Ulli theeyal. There’s so much to love about this simple curry featuring shallots cooked in delectable fried coconut sauce. The dream combo of spicy, tangy and sweet flavors is unbelievably tasty. Best of all, it’ll be ready in just 15 minutes or less.
As we head into the official spring season, I’m totally enjoying the warmth in the air. I can see pretty and vibrant spring blooms everywhere. Honestly, I’m in love with the beauty of sunshine reflecting through my windows after a long period of gloomy winter days.
While my mind is wandering around salads and grilling recipes at the moment, I want to share a super simple curry recipe that’s apt for anytime of the year. I’m talking about a super quick and easy curry with shallots or small red onions as the hero ingredient.
Shallots are basically the smaller version of the big red onions, but they impart a distinct flavor to any curry. They can be easily substituted for red onions in any curry, and are very commonly used in traditional recipes of Kerala (southern Indian state) including this ulli theeyal.
The word ‘ulli’ literally translates to onions, and theeyal denotes any vegetable (okra, potato, mushrooms etc) or even prawns cooked in ground fried coconut sauce. So, basically, this ulli theeyal is all about shallots cooked in fried coconut sauce. And it’s simply delicious.
The shallots I get here are quite bigger compared to the traditional variety you need in this recipe. So, I cut them in halves which will also increase the flavor absorption. Remember red onions are not a substitute for shallots in this curry. Shallots, preferably the small variety, is a must if you want to reproduce the classic flavors.
To make the coconut paste, you’ll need to stir fry grated coconut, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, dried red chilies and black peppercorns in a little oil until coconut turns golden. Remember to cook over low flame and stir continuously to avoid burning. Again, fresh coconut is the way to go. I know, grating fresh coconut is time consuming, but trust me, you’ll be rewarded with amazing flavor that’ll blow your mind. The spice factor of this curry entirely depends on the dried red chilies, so add more or less depending on your preference.
Apart from the heat from coconut paste and mild sweetness from shallots, there’s one more ingredient that imparts a tangy flavor to this ulli theeyal. Tamarind. Soak a little tamarind in water, and squeeze out the extract.
Spicy, sweet, tangy – I’m totally in love with this flavor combo. It’s finger licking good.
Ok, now it’s time to bring all the flavors together. Heat a little oil, and splutter mustard seeds along with curry leaves and dried red chilies. Quickly fry the shallots until golden brown, and stir in asafetida and fenugreek powder. Add tamarind extract along with enough water to cover the onions. Boil the mixture for 2-3 minutes. Stir in ground coconut paste, and simmer again for few minutes.
Ulli theeyal in delectable silky smooth sauce is now ready to serve with rice or parathas. Yum!
Watch recipe video below:
- 1 medium lemon size tamarind
- ½ cup water
- 2 tsp oil
- 1 cup grated coconut
- 3 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 8 dried red chilies
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp oil
- ½ tsp mustard seeds
- 1 sprig of curry leaves
- 1 dried red chili
- 15-20 shallots (cut into halves if big)
- A pinch of asafetida
- A pinch of ground fenugreek (fenugreek powder)
- A pinch of sugar
- Salt to taste
- Soak tamarind in water for 10 minutes. Strain. Discard hard bits. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a frying pan over low heat. Add grated coconut, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, dried red chilies and black peppercorns. Fry, stirring constantly, for 4-5 minutes or until coconut is browned. Remove from heat. Leave to cool slightly. Transfer mixture to a grinder. Add a little water, and process to a smooth paste.
- Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add mustard seeds, curry leaves and red chili. Splutter mustard seeds. Add shallots. Fry, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes or fry until golden brown.
- Add asafetida and ground fenugreek. Season with salt. Stir to combine. Add tamarind extract. Cover with water. Bring to boil. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Stir in coconut paste and sugar (if using). Simmer for another 5-6 minutes.
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