Unda Kuzhambu (Lentil Dumplings In A Tamarind Gravy)

Unlike most other parts of the country, South India has a tradition of ‘kootan’ to describe the gravy dish that is mixed with rice. Kootan is a generic Palakkad term that covers the entire range of sambar, kuzhambu, yogurt based dishes… but nor rasam. As it is easier to use a single word instead of a whole phrase, I will stick to the term kootan in this post.
In South Indian kootans using lentils, the lentils are blended in with other ingredients – tamarind, yogurt, etc. But this is an interesting variation where the gravy is thin and watery. The dumplings are added, but not blended in. When it it served on rice, the thin gravy is poured on the rice and a couple of the dumplings are also served. It is up to the person eating the meal to mix the lentil dumplings with the gravy. This is a traditional recipe with several variations. I am presenting here the very traditional version. This kootan is super tasty and a difference from the normal blended lentils kootans.

Unda Kuzhambu

1/2 cup pigeon peas (tur dal, thuvaram parupu)
1/4 cup split Bengal gram (chana dal, kadalai parupu)
A lime sized ball of tamarind, soaked and juice extracted (use 1 tbsp of paste if not using fresh tamarind). The extract should be of thin consistency
2 tsp sambar powder (see section on ‘Chutneys and Powders’ in this blog for recipe)
A pinch of asafoetida (hing, perunkayam)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder (haldi, manjal podi)
1 sprig curry leaves
2 tbsp rice flour
2 tsp unrefined salt
3 dried red chilis
To Temper
1 tsp mustard seeds (sarson, kadugu)
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi dhana, venthiyam)
1 tsp split Bengal gram (chana dal, kadalai parupu)
1 sprig curry leaves
Soak the lentils for about 2 hours
Take a small quantity of the lentils after soaking and transfer to a blender
Add dried red chilis, asafoetida and salt to the blender
Pulse till the chilis are crushed
Strain the remaining lentils and add to the blender
Grind to a coarse paste (it should not be ground fine)
Transfer to a bowl
Add turmeric powder and curry leaves
Mix well
Set aside
Heat a pan and add mustard seeds
When they begin to splutter, add the fenugreek seeds and and 1 tsp split Bengal gram
Roast till the Bengal gram is golden in colour
Add the curry leaves and sauté for a second
Add sambar powder and continue to roast for 30 seconds on medium flame
Add the tamarind extract, a pinch of asafoetida and salt
Add a cup of water
Boil for about 8 minutes so that the raw smell of the tamarind evaporates
Meanwhile, make dumplings of the ground lentils
Set on a plate
Take the rice flour on another plate
Gently coat each dumpling with the rice flour
Repeat for the remaining lentil paste
Transfer the dumplings gently to the boiling tamarind extract
Do not stir for the first 2 minutes as the dumplings may break
Stir gently after 2 minutes and let the dumplings cook completely
After 5 minutes, remove a dumpling and check if it is cooked (the inside should be done, this can be checked by tasting)
Once the dumplings are done, remove from flame
Serve hot with red/brown/millet rice

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