Gravy side-dishes / Kootu/South-Indian dal with veggies

Betel leaves on steroids: Chukkan-kottai keerai

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The Moroccan fixation was to last just a day. After endless hours of eating and slurping on the orange-carrot salad (it is somewhat like the new Maggi soupy noodles, eat some, slurp some and then eat some more! Maybe, I should try chopping up the orange instead of juicing it next time. That would probably be an interesting variation. Hey! I’ll try it right away!), my taste buds went numb with all that sweet.

I do not have much of a sweet tooth, except, of course, in the case of chocolates, chocolate cakes, Mysore pak, rava laddu, dhoda (that’s a Haryanvi sweetmeat made of dry fruits), all milk sweets like pedas and kalakand, besan laddu (mouth-watering!), basundhi…Oooh this list’s getting too long and am dangerously tempted to reach out to the bottle of Nutella that usually helps me out in such situations. But I’ve already polished off two Oreo cookies languishing in the biscuit box (btw, the packet was opened only yesterday) and must try to keep my mind engaged with other stuff to keep my cravings at bay!

Anyway, coming back to what I was saying, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth (Really! I do prefer savoury stuff over sweet ones). And after all that orange and carrot the day before and mango-cupcake disasters yesterday, I wanted to try something new that was not sweet and could be easily prepared in the morning and packed for hubby dear for lunch.

I was thinking aloud on these lines when my friend Viji handed me a bunch of a variety of spinach I’d not seen before. Very light to mild green in colour, they looked the way betel leaves (vetrilai/paan) would if given steroids! The size of the leaves varied from less than a centimetre to as big as a foot from stalk to tip.

She said it is called ‘chukkan-kottai keerai’ in Tamil. The plant, actually a croton variety, grows in her neighbour’s backyard who passes on huge bunches whenever there’s too much growing (which is as frequent as once a week). I’ve taken some pics of the leaves and plan to take some of the plant too. Will put those up shortly. Incidentally, like spinach varieties, the leaves of this plant are fibrous and are said to clear gas and toxins from our system. “My grandma used to make paruppu usli ( with this keerai and the colours and tastes really complement each other well,” Viji said, her eyes closed and the soft smile on her lips betraying the nostalgia trip playing out in her mind.

It was easy to de-stalk and chop up the leaves and had a nice mild taste. Just fold each leaf in half and tear out the thick end of the stalk in the bigger leaves. The smaller ones have tender stalks that can be used.

Dal with Betel look-alike Leaves


Chukkan-kottai keerai – 1 bunch (yielded about 2 cups chopped spinach)

Masoor dal (red lentil) – ½ cup (Use any dal of your liking)

Tomatoes – 2 big

Spring onions – 3 (with greens)

Sambhar powder/Curry powder – 2 tsp (A combination of dhania and red chilli powder or even pav bhaji masala will do)

Dry red chillies – 2

Turmeric powder – ½ tsp

Hing (asafoetida/peringayam) – ¼ tsp

Mustard seeds – 1 tsp and/or Jeera – 1 tsp



Cook dal with tomatoes and turmeric in a pressure cooker

Cook leaves/spinach and keep aside. I always cook any spinach in this manner:

Wash (in at least 2 changes of water) and de-stalk spinach

Drop into hot boiling water and let it stay that way for around 20 mins

Drain and chop

Heat oil and splutter mustard seeds and/or jeera

Add whole red chillies and hing

When chillies bloat up and start to darken, add spring onions and sambhar powder

Sauté till onions are translucent and greens start to wither

Add spinach, dal and salt. Cook for a couple of mins for all spices and flavours to blend

Take off heat and serve


One thought on “Betel leaves on steroids: Chukkan-kottai keerai

  1. Hi
    The chukkan keerai is leechakottai keerai in tamil and the botanical name is Pisonia grandis.and it is ever green Actually I am looking for this one to grow in my garden and so far I have it found it.I love this green. But it is not available in US

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