Tweaking heirloom Indian dishes
Thoran or Upperi in Northern Kerala is a class of dry vegetable dish combined with coconut that originated in the South Indian state of Kerala. This dish is usually accompanied by rice and a curry or eaten with a roti (any Indian bread).
Thoran is a dry dish traditionally made of finely chopped vegetables such as cabbage, varieties of beans, jackfruit, gourds or yams, and leafy vegetables like red spinach, moringa leaves.
The finely chopped vegetable is mixed with grated coconut, and spices and stir fried very quickly.
These traditional recipes made in southern Kerala did not use garlic or onion in the old days of my great grandmother, but in the present day, garlic and onion are also added.
In this Beetroot Thoran recipe, I wanted to add a bit of spice to offset the sweetness of beetroot and coconut. So, I added both red chilli and green chilli along with ginger.
You may use desiccated coconut but of course, fresh coconut adds its own distinct taste and sweetness. Coconut oil is a must and imparts a distinct aroma and flavour to this dish. Fine and evenly chopped beetroot is good but to quicken the cooking process, grating is preferred using a larger grate-cut.
3 beetroots (medium-sized) or 2 large beetroots, finely chopped or grated
1/2 cup grated fresh coconut or desiccated dry coconut
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1/3 teaspoon turmeric powder
¼ teaspoon red chilli powder or to taste
1 teaspoon coriander powder
6 pearl onions or 3 small onions, chopped or thinly sliced
1 or 2 dry red chillies – seeds removed but whole
1 green chilli chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
10 to 12 curry leaves
4 tablespoons coconut oil
salt as required
Optional powdered masala (they do add an extra layer of subtle aromas)
In a pestle crush these spices to a semi-fine powder
1 green cardamom
2 black peppercorns
½ inch cinnamon
Heat the coconut oil on low, in a kadai or wok (not in a saucepan or cooking pan)
Add the mustard seeds so they splutter. Add the cumin seeds and the sliced onions
Sauté this mixture on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes till the onions start browning lightly on their edges. Add the red chilli, chopped green chillies and chopped ginger
Sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the curry leaves. Add all the dry ground spices including the powdered masala. Lower the heat so the mixture does not burn
Add the grated beetroot and salt to taste
Stir the beetroot on a low to medium heat in the open pan
The grated beetroot will cook in 7 to 8 minutes and slightly longer for chopped beetroot
Do check the beets while cooking and if the beetroot is sticking to the pan, add a splash of water. Stir to mix and continue to cook
When the beetroot is tender, add the grated or dessicated coconut and cook for a minute or two, stirring continuously. Switch off the heat. Close the pan for 4 minutes and wait for the flavours to perfume the dish
Garnish with any toasted nuts you may like for a modern take on this ancient recipe
Serve the Beetroot Thoran hot with steamed rice or rotes, accompanied by any raita.
Alternatively the next day you can grate a garlic segment and mix this beetroot thoran with yoghurt for a refreshing cold appetizer.
Serene runs amateur cooking club The Best Exotic Kerala Kitchen, where cooking lessons are held for friends and family. Tel: 99 222462