Hearty and Comforting
Thoran is the name for a hearty, comforting dry vegetable dish. Indian soul food from South India and made with coconut, this cabbage stir-fry is especially popular in Kerala, a western coastal state. It is quick and easy to make and mildly spiced so that the vegetable flavors shine through. While most often made with cabbage, this formula is great with carrots, beets, cauliflower rice, mushrooms, string beans, spinach, mooringa (drum stick leaves), or a mix of vegetables. What you use depends on what you like and what you have on hand.
Simple but seemingly more than the sum of its parts, even your reluctant cabbage eaters will love this dish. The combination of mustard seeds, coconut, and curry leaves, if you have them, is magical. If you don’t have access to fresh curry leaves, add a teaspoon of lime zest, and while not the same flavor, it makes a perfect stand-in. And for heaven’s sake, don’t tell your diners that this is a healthy dish; it might spoil it.
Contrary to the directions I've read over and over that the cabbage should be finely chopped, I have enjoyed this recipe using store-bought cabbage slaw. Lazy, I know, but I like the uneven cuts that give you a mix of softer bits and others with more crunch. And when it comes to the coconut you should use, even though I have freshly grated coconut in my freezer at all times, I most often use the dry or desiccated coconut. It works well and is a useful shortcut without sacrificing texture or flavor.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Cabbage Stir-Fry (Kerala Thoran)
- 2 cups green or red cabbage ~ Finely shredded
- 1/4 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ About
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil ~ Divided, or oil of your choice
- 1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds ~ Yellow will work too
- 10 curry leaves ~ Or a sprig; about
- big pinch of asafetida (hing) ~ Optional
- 1/2 cup onions ~ Finely chopped
- 1 small Indian green chilies ~ More to taste, about
- 1/4 cup desiccated coconut ~ Or freshly grated added at different times
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ More to taste
- Gather all your ingredients.
- Cook the mustard seeds over medium-high heat. After they start spluttering, turn the heat down to medium, then add the curry leaves and asafetida (hing) if using.
- Cook the onions until softened, then add the green chili, desiccated coconut (if using fresh coconut, add at the end), turmeric, cumin, and ground Kashmiri chili. Stir for several minutes, adding more oil or water in 1 T increments, if needed.
- Cook the cabbage over low heat with 1/4 tsp salt; stir for a 1 minute, then cover. Stirring occasionally, cook for 7 to 10 minutes until wilted but still with some texture. Remove the lid and sauté until any moisture drys off. Add the coconut now, if using fresh coconut, and cook for a minute to heat through.
- Serve with steamed rice or as a perfect side to any curry.
- One of the tricks of this dish is to not overcook the cabbage.
- Shortcut: If I had an Indian Aunty they would be horrified at the suggestion, but I am going to go there anyway: if you want to buy shredded cabbage, go for it. It won't be uniformly shredded or as thin as you might cut it. Resulting in a variety of textures you may find pleasing.
- If using fresh coconut, add it at the end. Desiccated coconut needs the benefit of a longer cook time.
- Feel free to make this cabbage stir-fry spicier by adding more dried red chili and/or green chiles.
- If you are avoiding onions, add another good pinch of asafetida with the curry leaves.