Olan is an integral part of the grand South Indian feast known as Onam Sadhya. Olan is a harmonious blend of simple ingredients, packed with nutrition and rooted in centuries-old traditions.
Sadhya (sometimes spelled "sadya"), meaning "banquet" in Malayalam, is an elaborate and sumptuous vegetarian feast served on special occasions and festivals in Kerala, the seaside state on the southwestern coast of India. Sadhya comprises an array of dishes, served on a banana leaf, which is presented to guests with the tip of the leaf facing them. The sadhya offering includes both sweet and savory delicacies.
Olan primarily consists of ash gourd (known as winter melon or white pumpkin), black-eyed peas or cowpeas (red gram), coconut milk, and just a few simple seasonings. This gentle combination of flavors creates a sublime and soothing dish. Not only is Olan delicious, but it also boasts numerous nutritional benefits. Ash gourd is rich in fiber and vitamins, while cowpeas provide protein, iron, and essential minerals.
Olan is a quintessential example of Sattvic food, which is a fundamental concept in Indian spirituality and Ayurveda. Sattvic food is pure, clean, and harmonious, promoting a peaceful and balanced state of mind.
In Kerala, Olan is often offered as bhoga (food offering) in temples and to people’s home deities. The simplicity and purity of the dish make it a perfect offering to the deities. Other sattvic dishes that are suitable to offer as bhoga, which you can find on my blog, are my sattvic red lentil dal, sattvic biryani, shakarkandi chaat, and chana dal.
Olan is the jewel in the crown of Sadhya, nourishing both Kerala’s locals and visitors alike. Grab your favorite apron, and let's explore the essence of Kerala's culinary heritage through the delightful flavors of Olan!
🥰Why you are going to love this Kerala Olan recipe
Purely Sattvic: Olan's inherent Sattvic nature makes it perfect for anyone looking to distance themselves from eating purely for sense gratification, and for those who wish to consume prasadam, which has been first offered to the supreme as bhoga. Like my sukha kala chana and saag aloo, this Onam Sadya recipe is a devotional treat for the deities, and for your guests who consume the maha prasadam!
🌿100% Vegan and Gluten-Free: Olan contains no animal products or gluten, ensuring that it can be enjoyed by a wide range of dietary preferences and restrictions. The fact that it is completely plant-based also means that it is in keeping with the principle of ahimsa.
😺Quick as a cat: Only seven ingredients are needed to make olan. After cooking the black-eyed peas, in a matter of minutes, you can have a wholesome and flavorful dish ready to serve.
🥥Light and Refreshing: As much as I love it, Indian food can be heavy, and sometimes too oily! Olan’s clean, simple flavors nicely balance the more robust and rich flavors found in other Indian dishes.
Notable ingredients and substitutions
Ash Gourd (or Bottle Gourd, Winter Melon or White Pumpkin)
Ash gourd, commonly called "Petha" in India, is a versatile vegetable widely used in Indian cooking. It has a mild, slightly sweet flavor and a tender, water-rich flesh. Ash gourd provides a refreshing element to dishes and acts as a natural coolant in the body. If ash gourd is not available, you can substitute it with bottle gourd (doodhi / dudhi) used in making lauki sabji, ridge gourd which is used in making peerkangai kootu, pointed gourds that are used in parval sabji, or tindora which is used in making aviyal.
Black-Eyed Peas or Red Gram (aka Cowpeas or Lobia)
Black-eyed peas, known as "Chawli" or "Lobia" in India, are a nutritious legume with a creamy texture and a slightly nutty flavor. They are a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, and essential minerals. Red gram can also be used as a substitute. If unavailable, you can use other legumes, such as chickpeas or lentils, as an alternative.
Indian Green Chilies (Hari Mirch)
Small Indian green chilies are a staple in Indian cuisine. They add a fiery kick and vibrant flavor to dishes like phool makhana subzi, and can eaten on their own in hari mirch ka achar. Green chilies vary in heat levels, so adjust the quantity according to your spice preference. If you prefer a milder heat, or can’t get Indian green chilies, you can substitute them with jalapeño peppers or serrano peppers.
Curry leaves, called "Kadi Patta" or "Meetha Neem" in India, are aromatic leaves widely used in South Indian cuisine in dishes like medhu vadai and dal tadka. They have a distinct flavor that adds depth and complexity to dishes. Curry leaves are often used in tempering (tadka) to infuse their essence into the oil (or ghee if you use it). If you don't have fresh curry leaves, you can use dried or frozen curry leaves. The best option for always having fresh curry leaves on hand is to grow them as a house plant. Like Tulsidevi, the plants thrive happily when being occasionally picked from to be included in bhoga.
📖 Howl to make perfect sadhya olan
Lemme walk you through the simple steps for making this nourishing sabji. Or you can follow along with the easy-to-print recipe card towards the bottom of this page.
Place the black-eyed peas in a large pot with plenty of water to prepare them. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and let the peas cook for approximately 30 minutes, or until they become tender.
Once the black-eyed peas are cooked, drain them using a colander or a wire mesh strainer.
In a pan, heat coconut oil over medium heat. After about a minute, when the oil is hot, add the curry leaves and slit green chilies and sauté them for about three minutes. Keep an eye on the chilies as they develop a slightly wrinkled and blistered appearance.
Remove the seeds and peel the skin off the gourd.
Cut the cleaned gourd into either 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes or thin slices, depending on your preference.
Add the cut ash gourd to the pan and continue sautéing for a few minutes. This step helps enhance the flavor and texture of the gourd.
Pour in the coconut milk and add salt to the pan. Allow the mixture to simmer for approximately 10 minutes, or until the Ash Gourd becomes tender.
Finally, stir in the boiled and drained black-eyed peas, ensuring they are incorporated into the dish. Cook the mixture just long enough to heat the beans. Be cautious not to overcook them, as they are already tender from boiling.
Remember, you can adjust the seasoning and spice levels according to your taste preferences. Garnish the dish with fresh herbs or a squeeze of lemon juice for added freshness.
The simplicity of olan allows it to pair easily with a wide variety of Indian dishes.
As for side dishes, Punjabi Dry Bhindi provides crispy okra sautéed with spices for a crunchy texture and burst of flavors. Crispy kanda bhaji always benefit from a good dunk in the coconut broth from olan!
- If red gram is not available use black-eyed peas in place of the cow peas.
- If you are using canned beans in place of the dried beans use ½ cup of cooked beans to replace the ¼ cup of dried beans called for in the recipe.
- Instead of white pumpkin, try using yellow pumpkin in your recipe. It can add a delightful twist to the flavors.
- Alternatively, you can use a combination of yellow pumpkin and white pumpkin, in equal parts, to create a unique blend of flavors and colors.
- There are a few subtle ways to tweak and modify the flavor of Olan to your liking. A hint of ginger is nice in the dish. It can bring a subtle, yet refreshing, kick to the overall flavor profile. You can also cook it with a full star of star anise, which you remove before serving it.
🤷♀️ Recipe FAQs
❄️See ya later, ‘frigerator
Allow the dish to cool down to room temperature before refrigerating.
Transfer the dish into an airtight glass container with a lid. Glass containers are ideal for preserving the freshness and flavors of the dish.
Refrigerate the dish for up to three days.
Transfer the desired dish portion into a non-stick or stainless steel pot or saucepan over medium heat. Add a small amount of water or vegetable broth to prevent sticking and to maintain moisture.
Stir the dish occasionally to ensure even heating and prevent burning or sticking at the bottom.
Heat the dish until it reaches the desired temperature, typically 5-6 minutes.
If red gram is not available, use black-eyed peas in place of the cow peas.
If you are using canned beans in place of the dried beans, use ½ cup of cooked beans to replace the ¼ cup of dried beans in the recipe.
Instead of white pumpkin, try using yellow pumpkin in your recipe. It can add a delightful twist to the flavors.
Alternatively, you can use a combination of yellow pumpkin and white pumpkin, in equal parts to create a unique blend of flavors and colors.
The texture of the ash gourd will become limp and lifeless if you freeze and then thaw Olan. It’s also very quick to make, so I do not suggest that you freeze it!
✌️My favey dishes to serve with olan:
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Olan | Kerala-style sattvic and vegan sadhya recipe
- Boil the black-eyed peas in plenty of water over a high flame for about 30 minutes, or until tender.
- Drain the cooked black-eyed peas in a colander or wire mesh strainer.
- Heat coconut oil in a pan over medium heat and add in the curry leaves and slit green chilies. Sautee them for about three minutes until the chilies look slightly wrinkled and blistered.
- Clean and cut the Ash gourd in 1-inch (2.5 cm.) cubes or thin slices according to your preference. Discard the seeds and the skin.
- Add the cut ash gourd to the pan and sauté for a few minutes.
- Add the coconut milk and salt. Let it simmer for 10 minutes until the gourd is tender.
- Stir in the boiled and drained black-eyed peas, and cook for long enough to heat the beans.