Kerala is not only a land of unmatched beauty but of exquisite gastronomic tales that are sure to stay with you forever. The local cuisine is spellbinding and offers a staggering variety of seafood, redolent meat curries and simple vegetarian delicacies that are beyond satisfying. If you are a vegetarian, you are sure to miss out on the meaty, non-vegetarian specialties. The Malabar coast runs rich with a variety of freshwater fish varieties and shellfish like oysters and mussels. While there is much to explore for the enthusiastic, die-hard meat eater, vegetarians never return disappointed after relishing a traditional Kerala meal. Interestingly, most people who I know to have an undying love for Kerala cuisine happen to love the typical Sadhya meal - which, by the way, is a mammoth vegetarian affair.
While talking of Sadhya meal and vegetarian Kerela meals, alluding to Thoran is a must. One of the most important elements of a typical vegetarian Sadhya meal, thoran is a quintessential example of a dish that is extremely fuss-free to cook, is versatile and leaves a mark on your senses. The crunch of the vegetable sautéed in pure coconut oil along with some lentils, aromatic curry leaves and subtle spices is unmistakably remarkable on the palate. Thoran is an extremely versatile dish; you can use any vegetable of your choice to arrive at a bowlful of curry - from spinach, beetroot, beans to raw bananas, banana flowers, ivy gourd and what not! Interestingly, the traditional recipe gets a makeover with the shift in region within the state, and outside Kerala's territorial boundaries, the dish assumes a completely different avatar and comes about to be called Poriyal.
People in Tamil Nadu primarily cook Poriyal in normal cooking oil or sesame oil, in Kerala you just can't do away with cooking in coconut oil.
"People usually put some water and let the vegetable cook with the lid on, in my opinion it should never be done as the vegetable loses its crunch and the colour. Traditionally, you saute the vegetable so that it retains its texture and the bright colour. The idea is to let the dish cook till it is 'al dente' - has a slight crunch to it," shares Amrit Appaden, an Independent chef who hails from Kerala and specializes in International cuisine. So, a well-cooked thoran curry will not have a mushy texture, always remember!
Thoran can aptly be described as Kerala's culinary take on the standard stir-fried vegetables dish with a hearty addition of indigenous masalas, staple tempering and aromatics. If you want to cook thoran at home, zero down on the choice of your vegetable first. Begin by heating coconut oil in a cooking pan, add mustard seeds, green chillies or dried red chillies, some curry leaves and a teaspoon of urad or channa dal. Once the mixture is fried, throw in the vegetable and saute well. "Some people may add a pinch of turmeric but it is completely your choice," notes Amrit. Finally comes freshly and finely grated coconut and some salt.
Cheera (Spinach) Thoran
Recipe by Chef Ritesh Venu, Marriott Welcom Hotel
Cook time - 25 minutes
1 cup chopped spinach
2 Tbsp oil
1/2 Tbsp mustard seeds
2 Tbsp chopped red chillies
7 to 8 curry leaves
2 Tbsp chopped green chillies
1/2 Tbsp turmeric powder
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
2 Tbsp grated coconut
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a pan.
Add mustard, red chillies and curry leaves.
Now add green chillies, turmeric powder, chopped garlic and spinach.
Let the spinach steam, then add grated coconut.
Season and cook for a few minutes.
Serve garnished with grated coconut
Got some interesting thoran recipes? Share with us in the comment box.