Olan is another vegetable preparation which is very typical of Kerala. It is made of Ash Gourd (also known as Winter Melon) and Pumpkin (both very commonly available vegetables) and and a handful of cooked black-eyed beans simmered in coconut milk and then seasoned with a little coconut oil. There are no spices used with the exception of green chillies. Yet the green chillies do not make it spicy, just lend a flavour.
Despite having no spices (unusual in an Indian “curry”), this is not bland. It is very tasty, full of flavour with the slight sweetness of coconut milk. No traditional festive meal (called a "Sadhya") in Kerala is complete without an Olan.
Today, Kerala and Malayalis all over the world are celebrating Thiruvonam (the tenth and final day of the Onam festival). Though we aren’t having a sadhya, I shall present you an Olan which was cooked in my kitchen. While this is festive fare, Olan is also something which frequently features as part of regular meals in our homes. This dish is one of those which Palakkad Iyers have also adopted and made their own.
Sometimes very tender yard long beans are also added to the usual vegetables in Olan. Olan can also be made with only ash gourd or only pumpkin with all the other ingredients remaining the same.
1 1/2 cups pumpkin (matthan) cut into roughly 1” pieces which are about ¼” thick
1 1/2 cups ash gourd (elavan/ kumbalanga) cut into roughly 1” pieces which are about 1/4” thick
1/4 cup dried red cowpeas (vanpayaru; you may use black-eyed beans)
2 or 3 green chillies, slit lengthwise (this dish is not meant to be very spicy)
1 cup thin coconut milk
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 sprig curry leaves
salt to taste
Soak the red cowpeas overnight and cook till soft but firm.
Put the sliced pumpkin and ashgourd in a pan and add the thin coconut milk. Keep this on the stove and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, add the chillies, the cooked red cowpeas, salt and allow to simmer till the vegetables are cooked while stirring occasionally.
Now add the thick coconut milk and the curry leaves. Do not allow to boil or the coconut milk will split. Mix well and then turn off the heat. The consistency of the Olan should be of a vegetable with a little gravy which is not watery yet not very thick. Pour the coconut oil in to the pan, do not mix, and cover the pan.
Mix just before serving. When mixing, the cooked vegetable may break into smaller pieces appearing a little mushy. This is acceptable.
Serve warm as a side dish along with rice, sambhar and pappadum.
Wishing You All A Very Happy Onam Celebration.
Update (13th September, 2008):
I just came to know that Nags of the Edible Garden is hosting a Saas Bahu Aur Sensex ( a movie based theme) contest on her blog. All you nedd to do to enter is post an Indian dish. So this Olan wings its way across to her!
My Olan is also joining Asan Khana's Festive Food Onam Celebration.