Keerai Kootu is a delcious and healthy vegan recipe from South India using spinach (keerai in Tamil, cheera in Malayalam, palak in Hindi), yellow moong beans and a coconut mixture that’s cooked together. Keerai kootu is usually served with rice but also goes really well with roti and dosa.
Spinach is one of those vegetables that I ate while growing up only because my grand mom told me repeatedly that it would help make my hair grow thick and luscious. So I ate spinach in all forms – cheera thoran, palak dal, palak pulao, even keerai masiyal – and I guess I did have thick hair as a child but it was always chopped off when it reached shoulder length anyway. When I fought with my mom over this, she switched the story over and said spinach is actually good for your eyes too. Well, ok. My eyes stay with me forever so that seemed like a good enough reason.
You can skip to:
- Recipe card
- Step by step pictures to make spinach kootu
- Notes and FAQs
This was back when I was too young to realise how special a home-grown, organic bunch of spinach actually is. My grand mom would spend hours squatting near them as they grew, often plucking out worms and caterpillars by hand. She was quite an edible gardener, my grand mom. Of all the vegetables we grew on our terrace, spinach was the most successful and most loved by her. She would make a Reddiar-style masiyal (we call it sithondu kooraku) with them which looked like ground henna leaves but was out of this world in its simplicity and flavour.
Recipe Notes and FAQs
- What type of dal or lentil is used to make kootu? I usually use a mix of yellow moong dal and a tablespoon or so of chana dal for some body and texture since moong dal cooks down very soft
- What type of spinach or keerai should I use to make spinach kootu? Pretty much any greens would work in this recipe. I have used regular local spinach available in Singapore. Indian palak would work well, of course. You can also use amaranth greens, beet leaves, watercress, or any other greens that you have in hand. Make sure to wash them well and chop as fine as you can. Each kind of spinach would give a different flavour to the kootu. I have even used frozen spinach with great results
- The coconut mixture for kootu – I almost always use thawed frozen coconut for my cooking here in Singapore. It’s convenient and tasty. For kootu, my default is red chillies or red chilli powder for heat but green chilli or a mix of both varieties can be used too. Adding garlic and shallots is optional but I love the addition, like I do. Cumin seeds are what gives it the main flavour so do not skip or skimp.
- Do we need to add sambar powder to kootu? I usually don’t add sambar powder to my kootu because I like the “cleaner” taste of just cumin seeds and hing that we use to temper the kootu. Of course you can add sambar powder if you like the flavour but personally I skip it
- Dal to spinach ratio in kootu – this is an interesting one. I usually eyeball the measurements and end up with a very green kootu or what looks like dal with spinach and coconut mixture cooked in. Everything tastes great and there’s no hard and fast rule. Just don’t make kootu too watery, it’s meant to be on the thicker side
- Do I need a pressure cooker to make spinach kootu? In general, dried lentils are much quicker to cook in a pressure cooker but for moong dal, you can get away with using an open pot with lots of water until the dal is cooked. I have used a pressure cooker below in the step by step pictures for the recipe but you can easily just cook the ingredients mentioned in a large pot. Be careful if you close the pot, the water will bubble over so keep heat very low and cook for a good 20-30 minutes. You can also use an Instant Pot to make kootu.
Keerai Kootu Recipe
- 1/2 cup yellow moong dal
- 5-6 cups chopped spinach, packed use any kind
- 1/2 cup cubed tomato optional
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- Salt to taste
Grind with water to a smooth paste:
- 1/3 cup grated coconut thawed, if frozen
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds jeera
- 2 shallots pearl onions
- 2 flakes of garlic
- 1/4 tsp red chilli powder adjust to taste
- 2 tsp oil or ghee for non-vegan version
- 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
- A pinch of asafoetida hing or perungaayam
- Wash the dal and add to a large cooking pot along with the spinach, chopped tomato (if using), turmeric, and 2 cups of water
- Simmer until the ingredients are cooked and soft. This takes about 10-12 mins on low flame. If not done, cook longer and add more water as required.
- Meanwhile, grind together coconut + shallots + garlic + red chilli powder + cumin seeds with some water to a smooth paste.
- Add this to the cooked dal mixture along with 1/2 cup water. Note that if the cooked dal is watery, you can skip adding more.
- Simmer for another 5 mins. Add salt as needed
- Heat the oil in a small pan and add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add hing and roast for 10 seconds.
- Add this tempering to the cooked kootu. Mix well.
- Serve hot with rice and rasam
Step by Step Pictures to Make Spinach Kootu
Wash the moong dal and add to your pressure cooker
Add the chopped spinach on top along with cubed tomatoes, if using, turmeric powder, and about 1/2 cup water. Remember that spinach lets out water when cooking so don’t add too much at this stage
Cook for 2 whistles or about 10-15 minutes.
Let pressure release naturally and open the cooker.
Mash everything really well with a spoon. If you find the kootu too thick, add some water and bring to boil. If it’s too watery, you can boil it down a bit until thicker. Remember the coconut paste will make it a bit thicker too.
For the coconut mixture, grind together coconut, cumin seeds, garlic, shallots, red chilli powder, and some salt with enough water to make a coarse paste
Add the coconut paste to the cooked dal-spinach mixture.
Turn the heat back on and gently heat through, there’s no need to boil it. Mix mix mix and adjust salt as needed.
Once the kootu has heated through, remove from heat. Heat a small tempering pan with oil or ghee and when hot, add mustard seeds. When the seeds pop, add hing and let it sizzle and roast for 10 second.
Dunk the tempering into the kootu and mix again.
You are all done! Serve hot with rice and rasam, with roti, dosa, just enjoy!