Creamy coconut Kumbalanga curry!
Olan is a very simple Kerala curry with less cooking and a great, fresh taste. It has few ingredients and has a crunch very close to a salad.
Ash gourd and cow peas are the main ingredients in Olan. Ash gourd (Kumbalanga), also called winter melon, is an Autumn vegetable. It is a pumpkin like gourd with a greenish skin and white flesh. Ash gourd has great medicinal properties and valued highly in Ayurvedic medicine. There are many curries that can be made using Ash gourd. There are a few sweet dishes too prepared with it.
This curry is created combining Ash gourd and Cow peas which is also available around the same time. Kerala has a long coast line with coconut palms swaying in the breeze, heavy with sweet coconuts. Abundantly available coconut is crushed to extract its milk, to make the gravy of this curry.
I think, this is the simplest curry in the long list of curries. It is usually served to celebrate Onam, the harvest festival, in Kerala. It is also made for lunch during other community gatherings, festivals and in restaurants.
In olden days, the farming community that had less time to spare and more mouths to feed made Olan to celebrate their harvest bounty. Look at the size of that gourd! It needs a big crowd to finish off that huge ball of goodness.
I found Ash gourd in an Asian Market here and bought a sliver of it to make Olan. It is not very delicious when eaten raw as it has a typical gourd taste. Gentle cooking makes it desirable.
- 1/4 cup Cow peas/black eyed peas/ vanpayar
- a piece of Ashgourd/kumbalanga
- 2 green chillies
- 1 cup grated coconut
- water as needed
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 bunch curry leaves
- salt to taste
- Cook cow peas adding enough water until it is soft when squished but retains its shape.
- Drain the water and save cow peas. (The drained water can be used to make rasam or other soups.)
- Grind coconut in a mixer adding very little water.
- Strain it and collect the thick coconut milk in a bowl.
- Add 1 cup water and grind the coconut and extract very thin milk.
- Chop off the skin from ash gourd and cut it into small pieces.
- In a heavy bottom pan, add thin coconut milk, 1 ½ cup ash gourd pieces and slit green chillies and cook on medium heat.
- Cook until ash gourd is tender but crunchy and not over cooked.
- Add cow peas and salt to taste and boil it.
- Gently pour thick coconut milk and turn off the heat as it will curdle on boiling.
- Garnish it with coconut oil, curry leaves and cover it with a lid for all the flavours to mingle.
It is now ready to serve. The addition of raw coconut milk at the end makes it a quickly perishable curry and needs to be refrigerated if there is leftover. It is best eaten warm off the stove. While cooking, it releases a delicious aroma that envelops the house and draws everyone. This has the subtle taste of ash gourd, green chillies and curry leaves which make it fresh and tempting.
In any Kerala feast (Sadhya), food is served on a banana leaf with a number of curries. This is the seventh side dish served. I like this curry for its simplicity and great flavours. I attack this first in any Sadhya, be it a wedding feast or homely lunch!
I consider, this can be used like stew for other main dishes too. Make this and enjoy an authentic Kerala curry!