Top-scorer Defoe was on the spot again to sweep home a cross from Pedro Mendes and bag the crucial opening goal four minutes into the second half to capitalise on Middlesbrough going down to 10 men at the end of the first half.
Kanoute then charged down Mark Schwarzer's clearance and wheeled away in delight as the ball nestled into the empty net to put the issue beyond doubt after 76 minutes - Middlesbrough didn't threaten at all in the second half but for Stewart Downing's free-kick tipped away by Paul Robinson.
It was a crucial win to end a sequence of six straight losses in the league and lifted us up two places to 13th in the table.
The course of what had been a largely forgettable game - Defoe went close with a couple of half-chances - changed in the 40th minute when Franck Queudrue was sent off for a two-footed tackle on Noe Pamarot.
Referee Phil Dowd showed the red card instantly as replays showed Queudrue jumping into Pamarot, who soon returned after treatment.
That handed us the initiative going into the second half and we soon capitalised via Defoe just four minutes after the break.
Suddenly there was a spring back in the step as Robbie Keane had a goal disallowed after a late offside flag, Thimothee Atouba headed straight at Schwarzer and Gareth Southgate somehow diverted Defoe's cross away from Keane.
Defoe shot over and the second goal always looked likely - it arrived in somewhat strange style when Ray Parlour laid the ball back to Schwarzer only for Kanoute to charge it down and straight into the net.
The visitors finally responded with a shot on goal in the 81st minute when Robinson did well to tip Downing's free-kick aside but play was soon up the other end as Michael Reiziger headed Ziegler's corner off the line.
Michael Carrick shot a yard wide from another poor Schwarzer clearance and the game finished with Kanoute inches away from the lively Ziegler's near-post cross.
GUIDE TO THE ACTION
6mins: Ricketts intercepted pass, Keane released Defoe just over half-way, carried into box, shot blocked.
15mins: Downing cross nodded back into Parlour's path by Hasselbaink, shot across Robinson but dragged wide.
17mins: Defoe second attempt after initial free-kick was blocked by defensive wall fizzed a fraction wide from 20 yards with Schwarzer unsighted.
18mins: Carrick 25-yarder straight at Schwarzer after half-clearance from Defoe's cross.
23mins: Poor defensively as Naybet allowed long ball to bounce and then King failed to clear, Hasselbaink eventually picked out Boateng but Atouba there to block.
36mins: CLOSE. Best move yet, good interplay between Ziegler and Keane, Ziegler played in Defoe, just left of centre, fired just over with left foot from 12 yards.
38mins: Viduka inches away from Parlour's right-wing cross.
40mins: RED CARD. Queudrue sent off after a two-footed tackle on Pamarot.
41mins: YELLOW. Boateng booked for protesting.
43mins: CLOSE. Keane chased down long ball, forced Schwarzer to head clear out of box, header straight to Defoe who shot towards goal only for Keane to block!
Half-time: Spurs 0, Middlesbrough 0
49mins: GOAL. Pamarot lovely ball down right channel to Mendes, first time cross to near post swept home by Defoe.
Spurs 1, Middlesbrough 0
49mins: YELLOW. Defoe booked for taking shirt off in celebrations.
54mins: DISALLOWED. Late flag as Keane raced on to Mendes pass, lobbed Schwarzer but ruled offside - replays showed he was on.
57mins: Atouba header from Carrick's deep cross but not enough power to trouble Schwarzer.
59mins: Southgate fine clearance took Defoe's cross off Keane's head then Ziegler stubg Schwarzer's hands from 30 yards.
66mins: Another good passing move ended with Defoe working a yard of space but cleared the bar from 16 yards.
68mins: SUB. Kanoute for Keane.
73mins: SUB. Reiziger for McMahon.
76mins: GOAL. Kanoute chased down Parlour's back pass, blocked Schwarzer's clearance and watched happily as ball bounced into empty net.
Spurs 2, Middlesbrough 0
78mins: YELLOW. Parlour for protesting after award of free-kick for foul on Defoe.
79mins: Kanoute free-kick straight at Schwarzer.
80mins: SUB. Nemeth for Viduka.
81mins: SAVE. Robinson tipped Downing's 25-yard free-kick around the post.
84mins: OFF LINE. Reiziger to the rescue at far post as Schwarzer misjudged Ziegler's corner.
86mins: CLOSE. Schwarzer poor clearance straight to Carrick, held off Southgate before driving a yard wide.
Injury time: Ziegler break down the left, low cross inches away from Kanoute sliding in.
Final score: Spurs 2, Middlesbrough 0
Line-ups: Spurs (4-4-2): Robinson; Pamarot, King, Naybet, Atouba; Ricketts, Mendes, Carrick, Ziegler; Defoe, Keane (Kanoute, 68). Subs: Fulop, Brown, Redknapp, Davenport.
Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Queudrue, Riggott, Southgate, Boateng, Parlour, Downing, McMahon (Reiziger, 73), Zenden. Viduka (Nemeth, 80), Hasselbaink. Subs: Nash, Job, Doriva.
Referee: Mr P Dowd.
Jermain Defoe and Fredi Kanoute got us back to winning ways in the Barclays Premiership on Sunday.