Beyond Curry: Cabbage Thoran (Kerala Style Stir-Fried Cabbage)

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[Photograph: Prasanna Sankhe]

If your travels ever take you to the South Indian state of Kerala, or what is popularly called "God's Own Country," it won't be too long before you get acquainted with the delicious cabbage thoran.

Mildly spiced and brightly colored, cabbage thoran is one of those dishes that retains the delicate taste of the vegetable without drowning it in a host of spices and strong flavors.

A thoran is a type of dish that can be prepared with a variety of vegetables. The key ingredients—grated coconut, turmeric, black mustard seeds, shallots, green chillis and curry leaves—remain the same. And the vegetables can be changed according to seasonality or your preference.

Each thoran uses the same basic ingredients and tastes nothing like the other. From jackfruit and raw papaya to green gram and banana stem, thorans are high on exotic charm and absolutely delicious.

I've always found their appearance calming. Not merely because it is comfort food but because the ingredients seem to sit together peacefully, minimally fussed over and not altered too much.

During Kerala's Onam festival, thoran is part of the Sadya, a feast of 24 to 28 dishes prepared specially for the occasion. But it's also a simple, everyday dish that's quick to throw together. Once you've got your hot infused oil, just add the shredded cabbage, cook until it's just tender with a crisp bite, then stir in the grated coconut. Ready in just a few minutes, it's best served with rice and daal or deep fried puris.

About the author: Denise Dsilva Sankhe is a writer & creative director by profession. But that's only when she isn't eating her way across India. She recreates this delicious cuisine in her Mumbai home, which she shares with her newly-married husband, who has long since given up his determination to have salads for dinner.

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