Gather around, folks. It’s story time! Last winter, my sister and I went on an amazing road trip to Kerala. We visited the verdant tea plantations of the mountainous Munnar and then drove all the way to the serene backwaters of Alleppey. Oh, what a joy those early morning boat rides were! We loved every part of it… err, almost. There was only a small hitch. “Can one ever be a vegetarian in Kerala?” was the constant question running through my mind while I munched on my nth packet of Kerala special banana chips.
Being vegetarians (വെജിറ്റേറിയൻ), we had to survive on biscuits and other packaged foods whenever on the road because it was so hard to find a half-decent on-the-go vegetarian meal. All the highway-side food carts and kiosks were stuffed with chicken puffs, beef patties, deep-fried beef cutlets, mutton cutlets, and so on. That’s what led me to do some basic research on vegetarian food in Malayalam cuisine. So, sit back and enjoy this ride as we take a winding road to map the popular vegetarian dishes available in God’s own country!
The Delectable Kerala Cuisine For Vegetarians
Kerala cuisine is redolent with delicious meat-based delicacies. Kerala Parotta (കേരള പറോട്ട) paired with beef fry, chicken fry, or a mean fish curry has put Malayalam food on the world map. Kerala is one of the few Indian states that has no inhibitions on eating beef and pork. However, it also boasts of delectable vegetarian fare, however limited in number it may be. The cuisine is predominantly rice-based, with generous use of coconut, spices, and locally grown vegetables.
One of the staple dishes is Sadhya (സദ്യ), a grand feast served on a banana leaf, consisting of an assortment of vegetarian delicacies. It typically includes dishes like aviyal (അവിയൽ) – a mixed vegetable curry, olan (ഓലൻ) – ash gourd and cowpeas in coconut milk, sambar (സാമ്പാർ) – a lentil and vegetable stew, and thoran (തോരൻ) – a stir-fried vegetable dish with grated coconut.
Other popular vegetarian dishes include appam (അപ്പം) – soft rice pancake, puttu (പുട്ടു) – steamed rice flour cylinders, idiyappam (ഇടിയപ്പം) – string hoppers, and dosa (ദോശ) – fermented lentil and rice crêpe. Kerala is also known for its variety of pickles and chutneys with that sweet and tangy kick. Manga kari (മാങ്ങാ കരി) is an instant raw mango pickle that is often served at weddings in Kerala. Puli inji (പുളി ഇഞ്ചി) is a dark brown chutney made with jaggery, green chilies, and ginger.
Coconut plays a vital role in Kerala’s vegetarian cuisine, with grated coconut and coconut milk used in curries, chutneys, and desserts. Payasam (പായസം), a sweet rice pudding made with coconut milk, jaggery, and nuts, is a popular dessert served during festivals and special occasions.
Come, Be A Vegetarian In Kerala
Let us look at some mouth-watering vegetable fare offered by the Malayalam cuisine. The list features food items from every meal option, starting from breakfast to lunch and dinner, including snacks.
#1 Puttu & Kadala Curry (പുട്ടു & കടല കറി)
Puttu (പുട്ടു) is a traditional steamed rice cake popular in Kerala cuisine. It is made by layering moistened rice flour and grated coconut in a cylindrical vessel called a puttu kutti (പുട്ടു കുട്ടി). The mixture is then steamed, resulting in a soft and fluffy cylindrical cake. Puttu is often served with Kadala curry (കടല കറി), a flavorful black chickpea curry.
The curry is prepared by cooking soaked chickpeas with a blend of spices, onions, tomatoes, and coconut milk. It is seasoned with mustard seeds, curry leaves, and other spices to create a rich and aromatic dish. Puttu-Kadala Curry is one of the most popular and satisfying breakfast dishes in Malayalam households.
#2 Neichoru (നെയ്ച്ചോരു)
Also known as ghee rice, this fragrant and flavorful rice dish is an integral part of Kerala cuisine. It is made by cooking Basmati rice in ghee (clarified butter) along with aromatic spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and bay leaves. The rice absorbs the rich flavors of the spices and ghee, resulting in a deliciously aromatic and slightly sweet taste. Ghee rice is often garnished with fried onions, cashews, and raisins, adding a delightful crunch and sweetness. It is commonly served with a side dish like chicken curry, vegetable kurma, or pachadi, making it a delightful and satisfying meal option.
#3 Koottan (കൂറ്റൻ)
Koottan, also known as Koottu, is a traditional dish from Kerala cuisine that is a flavorful medley of vegetables and lentils. It is prepared by combining boiled lentils (such as toor dal or moong dal) with a variety of vegetables like pumpkin, yam, beans, and carrots. The mixture is cooked with aromatic spices, coconut, and a tempering of mustard seeds, curry leaves, and dried red chilies. Koottan has a thick and creamy texture, and its taste is enhanced by the blend of lentils, vegetables, and coconut. It is often served as a side dish with rice or as a part of the elaborate Sadhya feast.
#4 Appam & Vegetable Stew (അപ്പം & പച്ചക്കറി പായസം)
Pachakkari payasam, or vegetable stew, is a comforting and fragrant dish hailing from Kerala cuisine. It is a light and flavorful preparation made with a medley of vegetables cooked in coconut milk and delicately spiced. Common vegetables used in the stew include carrots, potatoes, beans, peas, and cauliflower.
The stew is gently simmered with ginger, green chilies, curry leaves, and sometimes a hint of cinnamon and cloves, infusing it with subtle aromatic flavors. The creamy and mildly sweet coconut milk base lends a rich and satisfying element to the dish. Vegetable stew is often enjoyed with appam (thin rice pancakes), forming a delightful and wholesome meal.
#5 Pazhampori (പഴംപൊരി)
Pazhampori, or banana fritter, is a popular snack from Kerala cuisine. It is made by deep-frying ripe banana slices coated in a sweet and crispy batter. The ripe bananas are dipped in a mixture of flour, sugar, and spices, and then fried until golden brown and crispy. The result is a delightful combination of sweet and crunchy flavors, with the ripe banana becoming soft and tender inside. Pazhampori is enjoyed as a tea-time snack or dessert, and its irresistible taste has made it a beloved street food in Kerala.
Learn Malayalam With Ling
Kerala’s vegetarian cuisine is a delightful blend of flavors, textures, and spices, showcasing the abundance of fresh produce and traditional culinary techniques that have been passed down through generations. You can read more about Malayalam foods in this informative article. For more such blog articles, browse through the blog section of the Ling platform.
And if you wish to kick-start your Malayalam learning journey, choose the Ling app. This gamified app has one of the most interactive and fantastic interfaces. It is designed to give you a delightful language-learning experience, with features such as fun quizzes, bite-sized lessons, and audio plays. What’s more? You can choose to learn from 60+ languages!