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Kerala Dishes, Vegetarian Dishes

Ulli Theeyal – My Hometown,On The Shores Of The Arabian Sea

I grew up in a sleepy little town, famed for cashews, on the shores of the Arabian Sea… fringed by swaying coconut trees where the expanse of sky, sea and earth bring us close to heaven in God’s Own Country… the beach was our playground…

Unique to this region is this brown rich curry – Theeyal. Here the distinctive aroma comes from roasting coconut and spices.  Waves of nostalgia envelope me when I get the aroma of this dish. I learnt to make Theeyal from my friend and cousin, who I consider the very best in making savoury dishes of South Kerala. Theeyal is a good accompaniment to Rice or Appam.


Preparation time: 30 mins               Cook time: 1 hour                       Serves: Six

There are Three stages to this dish:

  1. Make the Spiced Coconut Powder
  2. Saute
  3. Tempering


a. Ingredients for Spiced Coconut Powder:

  • Fresh Coconut – 1, grated, slightly crushed to make it even
  • Shallots / Small onions – 5, finely chopped
  • Black Pepper Corn – 6
  • Curry Leaves – 1 Stalk
  • Tamarind – Size of a Lemon
  • Coriander Powder – 1 tsp
  • Chilli Powder – 1.5 tsp
  • Turmeric Powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Fenugreek Powder – 1 Pinch

b. Ingredients to Saute:

  • Coconut Oil – 2 tbsp
  • Shallots / Sambar Onions – 1/2 kg, Sliced thinly
  • Green Chillis – 2, cut
  • Tomatoes – 2, cut into long strips
  • Salt – To taste

c. Ingredients for Tempering:

  • Coconut Oil – 2 tsp
  • Mustard – 1 tsp
  • Dried Red Chillies – 2 (halved)
  • Curry Leaves – 1 Stalk


a. Make the Spiced Coconut Powder

  1. Heat ingredients 1-5 in a sauce pan and constantly stir till the coconut becomes dark brown
  2. Remove from heat and stir in spice powders (6-9)
  3. Cool and grind to a fine coffee-colored powder without adding water. (Alternately, your mixture might grind to an oily paste, depending on your coconut.)

b. Saute

  1. Heat oil, add onions, saute till brown
  2. Add green chillies, tomatoes and salt to taste. Stir for two minutes
  3. Add the spiced coconut powder and 2.5 cups of water. Allow to boil till oil separates and floats on top of the gravy (approx. 10 mins).

c. Tempering

Heat oil, sprinkle mustard seeds. When it pops, add red chillies and curry leaves – this can be used to garnish the curry.

Voila! Your Ulli Theeyal is ready.

Alternately you can reduce the shallots in the Theeyal and add Okra, Bitter Gourd or snake gourd. Drumstick and Prawn make a fabulous twosome, complementing each other in a fantastic dish, Konju Theeyal.


About Paddy

When I married and came to Bangalore, it was a real ‘Pensioners’ Paradise.’ The climate was as today’s generation would say – ‘Awesome’. It was cool and pleasant throughout the year. My parents cautioned me to keep warm and have given me the loveliest Kashmir shawls, which I treasure to this day. Since I could not distinguish between rice and dal, cooking was an uphill task. I had a cook from Kerala, but the cold weather did not suit her and in a month’s time, she went back. Looking back, I have come a long way now… Cooking for me has metamorphosed from a daily routine of making edible and nutritious food for my family to an exciting journey of creativity by experimenting with different flavors and ingredients. To me, food is not only for nourishment and sustenance. Its taste and flavors take us back to our good times too. Food is nostalgia and comfort. It brings home our culture. Food is a treat and nourishment for the soul too. I dedicate this blog to my parents, who instilled in me a strong sense of ethics and discipline, and whose affection, love and support gives me strength in this journey of life. I feel the need of today’s generation, who come away from their homes and crave for home cooked food. To you too, I dedicate this blog, where I will share the recipes that I have learnt and grown to love over the years.


8 thoughts on “Ulli Theeyal – My Hometown,On The Shores Of The Arabian Sea

  1. Thanks. The curry looks delicious and the instructions are clear. Will be making it over the weekend.

    On another note, I love your asides. Look forward to your future posts.

    Posted by Jack | January 9, 2012, 3:10 PM
  2. Wow! Have never seen a more meticuolously explained cookery blog!! This enables to avoid all possible confusions /doubts that can arise.. Thank U!

    Posted by Raj | January 21, 2012, 12:19 PM
  3. Dear Vama,

    The theeyal looks delectable !!!! Looking at the pic brought back memories of home and the konju theeyal that amma makes.
    A wave of nostalgia envolped me 2 !!!!! 🙂

    Posted by Sid | January 22, 2012, 6:20 PM
  4. I always loved Ulli Theeyal, but thought it a daunting task to cook it… However, you broke down the recipe to simple parts and explained it so well that I am motivated to try my hand at it…

    Posted by Divya | February 2, 2012, 8:24 AM

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