It was a myth widely circulated in the 80s that coconuts are the main sources of cholesterol-causing artery blocks. So my mother preferred to reduce the use of coconut meat greatly, used coconut milk sparingly, and stopped using coconut oil once for all. But my grandmothers continued to use coconuts profusely, and they found a dish insipid if coconut meat is scantily added into it. In those days, coconut meat was used in almost every vegetable preparation, coconut milk was used for making scrumptious payasam, and coconut oil for frying crunchy snacks like thattai, murukku, banana chips, etc. We relished theeyal mostly in our grandmother’s house as this recipe calls for good lashings of coconut meat fried in coconut oil.

theeyal-4 Theeyal
Ulli Theeyal

Theeyal (meaning charred curry) got this name as it looks like a charred curry but actually, it is not and no charred ingredient is used in this recipe. Traditionally, this curry is stewed in the extract of black tamarinds (old tamarind) that lent a black color to this curry. But now we can use new tamarinds if we don’t like to prepare a black-colored curry.

theeyal-2 Theeyal
Lunch with brown rice, theeyal, aviyal & usili

Ulli theeyal (shallot theeyal) tastes divine when served with hand-pounded brown rice (or other traditional rice varieties or millets), avial, and paruppu usili. We can also prepare mushroom theeyal (with new tamarind) and serve with dosa, uthappam, appam, or idiyappam.

mushroom-theeyal Theeyal
Mushroom theeyal using new tamarind

Traditional ulli theeyal recipe:

theeyal-3 Theeyal
Ulli theeyal using old tamarind


Main Ingredients:
Old black tamarinds pressed into a gooseberry-sized ball
Shallots (chinna vengayam)250 grams
Cold-pressed coconut oil2 tbsp
Fenugreek seeds (vendhayam)1/2 tsp
Asafoetida block (or a pinch of asafoetida powder)a small piece
Jaggery1/2 tsp
Salt1 tsp
Ingredients for spice powder:
Red chillies4
Coriander seeds1/2 tbsp
Black peppercorns1/2 tsp
Fenugreek seeds1/4 tsp
Coconut pieces 10 (each 2″)
Ingredients for tempering:
Coconut oil1 tbsp
Mustard seeds1/2 tsp
Finely chopped coconut piecesas desired
Curry leaves1 sprig
theeyal-ingr Theeyal

Theeyal masala:

  • Heat a pan with 1/2 tsp of coconut oil.
  • Add red chillies, pepper, coriander seeds & fenugreek seeds and roast them in low flame.
  • Remove them from pan when heated up and leave aside.
  • Now pour 2 tbsp of coconut oil into the same pan and add chopped coconut meat.
  • Fry them in medium flame and remove from oil before getting burnt.
  • Now grind the spices & fried coconut pieces into a fine powder as shown below.
theeyal-masala Theeyal
Theeyal masala

How to prepare theeyal:

  • Microwave tamarind after adding 100 ml of water for 1 minute.
  • Extract tamarind juice by adding 500 ml of water and keep aside.
  • Heat the same pan used for frying coconut pieces with the left-over oil in medium flame.
  • Add fenugreek seeds & a pinch of asafoetida block in to the oil.
  • Add shallots when the asafoetida is fried and saute until translucent.
  • Pour tamarind extract into the pan and bring it to a boil in high flame.
  • Cover the pan with a lid and simmer until shallots are cooked soft.
  • Then add theeyal spice powder into the pan and mix well.
  • Pour enough water for the required consistency.
  • Add salt & jaggery and bring it to a boil.
  • Meanwhile prepare the tempering and pour it into theeyal.
  • Serve hot with kaikuthal arisi sadham.
theeyal-recipe Theeyal
Theeyal recipe

Tips & Tweaks:

  • I like to prepare thick curry for rice and thin curry for dosa, and you can adjust the consistency according to your palate.
  • We can also prepare theeyal by replacing shallots with one or more ingredients shown below in the same way we use them in other kuzhambu like pulikuzhambu, karakuzhambu, etc.
pulikulambu-veg-1 Theeyal
Commonly used main ingredient for making kuzhambu

74 comments on “TheeyalAdd yours →

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  1. In my native country, Taiwan, we have a lot of coconuts in the south! People drink coconut juice everyday (at the street ^^), and use coconut products. It is a delicious food!
    I am curious if this dish could be found in a restaurant. ^^
    however, I am actually collecting the ingredient and will make it myself!

    1. Oh! I’m so delighted to hear this, thank you so much.
      By the way I have not seen/ heard any restaurant serving theeyal, perhaps it is possible to find one in Kerala, India. Still people are reluctant to take theeyal fearing the elevated cholesterol level. πŸ™‚
      Thanks again for your constant support.

      1. You are very welcome! I enjoy learning your recipes. They are full of rich culture and beautiful life style. Those are truly the most important things for humans!

    1. I’m glad you liked this recipe. Thank you so much for reading & commenting.

  2. Interesting about coconut and cholesterol. I had never heard that here in Canada. Also coconut oil is sometimes added to horse’s feed . I use flax oil for my horse but others use coconut. It is good for their coats and joints.

    1. Oh! Nice to hear this. Here defatted coconut is used for making cattle cakes.
      Thank you so much for reading & commenting.

  3. Mouth watering.
    We have some coconut trees at home in India and believe me but it taste divine. I use it from poha to dessert ine very recipe.

    1. Yes, adding coconut makes even a simple recipe deliciously rich.
      Thanks Rupali!

    1. This is a unique kuzhambu as fried coconut pieces are used in the preparation of spice powder.
      Hope you like to try this once. Thank you.

  4. Looks so delicious! I love coconut, but I can’t have dairy and I eat a ton of it, but my cholesterol is low. I’ve never heard that!

  5. I use coconut oil, drink the juice and eat the soft flesh all the time and use it in my curries as long as moderation is applied I eat what I fancy it is all these processed foods which are bad and full of chemicals which do the harm it is lovely to see you cooking tradition dishes using fresh ingredients., Megla…A lovely recipe which I will definitely try as I also love tamarind πŸ™‚

    1. Nice to know that you like coconuts & tamarinds, the main ingredients used in south Indian curries. πŸ™‚
      I agree with you that it makes us feel good when we take home-made dishes with no chemical additives.
      Thank you so much for your time.

  6. Looks delicious, Megala and your preparation is awesome. I too prepare our Parsi style curry with coconut but yours is looking delicious. I agree with you all is a myth today they coconut is so good for all of us. Thanks for the share.

    1. Yes, we all like to use coconuts, and it is not easy to prepare a delicious south Indian meal without coconuts.
      Thank you!

  7. (EN) Coconut oil and coconut are basics there . Any recipe changes changing the ingredients. So, thanks Megala for keeping it”traditional”?
    (IT) L’olio di cocco e il cocco sono basilari li. Ogni ricetta cambia cambiando gli ingredienti. Quindi grazie Megala per mantenere la ricetta” tradizionale”?

  8. It’s funny how theories about what’s good to eat and what’s not change so much. I think we should all eat what we fancy – within moderation!

  9. I remember the coconut oil scare of the 80’s. Even movie theater popcorn was demonized because it was popped in coconut oil. Now I actually take coconut oil pills everyday because we know it’s healthy!

    1. Yes, it really scared us all, nevertheless we can not blame anyone.
      Thanks much for reading this post!

  10. Love all coconut recipes and this theeyal is no exception-looks delicious.

  11. Yum! And the 80s were full of bad information and advice~ I just don’t like that decade at all. Glad to see you debunking that era’s myths.

    1. Yes, it is a decade of misconceptions that costed us a lot, and now we need to learn to overcome them. πŸ™‚
      Thank you.

  12. Looks delicious.. it’s a new dish for me and I like coconut curry and gravies.. so I would love to try this.

    1. This curry is so special to me as it is a reminiscent of my childhood. πŸ™‚ I’m glad you liked this, thank you so much.

  13. Ulli theeyal is one of the regular dishes made in our homes back in Kerala, Megala πŸ™‚
    Thanks for this post.
    I prepare it once in a while!

  14. Theeyal looks so delicious and tempting. The pictures and explanation, as always so thorough and beautiful.We make a slight variation of this without adding jaggery. For us Keralites ,coconut oil and coconut by products are part of most recipes. I also agree on the moderation part .Great share!

    1. Theeyal is popular in the Malabar region including southern Tamilnadu. I’m glad you liked this post, it means a lot to me. πŸ™‚ Thank you so much.

  15. I love these kinda traditional dishes/curries and ohhh….baby onions !! I bet they add an unique taste to the dish !! Totally A MUST try curry Megala?
    And we too add a lot of fresh coconut in our curries??

  16. So many healthy things are restricted now a days… I believe people hardly do any physical activity, and a big number of fast food variations are creating health issues. Other wise we all are grown having all traditional food items.
    Theeyal is a new dish for me, but it sounds very flavourable.

    1. Yes, fast food culture took a toll on our health. It is time to revive our traditions and lead a healthy lifestyle.
      Thank you so much!

    1. Oh! It is not so spicy here, and it was kids’ favorite curry in those days. πŸ™‚
      Thank you!

  17. This looks so tasty! There’s still a lot of debate in the West over the use of coconut oil and coconut products and its consumption among populations that eat more processed foods and follow a more sedentary lifestyle, such as in North America. I use it in moderation because sometimes a recipe just has to have coconut milk, oil and/or flesh in it! However, I tend to feel a little guilty whenever I add a coconut product in a recipe, but then the guilt passes when I think about my overall health. My daily diet, cooking and lifestyle is pretty well balanced and on a healthy track, so I can’t see how consuming coconut products would affect me. All to say that yes, a healthy diet can, from time to time, include coconut products!

    1. Yes, I do feel the same. Thanks much for sharing your views on coconut products.

  18. Sounds delicious! Such wonderful ingredients. Its funny how studies come out explaining how nutritious something is, then a few years later we should stop eating it. Everything in moderation. This is definitely a dish I would love to try.

    1. Yes, moderation is the key. There is a saying in Tamil that states “even the elixir of life may turn poisonous if taken excessively”. πŸ™‚
      Thank you so much, Lisa, for reading & commenting.

  19. Oh yes, we too traditionally used a lot of coconut in our cooking. For the same reasons you mentioned I too had reduced it’s usage. But now reading about all the goodness of coconut in its various forma it has found its way back to my kitchen.
    Thanks for this recipe. It’s new for me, so will surely try it Megala.

  20. Interesting, looks delicious! Our food in Karwar too was cooked in pure coconut oil and coconuts were used in daily cooking. There was no invasion of other food cultures. While growing up, we too ate what was traditional, rice and coconut gravies & sweets. And were much healthier then!

    1. Yes, it clearly shows that it is all about the mismatch between the food we ingest and the lifestyle we lead today.
      Thanks Pooja!

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