This is the wonderful Olan, a curry with a coconut sauce from the beautiful Kerala in South India. In particular, this dish comes from the Nair community from the that region.
Madhur Jaffrey, who first inspired me to cook this dish, uses cucumber in her recipe for this Nair recipe – different to traditional Olan dishes used for Sadya which use ash gourd with cow peas or black-eyed peas. Perhaps Madhur Jaffrey replaces Ash Gourd with cucumber, as it is an easier ingredient to find outside of India. It is rare that we consider cooking cucumber in Australia, but that is not so in other parts of the world. She also replaces the peas with masoor dal, also presumably easier to source.
More recently Ash Gourd is available in Australia if you know where to shop. Large Asian shops will typically stock it. And cow peas and black eyed peas are common.
Either way, it is a wonderful dish. Please enjoy! The vegetables can also be replaced with similar ones, such as other gourds, melons, squash and pumpkins.
Olan | Vegetable Coconut Curry from Kerala
50 g masoor dal (here we call these red lentils, not to be confused with toor dal)
1.25 cups coconut milk, well stirred
500g ash gourd, cucumber, or cucumber and zucchini, peeled and cut crosswise into 2.5cm pieces. If the vegetables are thick ones, it helps to split them in half lengthwise before cross-cutting.
2 – 4 fresh green chillies, cut into half lengthwise
salt to taste
8 – 10 curry leaves
2 tspn black mustard seeds
1 Tblspn ghee
Wash the lentils in several changes of water, or place in a sieve and shake under a running tap until water runs clear.
Pour 1/2 cup of the coconut milk and 1.75 cups water into a medium sized pan. Add the lentils, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes. The lentils should be almost cooked at this stage.
Add the vegetables, chillies and salt. Cook over low heat for 5 – 10 minutes until the cucumber is tender.
Meanwhile, heat the ghee in a separate pan and add the black mustard seeds and curry leaves. Pop the mustard seeds and then empty the contents of the pan into the lentils and cucumber.
Add the remainder of the coconut milk, stir through and cook on a higher heat for 3 – 5 minutes until the sauce thickens.
Serve with plain rice or rice cooked with a tspn of turmeric powder (it makes a lovely yellow rice). Add a salad, a dal, Indian pickles and chutneys, and maybe a yogurt dish.
Or just serve with rice and a great salad. Finish with a bowl of fresh fruit and yoghurt.
As the dish is quite creamy in colour, you can go wild with visual appeal with chopped green coriander and slices of green or red chilli.
A Tadka is a ghee or oil based spice mix added to a curry at the end of the cooking. It adds a wondrous taste to the dish, so do not avoid this step. Also, the spices used in a tadka are those that release their flavour in oil rather than liquid, like black mustard seed and curry leaves. Finally, black mustard seeds taste best when popped, a bit like mini popcorn, and the tadka provides a mechanism for this.