbage kottu? 
3/4 cup soaked moong dal
2 cups shredded cabbage (you can increase this upto 3 cups as cabbage reduces on cooking)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
a few curry leaves for flavor and garnish
To roast and grind:
2 Tblsp urad dal
3-4 green chilies (adjust to spice tolerance)
2 Tblsp grated coconut
3/4 Tsp cumin

How do you make Cabbage kootu? 
  • Roast urad dal and green chilies until the dal turns pink and green chilies develop white spots on their skin. 
  • Add cumin seeds, switch off and keep aside to cool. 
  • When cool enough, grind into a smooth paste with coconut and 2 Tblsp water
  • Wash and soak moong dal for 20 minutes.
  • Bring moong dal to boil with 2 cups of water on medium heat. 
  • Once the dal starts to boil, add shredded cabbage and curry leaves, cover partially and cook until the dal and cabbage are both soft. 
  • Add the ground masala paste, salt, adjust consistency with water. 
  • Let the kootu boil for 2-3 minutes. 
  • Switch off and let the flavors get absorbed for 30 minutes or so before serving the warm kootu with rice and a drop of home made ghee. 
  • This makes a very yummy side dish for rotis also. 
  • Soaking moong dal before cooking helps reduce the cooking time but you can directly put it with water on heat if you haven't pre-planned. 
  • I prefer to cook moong dal in an open vessel as I do not like the mushed up, pasty dal from pressure cooker. Choose pressure cooker if you want. 
  • Do not roast cumin along with urad dal or green chilies, it makes them turn bitter. The heat from the pan is sufficient to bring out the roasted cumin flavor. 
  • You can use half and half quantities of green and dry red chilies for a slightly different taste. 

    This protein rich, Moong dal kootu is off to the 61st edition of My Legume Love Affair hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen. This event started by Susan, The Well Seasoned cook currently maintained at Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen


NamsVeni Pothas said...

very tasty and healthy recipe. with moong dal easy to digest.

Kaveri Venkatesh said...

this kootu with some rice is comfort in a plate...simple yet flavorful

Priya Suresh said...

I can have cabbage kootu even everyday,with rice and some pickles i can survive for many days with this kootu.

Chitz said...

I too make this often, simply yummy & healthy..