Yelavan kootu – Ashgourd with lentils and coconut, Iyer style

Kootu in Tamil, literally translates as ‘addition’ in English.  That explains this simple side dish from Tamilnadu. If you are taking your first steps as a cook, this is the kind of dish that gives you encouragement and confidence to venture further. It is simple, does not need elaborate prepping and rarely goes wrong. A quick equation sums it up;

“Vegetables+lentils (usually bengalgram) + coconut = Kootu”

It is a dish that is popular among Tambrahms, and the Iyer and Iyengar sub-castes have their own versions.  Mine is the Iyer method, followed by my maternal and paternal families. The vegetables can be anything.  Commonly used vegetables are ashgourd (zhelevan / pooshnikai / kaddhu), chow-chow, raw papaya, separately or in combination with potatoes, elephant’s foot yam (chenai / suran), and raw bananas.  There are many other vegetables used but the ones listed are common to most families.  In my family, we do not any spice powders to ‘kootu’, but I have noticed that some Tamilians among my friends use ‘kootu podi’, a spice-mix instead of coconut.  I feel the sweetness and crunch of fresh coconut is the textural highlight of ‘kootu’, and nothing can make me do away with it.

Ashgourd can be replaced by chow-chow, purple small eggplant, or knol-khol for variation.

As an aside, I must mention that I had to pull out a recipe from my reserves for tonight’s feature.

I was invited by BBC Good Food (India) for their first anniversary celebration  to ITC hotels at Parel, Mumbai.  I did not take photographs with, but I met Chef Nikhil Chib and Chef Nitin Tandon, and got to taste some of their dishes along with Chef Yang Jiayu’s, at an eight course meal.  I was super impressed by some of the dishes, and the presentation.  A couple were lack-luster for me, but it was a new and a learning experience on the whole.  For photographs please visit me on facebook.

A bowl or rice, sambar and kootu - Indian food photography r

Recipe:  Zhelevan (Yelavan / Elavan) Kootu – Ashgourd + lentils + coconut
Yield: Serves 3 portions as side dish to be served with rice with a liquid gravy

Ashgourd / Kaddhu / Pooshinikai – 5 cups, cut into 1/2cm cubes, skin removed
Bengalgram lentils / Chana dal – 1/4 cup, cooked till done and drained. Retain liquid if available
Coconut, freshly grated – 1/2 cup, loosely packed
Green chillies – 2, or as per taste

Granulated sea salt – as per taste
Turmeric powder – just enough to add colour, about 1/8 tsp.
Coconut oil – 1/2 tsp.
Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp.
Split, husked, black grams / urad dal – 1/2 tsp.
Curry leaves – 1 sprig


Cook ashgourd cubes in enough water, seasoning with salt and turmeric. The ashgourd will reduce in volume once cooked. A little stock should be retained after cooking. This dish is not meant to be dry, but not meant to have a lot of liquid either.

Add cooked and drained lentils along with coconut, saving tbsp. of the coconut.

In a mortar, crush the green chillies with 1 tbsp. of reserved coconut. Add this to the ‘kootu’. Mix well. Check for some stock in the dish. If very less, add some of the water drained from cooking the lentils. About 1/4 cup of stock should be available.

Bring to a boil, remove from fire, about 2 mins. Heat the oil in a seasoning wok. Splutter mustard seeds, followed by black gram. When the gram changes colour to pink, add curry leaves. When they crisp, pour the seasoning over the ‘kootu’.

Serve hot with rice as a side dish.

  rice, sambar and kootu - Indian food photography
Print Friendly


Have your say

  1. I have been dreaming of the kootu I had in Tamil Nadu in March, and this looks so similar. Thank you thank you thank you for the recipe!!!!!

  2. You seem to know a lot about Indian cooking, I mean, about the not-so-well-known ones too. I hope this kootu tastes the same as the one in your dreams. 🙂

  3. The kootu looks divine. Throughout my childhood, my father had to move from one city (project) to the other being a civil engineer working for the central gov. So, my mom could pick up many good cooking tips from our south Indian neighbours and friends alike. To the delight of us children. Making those whole heartedly dislike vegetables more than just edible! This kootu remined me of that.
    BTW, I have learnt quite a few new names of vegetables today, but what is chow-chow. I found strange results for it on google.

  4. Chow chow is known as Seemebadnekayi in Kannada, and chayote squash in English. It is an autumnal vegetable, light green in colour, pear shaped and has ridges. It is used a lot in Karnataka Cooking and the bajjis made out of this are very famous in Bangalore. You can see a clear photograph and two recipes made from chow chow in Chitra Amma’s kitchen.

  5. To me after rasam, kootu is the top of the list comfort food. I shall have a bowl full without the rice too. Just that I grind the coconut, cumin and the chillis to give it the feel of togetherness.
    I love the addition of the channa dhal as you have done here.

  6. Another one I “must” make, jeeez! The potatoes were great btw. W the amchur, lemon pepper etc.

  7. Glad to know that, Tina!

  8. one gorgeous and comforting meal! and beautiful pictures as always harini! i havent made kootu in a really long while, this is a beautiful reminder to make some with the abundant local squashes!

Trackbacks On "Yelavan kootu - Ashgourd with lentils and coconut, Iyer style"

1 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Cucumber raita with vegan yogurt and mustard Tongue Ticklers (Pingback)

Thanks for reading. Receive free updates by email.

Frank speak corner! Something you would like to say?