ULLI THEEYAL (shallots in roasted coconut)

I will be posting some of my mum’s recipes which I grew up eating and never tired of it. One among them is the classic traditional Ulli Theeyal. ‘Ulli’ in malayalam language means shallots or pearl onions and ‘theeyal’ means fried dish. It is one of the favourites among malayalees and eaten with hot steamed red rice. My mum notes that the key to make a good theeyal is roasting of coconut and spices which has to be done on a low heat, stirring constantly without burning them. The dish gets its dark bown colour from roasting the coconut and also with the tamarind.

Theeyal can be made with many other vegetables like potato, yam, bitter melon/bitter gourd, zucchini, brinjal, lady’s finger or combination of vegetables too. I, sometimes, make theeyal with meat and prawns.

Here, the grated coconut is roasted along with host of other spices on low heat until aromatic and the coconut turns dark brown in colour (it took me 60 mins); grounded into a fine smooth paste without the use of water (the oil separates while grinding and helps in forming a smooth liquid paste) and cooked with shallots and tamarind extract; with a touch of jaggery. Since this dish hails from Kerala, coconut oil is ideally used as it brings out great flavour and aroma to the theeyal curry. I love my theeyal to be on the thicker side, however, you can add water as per your desired consistency. Also, used whole shallots for this dish.

To speed up the peeling process of the shallots, place it in a bowl of water (this can be done only for firm shallots). Add the tamarind extract only after the shallots are cooked.

Prep time: 1hr/10 minutes, Cooking time: 12 mins, Cuisine: Kerala, Serves: 6, Author : Gloria

Shallots cooked in roasted coconut along with a blend of aromatic spices in a tangy gravy with a touch of jaggery.

Recipe source : my mum


15 nos shallots/ulli (peeled, cleaned and trimmed)

1 whole red chilly

¼ tsp mustard seeds

few curry leaves

salt to taste


a marble sized jaggery

a gooseberry sized tamarind

½ cup water

To be grounded into a fine smooth paste:

1 cup coconut (grated)

1 tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

½ black peppercorns

¼ tsp fenugreek seeds

8 whole dry red chillies

1 green chilly

2 curry leaves (optional)

½ tsp turmeric powder

To prep:

For the tamarind extract : place dry tamarind in a bowl and add ½ cup warm water to it. Let it sit for 15-20 mins. Using your fingers, try to squeeze out maximum juice as possible. Strain in an another vessel and discard away the seeds and fibre.**

In a large skillet, add coconut and other spices in the same order mentioned in the “to be grounded” section until fragrant and the coconut turns dark brown in colour on low heat. Cool the mixture and grind it into a fine smooth paste in a dry blender. Reserve.*


Take a pan and into a preheated oil, add mustard seeds, curry leaves, red chilly (broken in half). Stir for few seconds.

Add the cleaned shallots and salt. Saute till the shallots turn light brown in colour and is cooked. This will take around 7 minutes.

Now, add the tamarind extract**. Mix and cook for another 3 mins. When it comes to a boil, add the grounded masala paste* and stir to combine everything together. Into this, add little hot water if required. Cover with a lid and simmer till the curry has come to a desired consistency to suit your taste.

Finally, add jaggery. Give a mix and cook for 2 minutes. Switch off heat.

Serve it with hot steamed rice.

My observations/notes:

  • If using coriander, pepper or red chilly powders, add them after the coconut has been roasted and before switching off heat.

  • Shallots can be put whole or sliced.

  • The tempering can also be done at the end of the cooking process.


9 thoughts on “ULLI THEEYAL (shallots in roasted coconut)

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