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 / mung beans / split mung) + coconut = Kootu”

It is a dish that is popular among Tambrahms, with each community having 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 / poosanikkai / kaddu), chow-chow, eggplants, 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.

Recipe:  Zhelevan (Yelavan / Elavan) or Poosanikkai 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 diced ashgourd 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.


If using a combination of vegetables boil them in water in the order of time taken to cook each vegetable, starting with the vegetable that takes longest.


Harini is a vegan food photographer, writer and recipe developer. She also loves feeding birds, reading, watching crime thrillers, and travelling amongst other things.

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  • Richa

    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!

  • Tina

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

  • Lata Raja

    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.

  • PG

    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.

  • Lindsay

    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!!!!!

    • Harini

      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. 🙂

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