Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Olan (Coconut milk & Curry Leaves Scented Vegetable Stew)

Olan is perhaps the simplest of all Kerala recipes. The unique combination of the ingredients contributes to producing an amazingly delicious taste sensation leaving one longing for more!

Olan is traditionally made with mathan (pumpkin), elavan or kumbalanga (winter melon or ash gourd), and fresh or dry cowpeas or karamani (Red Chori in Hindi) or dry black-eyed peas. No important feast is complete in Kerala without Olan - especially one served during the Onam festival.

An important fact to note here is that Olan is one of the very few dishes where turmeric is not used!! That is indeed rare for an Indian vegetable dish!

Olan with Kabocha squash and Red Chori Beans
Olan can be made with a combination of the pumpkin and winter melon along with the karamani or black-eyed peas. At our home it was made using either the pumpkin or the winter melon but not both at once.

I was very fortunate to have a volunteer pumpkin (Kabocha) plant growing (thanks to a little bit of pit composting) in the garden which graciously bestowed a couple of fruits on us. {Science Fact: Did you know that pumpkins are considered to be berries!} Guess what I did with them? Why, make olan of course! Kabocha squash makes an awesome olan :P - Utterly Delicious even without the coconut milk!

My grandmother, Chelli Thathi, used to make Olan with immature pumpkins and fresh and dry karamani - I can still remember how wonderful it used to taste! If you come by an immature pumpkin, invest it in making the olan; you would be glad you did.


1/2 cup dried karamani (Red Chori Beans) or black eyed peas 
1 small pumpkin or elavan (winter melon, ash gourd) OR 1/2 Each
1 or 2 hot green chilies
Salt to taste
1/2 cup fresh or canned Coconut Milk
2 sprigs Fresh Curry leaves
1 or 2 Tbsp unrefined Coconut Oil


Sort the peas/karamani for debris, wash, and soak in fresh water overnight.

Drain well, rinse, and cook in enough fresh water to cover until soft. Set aside.

Wash the pumpkin or elavan and cut in half; remove pith and seeds. Peel as necessary - winter melon definitely; kabocha does not need peeling - it has a very thin, soft skin. Cut into about 1" wide strips and then slice thinly into squarish pieces.

Cut stems off the chilies, remove seeds and membranes, and slice thinly. The chilies are used just to impart their flavor; not heat.

Combine pumpkin/elavan and chilies and cover with about 1/2 cup of water; add salt and cook until just tender.

Stir in the cooked peas and bring to a boil.

Add coconut milk and heat through but not boil.

Remove from heat and add the crushed curry leaves and pour coconut oil on top.

Cover and let sit for 10 minutes for the flavors to develop.

Serve with rice, curries, and fresh chapatis.



Unknown said...

Hi Geetha,
Try this Olan. Use Zucchini instead of Elavan (ash gourd).
Cut horizontally into two and then slice them. Do not remove peel. The rest as per your recipe.
It will be yummy. You will never miss Elavan.

Geetha said...

Hi Hema,

I thought I had a bag of Zucchinis; but alas I had used them up. But I was all set for Olan; so guess what I did? I had 1/2 a butternut squash and 1 chayote squash (Bangalore Kathirikai) and combined them and made olan. It was absolutely fantastic. I guess other sweet veggies of the pumpkin/gourd family work well! I still have to make olan with zucchinis. Thanks for the idea :)

Geetha said...

Hi Hema,
Tried your idea with zucchinis; it was absolutely delicious albeit a little on the liquid side. Zucchinis have a higher water content than the other squashes so need hardly any extra water if any in the first place. Thanks :)

- G