Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cabbage Thoran

This delicious vegetable dish is a centerpiece of Kerala cuisine and identified with Ona Sadya, the main feast during Onam, the major harvest festival celebrating the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali, falling between August and September each year.  

The festival lasts for ten days and is linked to many elements of Kerala's culture and tradition.  Intricate wreaths of flowers, food, Snake Boat Races and the Kaikottkali dance all play a part in the festival.  For this festival, people wear new clothes: men a shirt and mundu, a skirt-like bottom; women a mundu and a gold top, a Nariathu.   Girls wear a skirt called a Pavada and a blouse.  The festival is also important because of its popularity with all communities within Kerala.  Although the festival of Onam originated with, and is connected to, the Hindu religion, it is celebrated today with equal fervor by the Hindus, Muslims and Christians of Kerala.

Many lamps are lit in Hindu temples of Kerala during this celebration.  A palmyra tree is erected in front of temples and surrounded with a wooden balustrade and covered with dry palmyra leaves.  It is lit with a torch and burned to ashes to signify that Mahabali went to hell as a sacrifice.

Cabbage Thoran (Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey)

6 tablespoons mustard oil

1 tablespoon whole black mustard seeds

2 bay leaves OR leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh curry leaf.  (Note: Curry leaves are preferred.  We chop them coarsely and they can be eaten in the finished dish.   We buy them at a local Indian grocery.)

3 - 3 1/2 lbs. cabbage, cored and finely shredded (1 medium-sized cabbage)

3/4 - 1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 fresh hot green chili cut into long, fine strips.  (Note:  We use a little more than this and use the fresh green chilis found at our local Indian grocery, which are fairly small in size.)

1/2 cup grated coconut.  (Note:  We use fresh coconut powder, which we purchase in airtight bags at our local Indian grocery.  It melts into the dish and works well, imparting exactly the right flavor.)

Heat the oil in a heavy, wide casserole-type pot over a medium-high flame.  When hot, put in the mustard seeds and bay or curry leaves.  As soon as the bay or curry leaves begin to darken a bit and the mustard seeds begin to pop (this happens very quickly), add the shredded cabbage.  Turn the heat to medium.  Stir and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add the sugar, salt and green chili strips.  Stir and cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Cabbage should be bright green and slightly wilted, but still crunchy.  Turn off the heat.  Sprinkle with the coconut, mix well and serve.

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