Sunday, July 16, 2017

Chembu Thal Kadalai Kootu (Taro Leaves & Stems Stew With Chickpeas)

Chembu Thal Kadalai Kootu
Taro leaves and stems are tasty cooked with chickpeas; the coconut and tamarind turn the homey ingredients into this delicious curry! In this photo of the curry, there are both brown and tan chickpeas; they were delicious - one tender but firm and the other very soft.

Although one can get the corms (potato-like parts of the plant), leaves and stems are not usually available for purchase; I grow taro just so I can have leaves and stems for cooking. Choose young stalks and leaves without any yellow telltale signs of age; carefully cut at the base of the plant without injuring the new growth in the center.

It is lovely to have greens from your own garden to make a meal any time. I love collecting various greens and veggies from the garden instead of running to the store especially after being away from home for a few days. I usually keep a stash of cooked chickpeas in the freezer; so it is a breeze to have a yummy homemade curry after eating out for a few days! Check here for information on home-cooked tasty chickpeas as well as various other beans at a fraction of the cost of store-bought ones.

Taro Plant
Notes: Tamarind paste and concentrate are usually available in Indian markets; check to see which kind you have as there is a big difference in the amount used. Blackeyed peas may be used instead of the chickpeas. Fresh or canned tomatoes - about 2 - may be added if you like. For a more or less spicy dish adjust the spices according to your preference.

Chembu Thal Kootu may be prepared thick or thin as you prefer; just increase the water content - with rice it is great to have more liquid whereas with rotis it is great either way. When adding more water, a little more salt and spices may be needed.

As always when cooking with chiles, you may wish to leave them whole so it is easy to fish out and discard at the end of cooking to avoid unpleasant surprises to unwary diners who may be unaware that chiles may be present and typically not eaten.


12-14 Taro leaves with stems (about 12-14 oz)
1 Tbsp oil
½ tsp Mustard seeds
1-2 dried red chiles, broken into two or left whole
1 tiny pinch Fenugreek seeds
1 stem fresh Curry Leaves, leaves finely sliced
1 large shallot or ½ small onion (optional)
1 tsp Salt
2 tsp tamarind paste OR ½ tsp Tamarind concentrate
1 cup cooked Brown or Tan chickpeas + cooking liquid

Freshly ground Masala (Spice Mix)
½ tsp cumin seeds
1-2 dried Red Chiles
1 tsp uncooked rice
½ cup grated Coconut, fresh/frozen


Prepare the spices and coconut: Grind together the coconut, cumin, rice and chiles using a blender with just enough water to make grinding feasible.

Caveat: Taro leaves and stems may cause skin irritation if you have sensitive skin; you may wish to wear rubber gloves while preparing the them. 

Prepare the taro leaves and stems: Wash the leaves and stems thoroughly. Separate the leaves from the stems by cutting them at the base of the leaf. Keep the leaves and stem separated; they will be added to the pot at different times.

Peel and slice the stems finely; the outer fibers peel off easily sort of like celery. If the stems are young and tender, I do not peel them.

Stack a few of the leaves, then cut in half lengthwise. Roll each half into a cylinder and cut across into a fine chiffonade - very thin ribbons. 

In a large pot (about 2-3 liter or quart) on medium-high, add the oil. When oil is hot, add mustard seeds and dried chile.

Add the fenugreek seeds along with the curry leaves and the onions if using. Reduce heat to low and saute for about a couple of minutes. Add a little water if the onions are dry and sticking to the pan.
Next toss the stems into the pot, stir, add a little water, cover and cook for about 10 minutes over low heat.

Tip in the leaves and a pinch or two of salt. Add a little water or the cooking liquid from the chickpeas, stir and then cover. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 30-40 minutes. A pressure cooker may be used to shorten cooking time.

Stir occasionally and add water or chickpea cooking liquid as needed so that the greens do not dry out. You may mash the leaves with the back of a spoon or use the immersion blender to obtain a little soft, creamy texture but not into a paste. I like to mash with a spoon to preserve some texture.

Add the tamarind, chickpeas and the ground masala. Stir, cover, and let cook for another 10 minutes. Mash a few of the chickpeas too with the back of the spoon to get a nice and creamy kootu.

Turn off the heat, taste and adjust the salt if necessary.

Serve with rice or roti accompanied by any kind of dry vegetable curry, dal or dried bean curry and chutneys or pickles and papadums. Enjoy!!

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