Ulli Theeyal (Pearl Onions in a Tangy Coconut Gravy)

Mmmm, ulli theeyal, a savory dish of pearl onions in roasted coconut sauce is one of my favorites! The first time I had ulli theeyal was at a Kerala restaurant in Bangalore called Karavali, but I didn’t know what the dish was called. I came home wanting to find out how to make that dish with the tiny onions! Well I figured out from googling that it was called ulli theeyal (theeyal literally means burnt dish) and based my recipe on this one from the blog called Vazhayila. I must have been looking at other recipes as well because I added fenugreek and hing which isn’t in this recipe. The first couple of times I made it I used frozen pearl onions. We could tell the flavor was good, but the onions were lacking. So tonight, finally, I labored over pealing all those tiny onions! I used three 10 ounce bags, but in order to go fast, I ended up loosing most of the outer onion layer, so there weren’t that many onions. It still beat trying to peel the thin skin off that outer layer! The onions were whole when I first had it, so I’ve kept them whole in the recipe.

Look at all the peels!

Ullit Theeyal 2

Ulli theeyal is perfect with appams, coconut rice creps from Kerala. On our last India trip, my mother in law got me two appam pans, so now I can make them shaped like a bowl!

1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons coconut oil
~3 cups whole pearl onions (I’m guessing here, you can go by the picture above to get an about amount)
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch hing
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
1 cup water
1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
5-6 curry leaves
3 dried red chili

  1. Heat coconut oil in deep saute pan and saute onions until tender and browned.
  2. Meanwhile toast the desiccated coconut and fenugreek seeds until dark brown. Add the coriander powder and chili powder and cook for another few seconds. Grind in a small food processor or coffee grinder with a little water to form a paste.
  3. Add the coconut paste, turmeric, hing, tamarind paste, salt and water to the onions, and simmer.
  4. In a tadka or other small pan, heat the rest of the coconut oil. Add the mustard seeds and once they start to pop add the curry leaves and dried red chilis for a few seconds. Throw into the onions and cook for a few minutes to let the flavors meld.

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