Jan 05, 2016

Cauliflower Kootu + Indian Spices 101


kootu top

Kootu is a traditional South Indian dish that is made with any of a variety of vegetables in a dal (lentil) base and usually includes coconut and black pepper, and Indian spices. The consistency is like a thick soup, not quite as thick as a stew. It’s super filling because of the coconut and the beans and is a hearty and satisfying dish for a chilly night.

The dal that is most often used for any kootu is called “urad dal” also known as split black lentils, black gram dal or matpe. It’s a black lentil that has been split and is very creamy when cooked. I used skinned yellow urad dal (some are sold with the skin still on). Like any other bean or legume, this lentil is chock full of plant-strong protein, iron, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. If you’re not inclined to search for and purchase this lentil, you can simply replace it with red lentils (more readily available in markets), but the result will be slightly different, not quite as creamy.


Mountain Man and I are such long-time fans of Indian food that I have built a pretty well-stocked spice cabinet for any possible Indian dish 🙂 but you can get by with certain staple spices to have on hand for some lovely aromatic Indian dishes. Here is a list of the basic Indian spices that should hang out in your pantry if you are a lover of Indian foods, like us:

  • Cumin (ground + seeds)
  • Coriander
  • Cardamom
  • Curry Powder
  • Mustard Seeds
  • Garam Masala (blend)
  • Dal Spice (blend)
  • Curry leaves (fresh–they last a long time in the freezer!)
  • Fenugreek leaves (dried)
  • Asafoetida
  • Kashmiri red chili powder (the best!)

*A word about asafoetida: this is a very unique spice and will give your dishes a super-authentic flavor. It smells kind of funky when it’s not cooked but, when added to a recipe, imparts a unique onion/garlic flavor that is indescribable and truly yummy.

Some of these spices are readily available at any grocery store. The others can be found in Asian markets, but I almost always purchase my spices online at Amazon or from the Indian Foods Company (also online) who carries my favorite brand, Ajika. Tamarind paste is another must in creating authentic South Indian dishes. Tamarind is a sweet-sour fruit and adds much depth of flavor to any recipe.

Okay, so here’s the deal about cooking Indian food. Most Indian chefs would laugh at me because I don’t fry my spices in oil (or ghee) first. This is called tadka, or tempering, and does indeed release the volatile aromatics of the spices, creating deep flavors. And this is how it has been done for hundreds of years.  HOWEVER, as you know, I am not interested in adding oil to my foods and have found that by simply warming them first—almost dry roasting but not quite that much—the flavors are just as wonderful.

Cooking a delicious Indian dish is all about the spices. So if you’re adventurous, grab some of these on the list above and try your hand at a few recipes. If you love the flavor and aroma of Indian food, YOU WILL BE HOOKED. It’s so much fun and your home will smell amazing from all of those incredibly aromatic spices! If you check out my RECIPES page you will see a section for Indian Dishes. I hope you will try some of them! 


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kootu 4

kootu 3

Healthy trails,







Cauliflower Kootu
Serves 4
A hearty Indian dish to warm and comfort you.
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  1. 1 small head cauliflower (cut into 6 cups bite-sized florets)
  2. 1 medium potato, cubed
  3. 1 medium carrot, chopped
  4. ½ cup green peas (I used frozen)
  5. 1 large sweet onion, diced
  6. 1 finely chopped, medium-sized tomato
  7. 1.5 cups coconut milk (one can, full or low fat)
  8. 1 cup cooked urad dal (or yellow lentils)—see notes
  9. ¼ cup shredded coconut (fresh or dried)
  10. 1 TBS fruit-only apricot preserves
  11. 1 tsp freshly grated turmeric (or ¼ tsp dried)
  12. 1 tsp tamarind paste
  13. 1-3 tsp chili powder (depending on your heat tolerance)
  14. ½ tsp ground, black pepper
  15. 3-5 curry leaves
  16. ½ tsp mustard seeds
  17. ¼ tsp asafoetida
  1. Place all spices including: turmeric, chili powder, black pepper, curry leaves, mustard seeds and asafoetida, into a large sauté pan and cook over low heat for a few minutes.
  2. Once the spices are warm and before they burn, gradually add about 1/4 cup water (be careful, it will steam up!). Stir well.
  3. Immediately add all remaining ingredients, except the peas!, and simmer until the veggies are soft.
  4. Add the peas at the end and heat until just warm.
  5. Serve with rice and/or naan.
  1. To cook the dal, use 1 pound of beans to 6 cups of water. If you don't use a pressure cooker, these babies take some time to cook. Add more water if needed when cooking on the stovetop. I always make extra so I can then have some to make a yummy dal soup 🙂
  2. Don't think that you can't create wonderful Indian meals! It's all about the spices. Be brave. Be bold. And most of all—have fun!
Helyn's Plant-Based Kitchen https://helynskitchen.com/

6 responses to “Cauliflower Kootu + Indian Spices 101”

  1. Carla Golden says:

    I can smell the spices already Helyn! Do you think I can safely switch the proportions of potato and cauliflower for my husband who much prefers potatoes over cauliflower? I know I’d love it just as you’ve made it.

  2. Curt says:

    Looking forward to making this! I soaked the urad dal for a few hours, how long must they cook for this recipe? Do you add the cooked urad dal with the veggies?

    • helynskitchen says:

      Hi Curt! If you are cooking on the stovetop, figure on at least an hour. They take a long time to cook. Yes, you add the cooked dal to the veggies. Have fun!

  3. Curt says:

    Fantastic dish–thank you!

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