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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Chaenai Elavan Koottu

easy recipe Yam koottu indian vegetarian
One of my favorite sides when I was little was this Chaenai-Elavan koottu.

Chaenai ('ch' as in chair), aka Elephant foot yam, is a yam that seemed ubiquitous in India, which is not quite the same as the yam sold here. This Chaenai (Suran) has thick dark brown muddy skin, with slightly hard yellowish flesh and is a bugger to clean up and chop. So naturally my mom did not make it often.

Elavan is ash gourd or white pumpkin with spongy/watery white flesh, light green rind and lots of seeds inside. It is about the size of a water melon and is sold in wedges. It is fairly bland and cooks up fast.

I hadn't had this yummy chaenai-elavan koottu in many years until my mom managed to make it last year when I visited India. Imagine my thrill when the other adult came home one day from Indian store with this frozen cleaned-and-par-cooked chaenai!

I *had* to cook up my favorite koottu and share the recipe here - except, I didn't have elavan handy, so, substituted opo squash instead.

easy recipe Yam koottu indian vegetarian

Now, one pot meals like red beans and rice make the best quick and simple meals on weeknights, especially if all the ingredients are handy and all you have to do is come home from work, start it on the pot, go play with the baby as you missed her all day, and in about 20-30 minutes yummy dinner is served!

What feels even better is presenting a typical homely comfort meal with a couple of dishes that complement each other and be able to cook and serve them in about 20-30 minutes.

A few short-cuts that I try to remember for Indian recipes:
  • cook larger batch of toor dal/moong dal/chana dal and store 2 or 3 cup portions (for a family of 2 adults) in the freezer; so, when ready to cook, just thaw the small 3-cup-frozen-batch and cook it up as desired
  • when making paruppusili, soak and steam a largish batch of toor dal balls, freeze the unused portion, again in small batches; thaw the frozen steamed lentil balls in the microwave for a quick approach, or leave it in the fridge overnight, and cook it up with favorite vegetable
  • when making ground masala at home, make a larger batch and store the extra - like for arachu vitta sambar, I make a larger batch of the ground paste and freeze it; or, if it is powdered spices, even better, simply store it in air tight container

Why am going on and on about this? Well, I came across Mallugirl's Summer Express Cooking Event and thought I must dedicate a post for it since Quick and Easy yet Delectable Victuals are what this blog is all about (at least most of the time).

The menu is yam koottu served with pepper-garlic rasam and plain hot rice.


1 packet frozen yam (chaenai/suran)
½ medium opo squash
2/3 cup chana dal
For rasam spices: 1 Tbsp whole black pepper, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 6-8 garlic cloves
1 tsp tamarind paste
4 Tbsp brown sugar (some for rasam, some for the koottu)
½ cup grated coconut
salt to taste
a few tsp canola oil
2 Tbsp coconut oil (optional)
For tempering: 1 tsp oil (canola or coconut), 1 tsp mustard seeds, curry leaves

And this simple menu can be cooked and served in under 30 minutes with a little bit of multi-tasking: (Ready? Set the timer to 30 minutes and Go!)
  • Start the rice in a rice cooker.

  • Set the microwave timer and thaw the frozen chaenai/suran a.k.a yam in the microwave.

  • Add ½ to 2/3rd cup of chana dal to about 2 cups of water in a pan and allow the dal to cook in the back burner.

  • Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle, add a tsp of cumin seeds, a tablespoon of whole black pepper and 6-8 cloves of garlic and pound it to a nice powdery paste.

  • Chop up a few tomatoes for the rasam.

  • Heat 1 tsp of oil in a pot in the back burner, add the pounded paste and the tomatoes, 4-5 cups of water, some salt, tamarind paste, 1 Tbsp brown sugar and leave it on medium-low to come to a boil and simmer gently.

  • Chop up elavan a.k.a white pumpkin/ash gourd or opo squash.

  • Heat 1 tsp oil in a pan, add the opo squash, some salt and water and start cooking; part-way through, add the thawed yam pieces and 3 Tbsp brown sugar - these frozen yam pieces are par cooked so they don't need to cook for long to be done - and allow them to cook through.

  • (By now, the timer should be close to 18-20 minutes if you work at a fairly normal-to-brisk pace)

  • The chana dal should be cooked through but not mushy by now; drain it and add it to the yam and opo squash cooking in the pan. Stir well and adjust salt to taste. leave it on low heat.

  • Right about now, rasam should be done as well - the rawness should be gone, and it should have reduced a bit - taste and adjust salt. Off heat.

  • Tempering: In a small pan heat 1 Tbsp oil, when it shimmers, add the mustard seeds and when they begin to pop add the curry leaves (if handy), remove from heat and garnish the rasam and koottu with the tempering.

  • Then, in the same small pan, add the coconut oil and the grated coconut, toast the coconut till it is golden brown and aromatic, don't let it burn; off heat.

  • Garnish the koottu with this toasted coconut.

By now the rice should be done and the timer close to going "beep" - just in time to serve the yummy wholesome meal!


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  • At 7:34 AM, Blogger Asha said…

    Good one! I have canned Suran,will try.Thanks Sheela:)

  • At 10:41 AM, Blogger Sharmi said…

    chaenai is my favorite too but do you think frozen gives the same taste as fresh one?

  • At 10:43 AM, Blogger Sheela said…

    Thank you, Asha, let me know if you liked the canned Suran...

    Hi Sharmi, yes, I was quite surprised - when I gently thawed the frozen ones, they seemed like par-cooked fresh ones.

  • At 9:03 AM, Blogger TBC said…

    I think it's my first time here.
    Nice recipe.I use chena for a thoran & mezukuparati, never tried using it in a kootu.Thanks for the recipe!

  • At 9:56 AM, Blogger Sheela said…

    Welcome TBC, the only reason i used to like this koottu when i was little was coz it had jaggery in it and my mom rarely added jaggery to savory dishes :-)


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