Cabbage thoran, a classic Keralite side dish, is a simply spiced stir-fry made with coconut oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves, and grated coconut.
Thoran is a South Indian side dish that just means “stir-fry.” It’s a common method used when preparing vegetables in Keralite cuisine (Kerala is a coastal state in India, where coconut is prominent).
What I love most about thoran is that the cooking method and the ingredients used merely highlight the vegetable, they don’t overpower it. The vegetable still resembles itself and maintains some of its texture.
I’m sharing two methods of making this cabbage side dish, on the stovetop or in an instant pot. Either way, you’ll have a cabbage side dish with a slight bite to it.
Thoran is typically made by cooking a chopped vegetable with onions (or shallots), mustard seeds, grated coconut, spices, and curry leaves.
Curry leaves add a very distinct flavor (one that absolutely cannot be replaced with curry powder – they’re completely unrelated) to the dish. If you can’t find fresh curry leaves at your local Indian grocery store, you can order them from amazon (though your local store will be more economical – around $1-2 per pack). When I find fresh curry leaves, I’ll buy a bunch and store them in my freezer in a plastic ziplock bag.
Before dating Roby, I had never tried Keralite cuisine. Growing up, I primarily ate north Indian food at home and while we’d eat some south Indian food – it was usually in the form of dosa, idli, sambar. Keralite restaurants aren’t common and so the only way to eat authentic Keralite food is to make it yourself. The good news is that it’s simple to make if you have the right ingredients.
This cuisine is perfect for those with dairy allergies or for those with special dietary requirements (gluten-free, paleo). That’s because Kerala is a coconut-rich region and therefore, a lot of recipes are made with coconut. You can find grated coconut in the frozen section of any Indian grocery store.
This vegetarian side dish goes well with any meal. Here are a few of my favorite Keralite main dish recipes. Make one of the recipes below as well as this cabbage thoran and serve it with a side of rice (matta rice is great if you can find it) and you’ll have an authentic Keralite meal.
- 2 – 2½ pounds of cabbage sliced
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 onion diced
- 4 large garlic cloves minced
- 1 –2 serrano pepper minced
- 15-20 curry leaves
- ½ cup grated coconut I like the frozen brand Daily Delight*
- 1 teaspoon salt adjust to taste
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ cup water if making in an instant pot
- Add the grated coconut, salt, turmeric and stir, then add half the cabbage and stir again. Add the remaining cabbage and ¼ cup water to the pot and give everything another good stir (the pot will be nearly filled up with cabbage).
- Secure the lid, close the pressure valve, and cook for 1 minute at high pressure.
- Quick-release pressure, give everything a good stir, and then quickly move the cabbage into another bowl to allow it to cool down and prevent it from cooking further.
- Taste and adjust salt. This thoran tastes better when it’s a bit salty (I typically add an additional ¼ to ½ teaspoon at this point if needed).
- In a bowl, combine cabbage, onion, garlic, serrano pepper and coconut.
- Heat coconut oil in a pot (I use a “Dutch Oven“) on medium heat and add mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to splutter, add the curry leaves, turmeric, and salt (you may want to shield yourself for this part…).
- Let spices bloom for a minute, then add the cabbage mixture and saute for 5 minutes.
- Add 2 tablespoons of water to the pan and cover, cook for 5 minutes.
- Remove lid and stir fry for another 5 minutes.