The ten day long Onam celebration commemorating the return of King Mahabali from the underworld culminates on Thiruvonam, with a grand feast called the Onasadya – the scrumptious vegetarian spread that includes a minimum of 11 essential dishes, which can go up to 24. In early days it was mandatory to serve 64 dishes.
Be it Aviyal, Pulisherry, thoran or the Ada pradhaman - the Kerala delicacies are the simplest to make. The only art that you need to master is the use of coconut, the most essential ingredient of Kerala cuisines - be it in the form of coconut oil, coconut milk or grated coconut. And yes, the mustard seeds and the curry leaves give the dishes a splendid taste.
Read on to unravel the secret ingredients used in the gastronomically delicious South-Indian delicacies. And yes, you need not essentially be a Malayali to master the tricks of the Onam spread.
(Note: The portion sizes of the ingredients have not been mentioned as it would entirely depend on the amount of food being prepared.)
This can probably be called a South-Indian mixed-veg dish, a must serve on Onasadya.
According to the mythology, Bhim the second of the five Pandava brothers, when in exile assumed duties as the cook in the kitchen of King Virata. A cooking amateur, Bhim chopped all the available vegetables and boiled them to prepare aviyal.
How to prepare
Peel and chop vegetables preferably in longer pieces. Use potatoes, raw banana, drumsticks, yardlong beans, bottle gourd, pumpkin, yam and carrots.
Do not use green leafy vegetables or veggies that are sticky in nature like ladies finger. The vegetables need to retain their crispness, so never over cook the dish.
Once chopped, put all the vegetables into water along with salt and a teaspoon of turmeric and bring it to boil. Depending on the consistency you require, either drain the water or retain it. Preferably the consistency of aviyal is thick.
In a mixer grind coconut, cumin seeds and green chillies into a fine paste.
Once the vegetables are cooked add the paste to it. Cook for 4-5 minutes till the raw smell of coconut is no more there. Add salt, stir and turn of the flame.
In another pan heat coconut oil, add curry leaves.
Add the seasoning to the cooked vegetables. Mix curd or coconut milk (which ever available) and mix well.
Serve with rice.
Sambar is typically a South Indian dish made of pigeon peas (Arhar dal), with each state having its own typical variation, adapted to its taste and environment. A very common dish that has of late migrated to the North Indian states, Sambar too makes it to the list of dishes to be served on Onasadya.
How to prepare
Pressure cook yellow pigeon pea (dal). Cook drumstick, potato, carrot, raw banana, tomato, brinjal, ash gourd, onion and tomatoes with salt and add half a teaspoon of turmeric power. Cook in a way that the vegetables don`t get mashed up. Mix the cooked dal and the vegetables.
Soak tamarind in half a cup water and strain. Put the strained out water into the dal and vegetable mix.
In a pan, heat coconut oil. Add mustard seeds, curry leaves and dried red chillies and allow it to splutter.
Now put sambhar powder, fenugreek powder and asafoetida.
Add the dal and mixed vegetables. Let it simmer for a few minutes.
The Sambar is ready to be served.
Another essential of the Onam spread, erissery too can be cooked in different ways. It can be cooked using pumpkins as base ingredient, with pumpkin and red oriental beans (Van Payar) used together or with raw bananas and yam.
The recipe described here is made with Pumpkin (Mathanga) Erissery.
How to prepare
In a pan boil water. Put the pumpkin pieces along with salt and cook.
Grind together coconut, jeera, green chilli, turmeric powder. Add water to make a fine paste.
Mash the cooked pumpkin and add the coconut paste to it. Allow it to cook for 5-6 min on low flame.
In a pan heat coconut oil and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. When it splutters, add grated coconut and fry till it turns golden brown. Also, add shallots and fry till golden brown.
Pour it over the cooked pumpkin and serve.
Parippu curry (Cherupayar curry)
Onasadya is incomplete without the traditional Parippu Curry made of Green Gram Dal(Mung Dal ) and coconut.
How to prepare
In a wok dry roast the dal slightly till it begins to splutter.
Now, pressure cook the dal in water with salt.
In a mixer, grind coconut, cumin, shallots (kochu ulli), green chillies, turmeric power (about half a tea spoon) garlic and ginger in to a fine paste.
Add the paste to the dal and mix it well. Check for salt and simmer for a few minutes.
In a pan, heat coconut oil. Add mustard seeds, when it begins to splutter add shallots and red chillies.
Pour the contents into the dal and serve hot.
Pulissery is a simple yogurt dish. The dish can be made using only yoghurt or by adding any one of the vegetables like ash gourd (kumblanga), cucumber (vellarikkai) and fruits like mango and pineapple.
How to prepare
Use any one of the vegetables or fruits for the recipe.
In a pan, sauté the vegetable for about 2 minutes. Add salt.
Make a fine paste of coconut, cumin seeds and green chillies. Whip the yoghurt with the paste.
Mix the cooked vegetable and yoghurt. After adding yoghurt don’t let it stand on the flame for long.
Heat oil in a pan.
Put curry leaves, round cut shallots and ginger into the oil. Sauté till golden brown.
Soak mustards for a few minutes. Crush it and add it to the yoghurt mix.
Thoran, a dry dish, is traditionally made of finely chopped vegetables mixed together with grated coconut, mustard seeds, curry leaves and turmeric powder briefly stirred on a pan.
Different vegetables can be used to prepare variety of thorans. The veggies that can be used include carrots, cabbage, yardlong bean, bitter gourd, raw papaya, green or red spinach (cheera), drumstick leaves.
Cabbage thoran is commonly served during Onam.
How to prepare Cabbage thoran
Fine dice cabbage, onions and green chillies.
In a bowl mix shredded cabbage, onions, green chillies, grated coconut, turmeric and salt.
In a pan, heat coconut oil. Put mustard seeds and curry leaves into the oil.
Once the seeds splutter add the cabbage mix.
Close the lid of the pan and allow it to cook for about 10-15 minutes keeping the flame low.
Stir through, check for salt.
Inji curry/ Puli Inji
Puli Inji is a very popular condiment made with fresh ginger, jaggery and chillies along with other Onam delicacies. It is a side dish which is served in a very small quantity to give your taste palate a tangy high. This dish can be stored in the refrigerator for weeks as it gets better with each passing day.
How to prepare
Peel and chop gingers finely
Heat the oil in a pan. Fry till the ginger turns dark golden brown. Do not burn it.
Towards the end, add green chillies, fry for a few seconds and set aside to cool. Once the ginger cools down grind it coarsely in a mixer.
Heat oil in the pan again. Add mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves. Fry a bit.
Add the ginger paste, asafoetida, red chilli powder, grated jaggery, tamarind juice and salt. Mix well and simmer for about 10-12 minutes until the oil starts to separate.
Remove from fire, cool, and store in a dry bottle in the refrigerator.
Other side dishes
Sharkkara Varatti (Jaggery Chips), banana chips, pappadam, spicy raw mango, lemon or lime pickles are all served with steamed matta rice during the feast.
Ada pradhaman is a sweet dish similar to payasam, but more elaborately made.
Ada refers to the pieces of rice/flour batter and the pradhaman is the sweet coconut milk in which they are put.
Two types of readymade ada are available in market, the one made with maida or plain flour and the other made with rice flour (used more often).
How to prepare
In a bowl take water and melt jaggery. Strain and set aside.
Bring water to boil in a saucepan, remove and then soak the rice ada for about 15 minutes.
Put the ada in thin coconut milk and cook until it turns soft.
Add the melted jaggery to this and simmer for another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In another pan heat ghee and roast coconut pieces till they turn dark brown. Keep aside once down.
Now, roast the cashew nuts and raisins. Roast until golden brown and drain.
Add thick coconut milk to the payasam which has been simmering till now. Remove from the flame immediately. The coconut milk will curdle if you let the payasam boil after adding the coconut milk.
Once the payasam is removed from the flame add spice powders - cardamom, dry ginger, cumin, along with the roasted coconut, raisins and cashews
The Ada pradhaman is ready to be served at the end of the elaborate feast.