My Experiments with ‘Koottu’

Consider the following scenario:

You get back home after a tiring day in the office – wife is away on a holiday- the maid servant didn’t turn up – so the sink is full of vessels to be washed & cleaned –  you are hungry –  it’s raining so there is no question of opting to eat out which means you have to cook a full meal – internet is not working, so the engineer is at the door demanding your attention – you forgot to take your cell phone to office in the morning, so there are at least a dozen missed calls ( so many missed calls reassuring you that you are still being missed by some unfortunate souls!) – you prioritize & call your wife first only to be admonished for not picking up her calls all day ( she says excitedly: “Hi, what have you been doing all day, not even answering my calls?”)  etc.

That was the unenviable situation I found myself in, a few days back. That was indeed a real test or a challenge to my will power. How did I handle this? I began by doing one thing at a time without getting overwhelmed by the situation. After making a few important phone calls, I had to find something to eat. So I ate some junk food. Did I? No way, I can’t afford to do that, however much I might have loved to do so at that moment. Instead I ate a couple of walnuts and dates (my favourite substitute for junk food whenever I have to satisfy my hunger pangs!). Believe me, it’s a great substitute for junk food – gives you instant energy besides being tasty & healthy! If you need to have variety, you can always substitute walnuts with Badam and dates with figs, which is also full of energy. Having thus energized myself, I set myself the task of cleaning the vessels (by the way, cleaning vessels can be highly de-stressing!). I completed the job well and then moved on to the main business of cooking. I decided on a simple Iyengar menu – Cucumber ‘Koottu’ & Okra curry. ( Koottu may be literally translated as a MIXTURE and it is indeed a mixture of several things!). Of course Curd rice, which is every Iyengar’s favourite item, always comes in handy. Now the question is how do I go about it. Only last week I made a mess of Cabbage ‘Koottu’  having attempted the item rather casually. Therefore, to me, the task was quite challenging. This time I was mentally prepared to make a good job of it. I told myself –  ‘what is the earthly use of being born as an Iyengar if I can’t even make a decent  Koottu’.  I decided to put my heart and soul into it besides a few chosen spices. I passionately went about the exercise step by step.

One problem with my recipe for koottu is that I can’t use coconut which is a ‘must’ for this item in the traditional preparation. I can’t use coconut due to diet restrictions. (Coconut is the notorious source of cholesterol for iyengars & keralites in general!). I made up for it by choosing an assortment of spices which were used in a certain proportion and in a certain method of processing. As many would know, when it comes to spices, the protocol of  processing & sequencing are quite important in order to bring out and enhance  the hidden flavours. For instance, for seasoning, I took oil, added into it Ulutham paruppu (black gram?) , Jeeragam(cumin seeds) and black pepper, heated in a flame for half a minute – then added kadugu(mustard), jeera powder & perungaayam(asafoetida) in that order – and continued heating till the excellent & sharp flavor of powdered jeeragam became apparent. I learnt the hard way that by adding the more volatile spices later, you are ensuring better retention of their flavours in the finished preparation. Then I blended the whole thing into a vessel containing  ‘Koottu’ mix consisting of pressure cooked vegetables & dal and boiled for a few minutes. The taste turned out to be heavenly. I suspect the powdered jeeragam did the trick. Thanks to its high surface area, the flavor was well dispersed throughout the preparation and in fact I could smell its rich aroma in the air around!.   Okra curry was also done parallelly and soon the dinner was ready on the table.

As the steaming Koottu, rice and hot & fresh okra were ready to be served on the plate, I felt a great sense of accomplishment and sat down to enjoy a well deserved delicious and simple meal.  I am sure I would have missed all this fun, excitement and above all the feel good  factor, if I had opted to go out and eat!  That would certainly have been quite boring and uneventful.

Published in: on July 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A delightful and mouthwatering account of the making of the kootu. While narrating your experience you have also passed on a simple and healthy recipe for the budding cooks. The flavour truly lingers!

    But that bit about cleaning vessels being a destressing experience – would it still be so if it needs to be done thrice a day?

    The chemist is indeed a chef too!


  2. yes, sudha, you have a point there on doing dishes thrice in a day. once a job becomes a ritual, it gets boring, right? that is why most of us can’t concentrate and enjoy even our daily puja since it gets too ritualistic.

  3. To your blog post, amma would say “Story of my life”. And since you find washing dishes “de-stressing”, maybe you and amma can take turns?

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