Kootanchoru is a speciality of Thirunelveli cooking. In feudal times the labourers/workers were paid in kind i.e., rice, dhal, and whatever vegetables were grown in the farm. All these were cooked together to form a one-dish meal (kootu – everything together; choru – rice). Later on the landowners added groundnuts and maybe other pulses which were available to make it rich. Kootanchoru is not a vegetable fried rice. The rice, dhal, and vegetables are all cooked together and the dish must be soggy and mushy. It is usually served with pickle and fried appalam; the crisp appalam is a wonderful contrast to the soggy rice.
Amongst many families in Thirunelveli the dish is also known as Nila Sappadu (Nila – moon; Sappadu – food) because during the full moon they would consume kootanchoru on their top terrace under moonlight. My grandmother used to pack this as a picnic dinner and we would take the bullock drawn wagon (the taxis of those days) to the Thamiraparani river bed (it was partly dry in summer) for a moonlit picnic. It was great fun whether it was on the terrace or the river bed. I preferred the terrace as the sand didn’t get into the food! This recipe is my interpretation of various kootanchoru I had eaten as a child, made suitable for the urban kitchen. I have adapted it for pressure cooking.
The rice and dhal mutually supplement the essential amino acids to make this combination an almost complete protein. The vegetables added give this rice dish vitamins, minerals, and fibre in large quantities, and on the whole this is a wholesome one-dish vegetarian meal. It is not fattening because the oil is added only to temper the mustard.
- 1 C Raw Rice
- ½ C Red Gram Dhal
- ¼ tsp Turmeric Powder
- ¼ tsp Asafoetida Powder
- ½ tsp Chilli Powder
- 1 T Vegetable Oil
- ¼ tsp Mustard Seeds
- ½ tsp Black Gram Dhal
- 1 sprig Curry Leaves
- 1 tsp Salt, or to taste
- 1 Drumstick
- 3-4 Brinjals (Eggplant)
- 100 gms Broad Beans
- 100 gms Potatoes
- 1 Unripe Banana
- 1 C Greens (Amaranth)
- 1 T Coconut Scrapings
- Wash and cut the vegetables into large chunks. Pare the potatoes and peel the unripe bananas before cutting.
- Wash the amaranth.
- Pressure cook the dhal, broad beans, potatoes, and unripe banana pieces with turmeric, chilli, and asafoetida powders.
- In a large vessel, cook the rice in double the amount of water (1 cup of rice would require 2 cups of water).
- Add the pressure cooked dhal and cooked vegetables (along with the water in which both are cooked), coconut scrapings, salt, and blend well.
- Add the drumstick, amaranth, and brinjal pieces, and allow the rice to cook. Remove from heat when the rice is still soggy or mushy.
- Heat the oil in a small kadai or wok. Add the mustard. When it splutters add the black gram dhal and the curry leaves.
- Immediately add to the rice and mix well.
- If you are using parboiled rice instead of raw rice, add 3 ½ cups of water to 1 cup of rice grains.
- Along with the vegetables, beans, cluster beans, and pumpkin could also be added.
- You can also add ¼ C of raw groundnuts (peanuts with skin) to the dhal and cook. Or fry the groundnuts along with the mustard and black gram dhal.
- Do not pressure cook the drumstick and brinjal as the brinjal will lose its shape and become mushy, and the drumstick will become very woody.