Olan - Pumpkin and Ash Gourd/ Winter Melon in Coconut Milk
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.
The other interesting thing about Olan is that turmeric powder, which is typically used in most South Indian recipes is not used here, and this makes for an aesthetically pleasing milky white and golden yellow vegetable dish. Another thing about Olan is that the typical addition of tempered spices in oil is also absent here. So the main flavours are those of the vegetables and the flavour of coconut from both coconut milk which forms the gravy as well as the coconut oil which is used to finish the dish.
So despite having very little or no spice which in itself is 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, whether religious or celebratory, is complete without an Olan.
Malayalis all over the world celebrate the festival of Onam which is a ten day long celebration with Thiruvonam (the tenth and final day of the Onam festival) being the most important. This time, we aren't having a sadhya as such but I have cooked some of the dishes which are served as part of the festive lunch. Today's post Olan and though it is festive fare, it is also something that is regularly cooked in homes all across Kerala regularly. 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.There is also a less rich version of this dish that is sometimes cooked with milk instead of coconut milk.
- Soak the red cowpeas/ black-eyed beans 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/ black-eyed beans, 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.