Gravy side-dishes

Ulli Theeyal

Ulli Theeyal

Ulli Theeyal

Whenever I make this dish, it reminds me of my early days as a trainee copy editor at a business newspaper in Bangalore. We worked night shifts, meaning 4pm to 12 midnight on most days. Saturdays were off and Sundays, working days! Aaah, the hard life of a journalist 😉 But it did have its plus points. I had a great team to work with, a lovely boss who I’m in touch with even today, wonderful seniors and a great gang of friends.

Work, from 4 till about 5.30 in the evening, was slow. We’d typically log in at work and step out for some street food snacking. Sometimes, we’d suddenly get all health-conscious and drown a glass of juice too! There were large pockets of high-activity work, dispersed with small pockets of doing nothing every now and then.


Those were also days when I was new to cooking, but I loved it. What I also loved was to scour the internet, full of blogs and websites, and with innumerable number of cuisines and recipes. I’d diligently use all my small ‘free-time” pockets recipe hopping, noting down, and in saving recipes in Word files and taking printouts. The last, I’d do along with work-related printouts so no one would know! And this Ulli Theeyal is one of the recipes I noted down during those days.

This is not one of those hastily scribbled ones, but written down nice and neat on the free side of an A4 sheet, on the other side of which I’d taken a print of an article I’d edited for next day’s paper. It still has ink marks and correction notes made by my boss, a little hazy though. And the sheet of paper is oil-stained and splattered with tiny dots of some sauce I was grinding once when the lid of the mixer flew off and stained the entire kitchen!

Anyway, coming to this recipe, Ulli theeyal is Malayali dish, a vatha-kuzhambu kind of thing – basically a tangy sauce with lots of ulli ie. shallots/sambhar onions. I love this recipe and so does my hubby. The only restaurant I’ve had ulli theeyal at is a place called Coconut Grove on Church Street in Bangalore. The dish there was thinner than mine and with much lesser coconut. I loved that version, but no less do I love the version I’m reproducing below. We eat it with white rice or with curd-rice. I’ve also heard people eat it with idli/dosa/adai.


ULLI Theeyal


For Spice powder:

Sesame oil – 2 tbsp

Fenugreek seeds – ½ tsp

Cumin seeds – ½ tsp

Black peppercorns – ½ tsp

Coriander seeds – 1 tsp

Fresh grated coconut – ¼ cup

Dry red chillies – 5-6

Turmeric powder – ½ tsp

For the Ulli Theeyal:

Sesame oil – 2-3 tbsp

Dry red chilli – 1

Mustard seeds – ¼ tsp

Fenugreek seeds – ¼ tsp

Curry leaves – a few

Shallots/sambhar onions – ½ cup (washed and peeled)

Garlic – 2 pods (finely chopped)

Tamarind – the size of a nice big lemon (1 rounded tablespoon)

Asafoetida – a pinch

Jaggery – 1 tbsp (I omit this normally, because hubby doesn’t like it)



Make the spice powder first. Heat oil in a wide pan and add fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns and coriander seeds and roast them till golden brown. Take care not to burn them. Add grated fresh coconut and roast till nice and deep brown. Add red chillies and turmeric powder and give it a stir. Remove from heat, cool and grind to a powder

Bring half a cup of water to a boil with the ball of tamarind in it and let boil for a couple of minutes till tamarind softens. Remove from heat and let it cool to manageable warmth. Extract as much tamarind pulp without adding any additional water. If the pith still seems slimy, add a little more water and squeeze out the pulp. Keep the pulp aside

Heat oil for the Ulli Theeyal in the same pan in which you roasted the spices

Add mustard seeds. Once it stops spluttering, add fenugreek seeds and red chilli broken in half

Once fenugreek seeds turn golden brown and the chillies turn a bright red, add curry leaves, minced garlic and whole shallots. Sauté for a while till onions turn translucent

Add the extracted tamarind pulp. Give the contents a good stir and boil on medium heat till the raw smell of tamarind goes away and it becomes a nice thick paste. Halfway through, add the ground spice powder and salt

Add water as required to the consistency you like, heat for a couple of minutes and remove from heat. We‘ve had it the same consistency as vatha kuzhambu at a restaurant, but prefer to make it thicket than that at home

Add asafoetida and jiggery (if using and give it a good stir

Serve with white rice, curd-rice, idli, dosa or other snacks



This post is for the A-Z series Blogging Marathon for the month of Sept. Alphabet – U, Theme – Regional . Check out the Blogging Marathon page for the other Blogging Marathoners doing BM# 32


Logo courtesy : Preeti



17 thoughts on “Ulli Theeyal

  1. The theeyal looks really good. The consistency and the color is just perfect. Its different from how I make at home, but these are recipes which all houses have its own version. You can try getting this in Kumarakom or Ente Keralam in Chennai.

  2. Night shifts is something I can never imagine doing. I used to sleep by 10:00PM when I was working, being a stay at home mom, nowadays I sleep around 11:30PM, just ‘cos I CAN 🙂
    Ulli theeyal sounds very flavorful. Nice clicks.

  3. This dish looks really yum! Infact I recommend that you submit your recipe for the Fortune “What’s your tadka?” Recipe contest where you can get a chance to appear on Food Food Channel and showcase your recipe. Click on the link for more information:

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