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Delicious and healthy dishes that can be made even by first timers.

Ulli Theeyal (Kerala Style Onion & Coconut Curry)

 Published 2008-Jul-17   Updated 2018-Apr-08

- Submitted by Simi

(Kerala Ulli Theeyal, Shallot Coconut Theeyal)

Theeyal is a classic dish from the state of Kerala. Theeyal literally means 'burnt'. Grated coconut is roasted on slow flame until it is browned. This browned coconut imparts a unique aroma and taste to the dish. The browned coconut is made into a smooth paste along with red chilies and coriander seeds. It is then cooked in a tamarind gravy along with any vegetable. Commonly theeyal is made with vegetables like brinjal (vazhuthananga), okra (vendakka), bittergourd (pavakka), ginger (inji), drumstick (muringakka), sundakka, onion (ulli) etc. The most basic one is the theeyal made with small onions, also known as sambar onion or shallots. It is locally referred to as the 'Ulli Theeyal'.

Onions are usually used as a base for many curries. There are few dishes in which onion is the star ingredient. This is one such dish which highlights the flavour of onions. Traditionally Malayalees love the taste of small onions. Ulli Theeyal is also made with the regular onions by some people. The gravy has a dark brown color which comes from the roasted coconut. Any theeyal preparation stays good for upto a week in the refrigerator. Even at room temperature it will stay good for 2-3 days. Theeyal is an important part of the Sadhya meal. Even otherwise you can commonly find atleast one theeyal variety every day in any malayalees home. Let's get to the recipe.

Recipe for Ulli Theeyal

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 25 minutes
Serves: 4


  • Small onion - 20 nos (sliced)
  • Garlic (optional) - 6 (sliced)
  • Tamarind paste - 3 tsp (or Tamarind - lemon sized ball)
  • Turmeric Powder - 1/4 tsp
  • Salt - to taste

To Roast and Grind

  • Grated Coconut - 1/2 cup
  • Coriander Seeds - 2 tbsp (or 1 tbsp of Coriander Powder)
  • Dry Red Chilies - 10 (or 2 tsp of Red Chili Powder)
  • Curry Leaves - 10

For Tempering

  • Coconut Oil - 2-3 tbsp
  • Mustard Seeds - 1 tsp
  • Fenugreek Seeds - 1/4 tsp
  • Dry Red Chilies - 2
  • Curry Leaves - few


  1. In a pan, fry the grated coconut along with the coriander seeds, dry red chilies and curry leaves on medium low heat. Keep stirring constantly till it becomes golden brown. Keep it aside to cool.
  2. On another pot pour 3 tbsp of oil. Pop the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. Fry some dried red chilies and curry leaves.
  3. Put the sliced small onions. Add some turmeric powder and keep roasting till it turns golden brown.
  4. Meantime grind the roasted coconut mixture into fine paste adding very little water.
  5. Put that paste with the sauteed onion. Also add the tamarind paste or tamarind extract.
  6. Pour water to adjust the consistency of the gravy. Add salt and make it to boil.
  7. Simmer the flame and cover with a lid. Cook for another 10 minutes till oil floats on top.

Detailed Steps to make Ulli Theeyal

First step is to soak the tamarind in some water to extract its pulp. If you are using store bough tamarind pulp, you don't have to soak it.

Ulli Theeyal Preperation Step

Slice the onions. Shallot onions are traditionally used but you can use big red onions if you don't have shallots.

Next step is to roast the coconuts. Heat a pan and fry the grated coconut, coriander seeds, dry red chilies and curry leaves.

Ulli Theeyal Preperation Step

Roast it on medium low heat until it uniformly turns golden brown in color. If you are using coriander and red chili powder, add it in the very end when the coconut is fully roasted. This will take about 5-7 minutes. Keep it aside to cool.

Ulli Theeyal Preperation Step

After it cools, grind it to a smooth paste using little water. Traditionally it is ground without adding water. The oil from the roasted coconut will come out.

Ulli Theeyal Preperation Step Uloi Theeyal Preperation Step

Now lets start preparing the theeyal. Heat some coconut oil in a pot. Pop the mustard seeds. Add some fenugreek seeds, curry leaves and dry red chilies.

Ulli Theeyal Preperation Step

Add the sliced onions and little turmeric powder. Roast it for about 5-7 minutes till it turns golden brown.

Ulli Theeyal Preperation Step Uloi Theeyal Preperation Step

Now add the ground coconut paste and the tamarind extract. Add salt to taste. Bring to a boil.

Ulli Theeyal Preperation Step

Cover with a lid and cook on medium heat for at least 10 minutes until the oil separates from the gravy. By now the whole house will be filled with a wonderful coconut aroma.

Ulli Theeyal Preperation Step Uloi Theeyal Preperation Step


  • Instead of onion theeyal you can make theeyal with other vegetables like drumstick, brinjal, okra, bittergourd,  zucchini, lotus root, ginger, naaranga, mixed vegetables, prawns etc.
  • Theeyal is made with roasted coconut which gives that unique aroma and taste. There is a less popular theeyal known as 'Paccha Theeyal' in which the gravy is prepared in the same way except that the cocoonut is added without roasting. This tastes very similar to kaara kuzhambu made in Tamilnadu.

More Theeyal Recipes

Bitter Gourd Theeyal Bitter Gourd Theeyal Mixed Vegetable Theeyal Mixed Vegetable Theeyal    
See more...

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 Published by on and last updated on 2018-04-08.