Olan | Vegetable Coconut Curry from Kerala

This is a beautiful Olan, a curry with a coconut sauce from the Nair community of beautiful Kerala in South India.

Cucumber Olan | Indian Nair Recipe | Vegetarian | Coconut Cucumber Curry | A Life Time of Cooking

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.

Wikipedia has an entry on the Nair community, and there is this lovely piece.

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.

You might also want to try other dishes from Kerala, such as Avail, Aubergines in Coconut Milk, Cabbage Thoran and Neyyum Parippum.

Browse all of our Indian recipes, all of our Kerala dishes, and all of our Cucumber recipes.

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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

for tadka
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.

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recipe notes
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.

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28 thoughts on “Olan | Vegetable Coconut Curry from Kerala”

  1. thanks for the link and wonderful array of dishes. i wanted to e-mail you about something, but couldn’t find your address. could you please contact me at jugalbandee AT gmail DOT com? would appreciate it.

  2. I would never have thought of using cucumber in a curry. Cucumbers are a favorite of mine. I will have to try this to see how the cucumber does in a cooked savoury dish.

  3. Hi Kevin, it really is delicious. Very coconut-y and flavoursome. If you are nervous, use half cucumber and half zucchini. Let me know how it turns out.

    I had a HK Chinese border once, and she was always cooking lettuce, cucumber, things we (in the West) would never usually think of cooking. And you know what? They were delicious. Her lettuce dishes became my favourites.

  4. aaaargh, my hong kong partner extols the virtues of cooked cucumber and cooked lettuce. I. Still. Can’t. Get. My. Taste. Buds. Around. It. He also eats raw zucchini, so there you go.
    I even saw Jamie Oliver cook lettuce in a dish the other day. And Gordon Ramsey as well. The world is catching on. Cucumber soon!

  5. Hey Amberjee, welcome back! Yes, even raw zucchini is delicious. He he he…

    Sivapriya, your toovar dal with cucumber sounds delicious too.

  6. I am familiar with cucumber in curry. I think it is because of the historical background of the friendship between India and Indonesia then this dish becomes familiar in Indonesian dish. It brings pretty colour and flavour in the dish, doesn’t it? Lovely picture you took there.

  7. Hello arfi, I never knew that it was Indonesian as well! Yes, no doubt through the India – Indonesian connection.

    willhaynes, I know – it is quite unusual, isn’t it? Are you brave enough to try it?

  8. Sorry to hear about the computer issues, but this is a great entry! Sounds like an interesting dish and I don’t think I’ve had anything similar to this. (I’m a huge cucumber fan!)

  9. Sandi, great to have you here.

    Kalyn, thanks for your commiserations. I am almost at the stage of being able to redo the post. And do try the curry – it is quite unusual.

  10. I normally have cucumber in stir-fries, a tip which I picked up off my Chinese housemates at university. I must say I absolutely love the flavour! I shall try them in the curry, too.

    What is the origin of this dish, I mean where from in India? It sounds like a Southern dish.


  11. Hi Maninas,
    This dish comes from the Nair community in Kerala. Wikipedia has an entry on the Nair community, and I found this lovely piece on Kerala from jugalbandi.

    Actually Olan is a dish with little spice in it, just vegetables cooked in a coconut gravy with green chilli, yet still has an amazing aroma and flavour. It can be made with white, red or yellow pumpkin, pumpkin and black eyed beans, various gourds, squashes and melons, potato or zucchini as well. Just how I like it – simple, great.

    Let me know how you like the curry. Well done on being brave enough to have tried cooked cucumber.

  12. Just made this!

    Unfortunately, it didn’t work very well, I suspect due to the coconut milk I bought which was very thin, and had a funny aftertaste. I considered not making it, but then I decided to give it a go anyway.

    I served it with some basmati, through which I stirred a bit of ghee and lemon juice, like you suggested in one of your post. The rice is gorgeous, and it works well with this curry. Actually, the rice saved the meal for me.

    I will give it another go with some thicker coconut milk. I love the way the lentils smelled when they were cooking. 🙂

  13. Hi Maninas, I am so sad that it didn’t turn out the best. I too suspect that the coconut milk was suspect. Hope you try it again.

    Love that you liked the rice with ghee and lemon – it is very special, I think.

  14. Thats a nice combination of masoor dal, cucumber and coconut. Thanks for noting and linking my recipe to this post.

    Thanks, Prav. Your recipe is great!

  15. First time here,I’ve never thought of using cucumber in a curry.This sounds new and am gona make it.Will post a response on how it tasted too….lovely!

  16. You are right: we never even think to cook cucumbers, but I love the flavors of this dish and love red lentils so it must be delicious! Wonderful dish!

  17. i cooked a cucumber curry years ago as a student and was ridiculed. now i realise I was cutting edge. Excellent recipe by the way. Did have stir fried cucumber last night, tasty

  18. Was looking for a cucumber recipe and found this. Pretty pictures you have there and I love the way you have put small photos in the side bar. How did you do that. I have been unable to do that with my wordpress account. 😦

  19. I’ve made this curry today for lunch and my husband raved about it. The big advantage is that it takes very little time to prepare, you can even reduce the cooking time if you have a pressure cooker. I used only 2 chillies, use 4 if you like it spicy. We had the curry with Kerala parathas. Very nice and light yet filling, great for hot weather.

  20. The flavor of this dish was fine, but I wasn’t expecting soup! Using the amount of lentils, coconut milk and water that the recipe called for it was very soupy and never got thick. Maybe this is what it was supposed to be like. I’m not sure, but I don’t think I would make it again.

    1. Hi Edith, yes it is a wet curry. Best served with rice, to soak up the sauce. You can also thicken it with a some rice flour if you want the sauce to have some “body”

  21. Made it yesterday, and have to say I was not entirely convinced, let alone laying down my life for!. As Edith said, it was very watery; I ladeled out the ‘soup’ and heavily reduced it before recombining it with the cucumber. Also added a large pinch of sort brown sugar which, to my palate, improved the taste.

    I see exactly what you mean by suggesting substitute courgette/zuchini – blindfold tasting, I couldn’t tell the two apart. And there, probably, lies the problem. I would never, ever boil/simmer courgettes – they simply turn into a fairly tasteless, soggy mess (if your comments allowed, I would have ilalicized ‘never, ever’ for emphasis; capitalizing them seemed a bit too shouty). Fry them, yes. Saute them, yes. Raw, yes. But not cook in water. But I’ve been trying to cook Indian food for many years and consider finding one recipe out of two that is a hit a very reasonable hit rate (the other was Spinach Pachadi/Curry). One of the reasons I’m attracted to your blog is that I’m trying to find more vegetable recipes than the usual mushroom/peas/potato recipes I seem to end up making, so thanks again for your recipes.

    your comments on ghee have made me think; I have not used it for probably 20+ years but agree that it has a lovely taste. Opinion seems a little divided as to its benefits/disbenefits – more research needed but I may change.

    Not at all convinced by your you will ‘get used to cup measures very quickly’ (https://vegeyum.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/spinachcurry/#comment-187730). Yes, I’m sure I would, but it’s a learning experience I would have to go through; measurements in ilbs/kilos don’t require any learning process. I agree with you that it’s better not to be too precise on measurements, but when you’re doing a recipe for the first time you (I) want to know relative perecntages of x to y. Can you honestly say that, for the purposes of shopping, you can always buy the correct amount without under- or over-buying?

    Still, lots of thanks for the recipes. Will try and respond to any future recipes I try.

  22. Though its not the traditional way of making Olan ,but this sounds (tastes) delicious 🙂 As a keralite this version of olan is new to me.. will give it a try next time .

  23. this is wow recipe!!. fast to cook and great on taste. never thought of cucumber in cooked form. this dish turned real yumm. I used yellow moong dal (split and de-husked green grams) as I didn’t had massor (red lentil). Fresh grated coconut was little in fridge (I don’t use packed ones) so I used half regular diary milk with ground coconut. Don’t know how many servings I had with rice (south indian rice). Thanks!!

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