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Monday, September 21, 2020

The Back Burner: Recipes for Onasadhya at Home: Part 4

Avial and Olan are the two dishes in an onasadhya that allow coconut, one of the key ingredients in Malayali cuisine, to take centrestage

Written by Pooja Pillai | New Delhi | August 29, 2020 12:50:57 pm
onam special, onam recipes, onam sadhya recipes, the back burner, pooja pillai column, indianexpress,Celebrate Onam by making Onasadhya at home with these special recipes. (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock; designed by Gargi Singh)

The final installment of essential Onasadhya recipes features two dishes that I have grown to love only as an adult, when I’m better able to appreciate the lighter, more adroit workings of coconut as an ingredient. Avial and Olan both deploy the innate nutty sweetness of coconut in different but marvellously effective ways; the former, through the use of fresh coconut paste and the latter through the use of coconut milk.

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Neither of these dishes is very difficult to make, although avial may take a little long to prep for, thanks to all the vegetables that one uses in it. Both dishes also call for the vegetables used to be cut in very precise ways, but this is really not as much of a bother as one might imagine.

ALSO READ | The Back Burner: Make your own sadhya for Onam: Part 1

Note: Both recipes require coconut oil for flavour, so try and get some if you intend to prepare either of these


onam special, onam recipes, onam sadhya recipes, the back burner, pooja pillai column, indianexpress, Avial is made with a medley of vegetables, cooked with a coconut and curd. (Photo: Pooja Pillai)

Avial is made with a variety of vegetables, cooked with a coconut paste. The sweetness of the coconut is enlivened by the addition of a souring agent – usually dahi, although tamarind and, sometimes, raw mango are also used. The result is a dish that is delicious, but also very light on the palate. Barely any spices go into the making of avial, and there’s no tempering involved. You can taste each individual vegetable used and yet, everything comes together as a cohesive whole.


About ½ cup each of:
Elephant foot yam
Ash gourd
Yellow pumpkin
Drumstick (moringa)
Raw plantain
Potato (optional)
Carrot (optional)
(All the vegetables used must be cut to approximately the length and width of your little finger)

Fresh coconut, grated – 1 cup
Curd (sour is better) – 1 cup
Dried red chillies – 2-3
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Coconut oil – 1 tbsp
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Salt, to taste


On medium flame, cover and cook the vegetables with about a tsp of the coconut oil, some salt and turmeric. You may add a little water, if you think it’s necessary, but usually it isn’t. Just make sure that while the vegetables are cooked all the way through, they’re still firm.
While the vegetables cook, grind the grated coconut with cumin seeds and dried red chillies, then mix it with the curd.
Once the vegetables are done, stir in the coconut-curd mixture and heat on medium flame for a bit. Do not let it boil.
Once you’ve turned off the flame, top the avial with some torn-up curry leaves and pour the remaining raw coconut oil over it.

ALSO READ | No gatherings, little fun, a low-key sadhya: Malayalis’ Onam plans amid the pandemic


onam special, onam recipes, onam sadhya recipes, the back burner, pooja pillai column, indianexpress, Olan is one of the mildest dishes in a sadhya, relying wholly on coconut for its beautiful taste. (Photo: Pooja Pillai)

Anyone can fall in love with the blockbuster flavours of sambar, payasam or puli inji, but it takes someone with a truly discerning palate to appreciate olan. One of the mildest components of the sadhya, olan relies wholly on coconut for its taste, using both coconut milk and oil. This makes it mildly sweet and nutty, but with a nice hit of heat from green chillies and ginger.


Ash gourd – 1 cup
Yellow pumpkin – 1 cup
(Both need to be cut in flat, square pieces about an inch across)
Green chillies, slit lengthwise – 2
Fresh ginger, minced – 1 tsp
Thick coconut milk – 1 cup
Coconut oil – 1 tbsp
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Salt, to taste

ALSO READ | ‘Onam is like an emotion’: Non-resident Keralites miss going home amid the pandemic


On medium flame, cover and cook the vegetables in about a cup of water, along with green chillies, ginger and salt.
Once done, stir in the coconut milk and allow it to simmer for a couple of minutes.
Turn off the flame and pour raw coconut oil over the olan, along with shredded curry leaves.

ALSO READ | The Back Burner: Recipes for Onasadhya at home: Part 2

Note: A slightly heavier, perhaps more traditional version of olan uses cowpeas along with the vegetables. If you’re planning to include it in your dish, then soak about half a cup overnight and pressure cook it the next day. Add it to the olan along with the coconut milk.

[The Back Burner is a weekly blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]

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