Deepa Iyer's Vazhapu Kootu Recipe

Deepa Iyer's Vazhapu Kootu Recipe

This banana flower stew is a recipe that my grandmother learned from her mother as a young girl.  To me, it will always taste of the graceful sweep of a curved palm carrying rice morsels across banana leaves, with freshly fried vazhakkai chips and plenty of Uthukuli ghee. Read more here — Deepa Iyer

Recipe for Vazhapu Kootu

Banana Flower
1 medium sized banana flower (“vazhapoo”). To buy a 'good one,' fold back a petal to see if the white flowers are indeed white and not already oxidized (brown).
1 cup fresh buttermilk

For the water base
1.5 cups water
1 tsp sambar powder
Salt to taste (~1/2 tsp)

For the lentil base
4 tbsp split yellow moong dal
½ tsp turmeric powder

For the ground mixture
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp urad dal
15 black peppercorns
½ tsp jeera
1 dried red chilly
4 tbsp grated fresh coconut

For Seasoning
2 tbsp ghee
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp channa dal
A pinch of asafoetida (hing)
A few curry leaves

For Garnish
A few strands chopped cilantro

How to Clean & Prep the Banana Flower

Cleaning and prepping the banana flower
Wash and de-stem the maroon banana flower.  Each maroon petal hides rows of small white flowers. Peel back each maroon petal from the top to remove the white flowers, layer by layer.  Dispose of maroon petals.

The flowers will be white/pale yellow; each white flower contains 6 stamens and 1 taller stigma.  Remove and discard each stigma (not the stamens). You can do this quickly by holding a cluster of white flowers in your hand and rubbing the flat of your palm across the tops to separate the stamens and make the stigmas easily identifiable to pluck out.  These are plucked out because they are difficult to cut and easy to choke on.

Keep aside a bowl containing 1 cup of buttermilk.  Dice the remaining white flowers/stamens finely and place the diced flowers in the buttermilk. Banana flowers oxidize quickly, and storing them in buttermilk slows the oxidization process and keeps the flowers fresh.  Cover and set aside.

Cook 4 tbsp yellow toor dal + ½ tsp turmeric in pressure cooker.
In a pot, mix and bring water, sambar powder, and salt to a light boil.
Remove banana leaf flowers from buttermilk (with your hands or a strainer) and add to pot.
Roast ingredients for ground mixture except fresh coconut (urad dal, dried red chilly, black peppercorns, jeera) in sesame oil until toasted.  Grind together into a paste, adding in fresh coconut.
Add ground paste and cooked yellow toor dal to boiling mixture in pot.
In 2 tbsp ghee, roast mustard seeds (until they sputter), then add in urad dal and channa dal until lightly browned.  Add in and toast hing and curry leaves last. 
Add this entire mixture (seasoning/tempering) to the boiling mixture in pot.
Boil for 5 more minutes until mixture is thickened then turn off.
Garnish with cilantro and serve (with rice, or chapati, or as you see fit!)