Onam Sadya – Heirloom Kerala Recipes


Priti eating her sadya. Clockwise from top left – Cabbage Thoran, Sambar on rice, Avial, Tender mango pickle, Ghee on gunpowder chutney, Ginger and jaggery coated banana chips, banana chips, Theeyal, Inji curry, Kalan, Olan, Beetroot Pachchadi, Mallu pappadam

Each year, when Onam arrives we (I along with Meryl and now Sheryl since she has been here in Mumbai) talk endlessly about all the food we will eat and then when the day arrives, lazily lament the loss of good old home cooking, deride ourselves for not having planned better, make half hearted attempts to find a sadya in Mumbai, scramble into a set sari or atleast salwar kameez, play act at being mallu girls with mullapoo in their hair, try to haul ourselves to a sadya anywhere nearabouts that has a table free, inevitably feel disappointed at what (if we do) we manage to eat and spend much of the day in one long session of reminiscing good old days when we would just go to our ancestral home with our parents and stuff our faces till we could just lie back like beached whales. Yep, we are rather proactive like that.

This year though, for some unfathomable reason, we decided to better ourselves. We planned to make ourselves a sadya! If the mountain will not come to us, we will go the mountain, we said. We would show our non mallu family and friends what mallu food truly is. It had to have the works – all the dishes we wanted to eat, just the way each of us liked them; Banana leaves for plates, mullapoo for the girls and set saris (jasmine flowers) to be worn by the servers (us).


And then Meryl fell ill. Not to be beaten down, Sheryl and I decided to forge ahead and after much sifting through my 200 odd collection of cookbooks as well as the world wide web and consultation with my aunt, arrived at the menu and the final list of recipes. 15 dishes were to be produced in one morning by two first time sadya makers! Did I tell you, proactive? Maybe I should have said, unrealistic!!

You can imagine what happened next. Having hauled ourselves out of bed early, listed out ingredients, steps etc, running to the trusty Four Bungalows market, hoarding up on ingredients, banana leaves, chips, coconut oil et al; Sheryl and I started what was to be a 8 hour cooking marathon. Time flew and our dishes sluggishly shaped up but our enthusiasm didn’t wane. Guests arrived, the living room was rearranged for the planned floor seating, our dishes had still not shaped up, and yet, our spirit didnt dip. We knocked back pizzas, rasgullas and wine and worked our way through the menu. Meanwhile lunch became early dinner as our patient sadya guests waited in the living room..


And then we were ready to serve. Sans the promised set saris (we were far too wiped out by then), no energy for picture clicking (or keeping our eyes open) and beaten but not out. Despite the mania, sweat and heavy lifting, it was all so worth it. The food was delicious, got wiped off the plates, Atul said it was the best thaali he had ever had (one down for my secret malluisation-of-the-Punjabi-world plan!), everybody exclaimed at how they had never eaten anything like it and the point had been proven. Kerala is not Tamil Nadu, Mallu food is not only idli sambar and all South Indians are not Madrasis.

So, here I am, happy to have finally cooked my first onam sadya and happier still to have a great bunch of recipes for our future Onams, all tested out. The pictures suck but these recipes are the real stuff. Am putting them up here, just so we, and any other mallus looking to cook themselves a sadya, in a non mallu city, know where to start. If incase you want to come to ours next year, Sheryl has agreed to a Pop Up!




(Serves about 4-6 people. The main curry accompaniment for the rice. Thicker and more abundant with vegetables, than the other variations, this is the typical Kerala style sambhar.)

  • Carrot-1
  • Potato-1
  • Tomatoes -2
  • Brinjal-1
  • Ash gourd-1/4 pumpkin 1/4 drumsticks-1 or 2 other vegetables if needed
  • Toor Dal – .5 cup
  • Sambhar powder- 4 table spoons
  • Turmeric powder -1/4 tablespoon
  • Coriander powder- 2 tablespoons
  • Shallots – 5, sliced
  • Garlic- 5 cloves, minced
  • Ginger – 1.5″ minced
  • Asfoetida-one pinch
  • Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
  • Coriander leaves – about 3 tablespoons after mincing
  • Mustard
  • Cumin seeds
  • Fenugreek seeds
  • Sugar – 1/4 teaspoon


  1. Soak the dal in water for about an hour.
  2. Boil all the vegetables with the dal and the sambhar masala.
  3. Soak the tamarind in 1/3 cup of hot water till soft and  mash into a pulp. Squeeze out the pulp and discard the fibre. Add the pulp to the vegetable stew.
  4. To a pan, add some oil and splutter the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds in the said order. When the seeds have finished spluttering, add the shallots, ginger, garlic and curry leaves to it and saute it.
  5. Turn the heat down to low and add the rest of the spice powders including turmeric and coriander and asafoetida. Give it a stir and immediately add to the pot with the vegetables.
  6. Let the sambar come to a boil once again and check for seasoning. Add the sugar and correct the salt – sour balance by adding more salt or tamarind paste as required. Remember to bring the stew to a good boil if you add more tamarind.
  7. Once you switch off the flame, add in the coriander leaves and cover for 5 minutes before serving.


(Serves 4-6. A yogurt based curry, with coconut and unripe plantains. This is one of the main curries to be served with the rice, in addition to sambar and rasam)


  • Raw Plantains/Bananas (Vazhakka/Pachakaya) – 1.5 cups, cubed/diced
  • Shallots – 2, sliced
  • Green chilli – 1, chopped
  • Chopped ginger and garlic – ½ -1 tsp each
  • Water – 2 cups (you can use less or more depending on how thick you want it to be)
  • Coconut, grated – 1 cup
  • Cumin (jeera) – a pinch
  • Turmeric powder – ½ tsp
  • Whisked yogurt – 3 cups @ room temp
  • Shallots – 4, sliced
  • Ginger – 1.5 tsp
  • Red chilli – 3
  • Mustard – ½ tsp
  • green chilli -1
  • Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
  • Salt
  • Coconut oil


  1. Cook the diced banana, with sliced shallots (2), chopped chillies, ginger, pepper and salt. Bring to a boil and let simmer till the banana is cooked through.
  2. Grind together coconut, cumin and turmeric powder with 3-5 tbsp of water to a smooth paste. Add more water if required but only as much as you need for the coconut to grind well.
  3. Combine the whisked yogurt with the coconut paste. Add the cooked plantains to the yogurt coconut mixture. Mix well and cook over medium heat, bring to a simmer. Stir continuously until the curry starts steaming, around 5-7 mins.
  4. Heat oil in a small pan and crackle the mustard seeds. Add sliced shallots (3), red chillies and curry leaves. Fry it till the shallots turn golden. Add to the curry.

Inji curry

Serves 4-6.  A ginger and tamaring based chutney – one of my favourite chutneys ever. To be served on the side.

  • Ginger – 300 gm
  • Tamarind – size of 3 lime
  • Chilly powder – 2 tsp
  • Coriander powder – 3 tsp
  • Jaggery – 75 gms, size of 3 lime or to taste
  • Mustard – 3/4 tsp
  • Curry leaves – 3sp
  • 7small onions
  • Salt
  • dry red chill -4
  • Coconut oil – to fry and splutter


  1. Chop the cleaned ginger.  I used to chopper and it made life much much easier. Deep fry the ginger in batches till golden brown. Grind to a paste.
  2. Add 1/2 cup of hot water to tamarind, soak till soft and  mash into a pulp. Squeeze out the pulp and discard the fibre. Add chilly powder, (coriander powder), jaggery and salt.
  3. Boil the tamarind slurry till thickened. Add the crushed ginger to the tamarind along with ½cup of water and mix well.
  4. Boil the concoction on high heat till thick and glossy – about 5-10 minutes. (Remember to add a couple of tablespoons of water if its too thick already and to keep stirring so this doesn’t burn… unlike ahem, mine almost did.)
  5. In a kadhai/small wok, heat the remaining oil in which you fried the ginger and add the mustard seeds. Wait till the mustard finishes spluttering, throw in the curry leaves, dry red chilli, small onion, and fry till fragrant.
  6. Add the tamarind, jaggery & ginger mixture to the tempering mix in and let boil till it the chutney becomes thick and jammy. Adjust the sweet sour balance by adding more tamarind or jaggery for one last time. Remember to boil the chutney well if you add more tamarind so as to eliminate the raw taste. And keep stirring!


Serves 4-6. My favourite Kerala curry or shallots in a roasted coconut and tamarind sauce. Served next to the ginger chutney, this is meant to be treated like a chutney but is so good that its more often consumed like a proper curry with the rice.

  • Shallots -1/2 kg
  • Tamarind – 2 lemon sized balls
  • Coconut – 2.5 cup grated
  • Red chillies – 2tsp
  • Coriander seeds – 1 tsp
  • Turmeric – 0.25 tsp
  • Jaggery to taste
  • Salt
  • Oil
  1. Peel and slice the shallots
  2. Soak tamarind in 1 cup of warm water. Soak till soft and  mash into a pulp. Squeeze out the pulp and discard the fibre.
  3. Heat about half a cup of oil and fry the onions in batches till golden but not crunchy. Drain out the onions. Pour out all the oil except for 2 tsp which you need for the next step.
  4. Fry coconut in the remaining 2 tsp oil, stirring constantly till fragrant and brown. Do this over a low flame or the coconut will burn and take your time over it. Proper caramalisation of the coconut is what adds the critical nutty rich flavour to this dish. Add the spices and stir fry till the colour deepens to a rich deep brown.
  5. Grind the roasted coconut with the least possible amount of water.
  6. Heat 4T oil from the oil drained from frying onions, splutter mustard and curry leaves. Add in the fried shallots, ground coconut and about half a cup of water and stir through. Bring to a boil. Add more water if your curry is too thick.
  7. Add salt, tamarind and jaggery boil for about 15 mins till the oil separates and you have a thick deep brown curry. Check for the sweet-salty-sour balance and correct for one last time. Bring to a final boil and you are done!


Serves 4-6. A neon pink coloured, tempered raita of beetroot, spiced with mustard and ginger. To be served on the side.

  • Beetrrot grated : 2
  • Ginger – 1.5 tsp minced
  • Green chilli – 1
  • Grated coconut – 1/2c
  • Mustard seeds – 1.5tsp
  • Curd – 1.5c
  • Curry leaves 1.5 sprig
  • Salt
  • Coconut oil – 1.5tsp
  1. Cook grated beet with a couple of tablespoons of water till softened.
  2. Grind ginger, chilli, coconut, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds and .5 cup of the curd till you get a fine paste.
  3. Add the coconut paste to the beet and cook over gentle fire.
  4. Add the remaining curd along with salt, stir to combine and cook over medium heat till heated through but not boiling.
  5. Splutter the remaining mustard seeds in the oil, add curry leaves and stir through.
  6. Pour the tempering over the curry. Mix and serve.


Serves 4-6. Mixed vegetables cooked with coconut, turmeric and yogurt. One of the main side dishes.

  • Assorted veggies (banana, yam, drumstick, beans, snake guard, carrot, cucumber) – 6 cups, cut into 1.5 inch long batons
  • Water – 3 cups
  • Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Pepper powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Coconut – 1 cup
  • Garlic cloves – 4
  • Green chilly – 2-3
  • Jeera – 1/2 tsp
  • Water – 1-2 tbsp
  • Yogurt – 1/2 cup, beaten
  • Coconut oil – 2 tsp
  • Salt
  • Curry leaves – 2spr


  1. Grind together the coconut, 1 green chilly and jeera into a thick paste.
  2. Cook the vegetables till half done.
  3. Add the ground paste to the middle of the vegetables, (do not stir), cover and cook for another  minutes.
  4. Add the yogurt and curry leaves and now mix the avial till everything is combined. Cook for another 2 minutes or so.
  5. Make a paste of the garlic cloves and green chillies and stir into the avial.
  6. Just before removing from the flame, stir in curry leaves and coconut oil.


Serves 6-8. A mild coconutty creamy stew of black beans, ash gourd and pumpkin. To be served on the side. (Picturised above)

  • Black-eyed beans (vanpayar) – 3/4 cup, soaked overnight
  • Ash gourd (kumbalanga) – 1.5 cups, cut into cubes
  • Pumpkin – 1.5 cup (you can also just replace this with more ash gourd)
  • Green chilli – 3-4, slit lengthwise
  • Water – 3.5 cups
  • Thin coconut milk – 1.5 cup
  • thick coconut milk – 1/2cup
  • Salt
  • Curry leaves – 2-3 sprigs
  • Coconut oil – 1-2 tablespoons
  1. Boil the beans with 2.5 cups of water till just cooked but not mushy. Drain.
  2. Mix the cooked beans with the pumpkin, ash gourd, green chilli, salt and the thin coconut water.
  3. Cook till ash gourd becomes tender, but not mushy.
  4. Add thick coconut milk and curry leaves. Cook on low flame for 15-20 mins till the curry is creamy. I like to mash a few of the beans to help thicken the curry.
  5. Remove from the flame and drizzle the coconut oil over the stew.




  1. says

    I have seen some Asian people (I always thought they were Indian) eating on banana leaves and have been intrigued. It is nice to see people continue their traditions in foreign lands, and I must say that that food looks delicious.

    • says

      A lot of countries in the Asian region in one way or the other to fashion vessels out of. It’s ecofriendly, easy to wash up, cuts down on storage and fun!! I remember as a Kid, each year we would visit my grandmother in our village in Kerala and the experience of eating on the leaves was one of the most exciting parts of the meals there. It comes with it’s own ritual of cleaning the leaf, rules/etiquette around the way it is placed, folded once you finish eating etc. And I am happy to say that though fading, this tradition is still very much in practice in regions in the south of India which is where it’s native to.


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