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Kerala Dishes, Sadya, Vegetarian Dishes

Olan- Ashgourd and Cowpeas in coconut milk-The Music Box

“When I was young
I’d listen to the radio
Waitin’ for my favorite songs
When they played I’d sing along
It made me smile.” The Carpenters

How truly these words of Karen Carpenter describe my passion for music?? Before cable, internet & TV remade and  revolutionised the entertainment scene, when all was quiet, calm and peaceful on the home front, I had a faithful little box which followed me around, much like Mary’s little lamb. And everywhere that I went, this delightful companion was sure to follow! Tuning to stations airing Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi and English songs, enthralled me!

Was I lucky to listen when the best of lyrics were tuned to the most divine music, or am I being nostalgic? Who can forget those lilting, wonderful songs of Vayalar and Devarajan Master like “Ayiram Padasarangal Kilungi…” and  “Sanyasini….” , the haunting melodies of Bhaskaran Master and Baburaj like “Oru kotta ponnundallo…” and “Anjana Kanna Ezhuthi…,or the ethereal music of Salil Chaudhury in “Chemmeen” and “Nellu” ? And not feel a tug at the heartstrings? In English the numbers from Abba  & “The Black Superman” set my foot tapping.

Today these songs have become a timeless echo of my childhood days spend cocooned in the magical musical world. During the wonder years, I especially liked Olan that Amma served for every special occasion as part of the  Sadya. The sweetness that the coconut milk brings to the dish blends very well with the heat of the chilli and the aroma of the curry leaves. Yet, overall the flavor of this dish is very simple and subtle.

Papadams – Some salty crunchies to go along with the Sadya


Serves: 6           Preparation Time: 15 mins                        Cook Time: 30 mins


  • Cowpeas / Vanpayuru) – 100 gms (wash and soak overnight)
  • Ashgourd /Kumbalanga -500 gms*(cut 2 cms square,slice thin)
  • Coconut milk – First extract-one cup, Second extract -one cup ( Taken from half coconut grated)**
  • Green chillies – 4 (slit lengthwise)
  • Curry leaves – 1 stalk
  • Coconut oil – 1 Tbsp
  • Salt – to taste

Method of preparation:

  1. Cook  cowpeas in a pressure cooker for about 10 minutes and keep aside.
  2. Add ashgourd, 2 green chillies,the second coconut milk and salt to the cowpeas in a thick bottomed pan.
  3. Cook on low to medium flame till the ashgourd is cooked well and the mixture is semi-dry. Alternately cook  ashgourd with the ingredients in the pressure cooker for the duration of a whistle.
  4.  Add  first coconut milk and remove from fire immediately.
  5. Add remaining chillies, curry leaves and coconut oil. Close pan.
  6. After 10 minutes, Olan is ready, stir and serve.

* Pumpkin/ Mathanga can be used instead of ashgourd.

* * When using coconut milk powder, use thick coconut milk for the first extract and thin for the second.

Quick snack: Using a thick-bottomed pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter or oil. Splutter 1 teaspoon of jeera, and 1 green chilly (finely chopped) . To this add corn (you can use frozen corn – thawed). Stir dry – about 5 minutes – on medium heat first and then on low heat. Add the juice of half a lemon, salt and freshly ground pepper,to this. Your corn snack is ready to serve.

Quick tip:  When cutting vegetables, use a newspaper under the chopping board. All the easier to clean up.


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.


7 thoughts on “Olan- Ashgourd and Cowpeas in coconut milk-The Music Box

  1. I liked that line…..CHE …timeless echo of my childhood days….send coccooned in a musical world.. How I longed to throw out that box during exam days… I recall how you suddenly switched the radio off when ACHAN came down the stairs…de times you used to wait untiringly for RADIO CEYLON to air a particular song that Linda had mentioned… Always in a huddle with it.. I always used to think that for you it was a real human being..Oh! I could go on and on..

    Posted by Sarala | February 11, 2012, 11:23 PM
    • That BOX!!!was one of the brightest things in my life,Saral. It cancelled the drudgery of everyday routine and it used to give me an incentive to perform.For some inexplicable reason,the box disappeared from my life,until recently,to be exact,last week .Now I am really spoiled. There are so many channels now.Hoping to renew my association with the radio .

      Posted by Paddy | February 22, 2012, 11:03 AM
  2. Dear Vama,

    Olan is one of my favorite dishes – Arun’s too as Amma has told me.
    Will definitely give this a shot.

    Like the way you connect memories to dishes. After reading this posting I sang the Carpenters song to a suddenly aloof Arun and thought about the memories I have associated with Olan and the song.

    Amma’s interesting take on your Radio tells me that you had an intense connect to it!
    I am always in love with my latest music device! and associate memories with songs! Can connect with what you have said.

    Will update you on how the Olan preparation went!

    Posted by Devi AJ | February 13, 2012, 12:44 AM
    • Dear Devi & Arun,

      Love the way you receive my posts. I’m very happy that you can share my memories in your own unique way. Do let me know how the Olan and the Mutton Stew preparations go.


      Posted by Paddy | February 13, 2012, 8:59 PM
  3. Thanks for sharing the radio box memory, Padmini chechi. One thing I can connect to is what Sarla chechi said ” when ACHAN came down the stairs” …That was a very familiar part of our childhood too,.. I was definitely on guard when I heard my achan’s distinctive footsteps on the stairs…away went the latest novel under my pillow!
    Nice recipe and even better narration …

    Posted by sreelatha | February 14, 2012, 9:49 PM
  4. Dear Padmini Aunty,

    Olan is one of my most favourite dishes! I made it this morning following your recipe! Its excellent! My family loves it too! Hari is licking his fingers!!!
    Your recipe is very simple to follow & the proportions are perfect! Thank you!

    Love & Regards,

    Posted by Deepika | January 28, 2014, 10:16 AM

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