Cabbage thoran is my favorite Indian side dish.
Growing up in Malaysia and a lover of Indian food, I’ve lunch regularly at Indian Malaysian restaurants. They lay a large piece of banana leaf in front of me, scoop a large pile of white rice on it that I can never finish, and are inundated by a copious amount of curry.
It is an incredible treat, but not complete without the side dish that I ordered without fail each time- Indian-style cabbage called cabbage thoran, one of the most popular dishes. Little did I know that it is called cabbage thoran until I decided to cook it recently.
What is cabbage thoran
The classic thoran is a vegetable dish usually cooked with grated coconut and originated from the south Indian state of Kerala. The most common vegetables are cabbage and French beans.
It is also called cabbage poriyal in Tamil Nadu, and the Tamil recipe uses less coconut in the recipe.
Although authentic Indian recipes almost always include grated coconut, the Malaysian Malaysian Indian style stir fry cabbage usually excludes it but is added with some carrot. Both versions are spiced with tempered black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, and chilies. The cabbage is cut or finely shredded to be cooked quickly to retain the cabbage’s sweetness.
I cooked according to the original recipe from Kerala, and I love it. The grated coconut adds a layer of flavor, making it taste slightly different from the Malaysian version. If you want to cook the authentic Mamak (Indian Muslim) style cabbage thoran, omit the shredded coconut.
How to cook cabbage thoran (Malaysian style)
This cabbage thoran recipe is without coconut, which is relatively easy compared to biryani rice and chicken tandoori, which require many herbs and spices. The preparation of cabbage thoran is quite straightforward, with a relatively large margin of error.
Let’s get into the details right away.
1. The cabbage
I use the round cabbage to make my cabbage thoran. The long cabbage (napa cabbage) is slightly harder and may not be as good as the round one.
- Remove any brown and damaged outer leaves and rinse them under running water.
- Place the head of the cabbage on a chopping board with the side of the stem down.
- Cut it into half through the core, then into quarters. If the cabbage is large, cut the quarter into eight.
- Slice part of the stem away but retain a small portion to hold all the leaves together. If you cut off the whole stem, all the leaves will fall apart. Alternatively, you can use a mandoline to slice the cabbage thinly. You can also use the food processor with the ‘pulse’ button.
- You can either chop, shred or grate the cabbage. Most Indian Muslim restaurants (fondly called Mamak restaurants in Malaysia) prefer to cut them into thin slices.
2. Tempering the spices
Cabbage thoran is so delicious because of the tempered spices. Tempering is a traditional Southern Indian cooking method to flavor the oil over medium heat with whole spices. This unique process releases the best flavor of the herbs and spices into the oil. The herbs and spices used in this recipe are mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, and dried chili.
- Mustard seeds and cumin seeds are the two key ingredients to season cabbage. Both seeds are widely used as the base flavor of many Indian dishes.
- Fresh curry leaves have an earthy and rich flavor. Its flavor is suitable for making curries and other Malaysian cuisines. An example is butter prawns, which is a typical Malaysian Chinese recipe.
- Dried chili is not as spicy as Thai chili, but it releases a stronger flavor during the tempering process. Dry chili is the choice in Malaysia to stir-fry cabbage. I like to cut the dried chili into small sections and remove the seeds as much as possible. I do not want it to be too spicy, and it will release the flavor more efficiently by cutting it into sections. You may substitute it with green chilies.
Since tempering only worked best for whole herbs and spices, I will leave the turmeric powder, hing, and salt to the later stage when adding the cabbage.
Here are the steps on how to temper the spices:
- Add some oil to a pan over medium to high heat. Coconut oil is the choice for the authentic Kerala recipe, but palm oil is popular in Malaysia. You can use oil with a high smoking point suitable for cooking over high heat.
- Add the mustard seeds and saute until it starts to splutter. Then add the cumin seeds and wait until it changes colors. Be careful not to burn the cumin seeds.
- Add the curry leaves and the dry chilies for 15 to 30 seconds to release the flavor.
3. Onion, carrots, and shredded coconut
This recipe also includes a small amount of onion and carrots. Pearl onions adds a slightly sweet and caramelized flavor, whereas the carrot is essentially for the color.
- Cut the onion or shallots into slices, or you may chop them.
- Cut the carrot into fine julienne and set aside.
- Mix the onions with the tempered spices and saute for 2 to 3 minutes until it becomes translucent and soft.
4. Turmeric powder and hing
Turmeric powder and hing (asafoetida) are the other two seasonings required besides the tempering spices. While turmeric powder is essential, hing is optional. Hing is the dried sap collected from the roots of Ferula and is usually sold as small dried granules. It has a flavor similar to leek and garlic and is commonly used in Indian cuisine. You only need a small amount as the flavor is quite strong.
Add the turmeric powder, hing, and salt to the pan while cooking the cabbage. Cook the cabbage for about 3 minutes until it turns soft but retains some crunch. Sprinkle some water if it is too dry when the cabbage sticks to the pan’s bottom.
5. Grated coconut
The most significant difference between the Malaysian and the Kerala version of this Indian cabbage recipe is the inclusion of grated coconut. Add the grated fresh coconut when the cabbage is ready and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.
The Malaysian Indian version does not include grated coconut, but I am eager to know the difference; therefore, I have prepared both to make a comparison.
The taste difference is insignificant, or maybe I only add a quarter cup of grated coconut to my cabbage thoran cipe (about 350g of cabbage). I like the addition of grated coconut with an extra layer of flavor but omit it to reminiscence Malaysia’s true Mamak taste.
How to serve cabbage thoran
This delicious cabbage thoran is a vegetable side dish. It goes well with jeera rice, rasam, dhal, or roti, such as chapati or paratha. However, many Malaysians consider it one of the main vegetable dishes, served with an equal portion as the main dish, such as dry vegetable curry, moong dal, and dry curry, such as chicken varuval.
Other related easy cabbage recipes
If you like this easy Indian cabbage recipe, you may also want to try the Chinese-style cabbage stir-fry. The Chinese-style cabbage recipe is a simple stir-fry with dried shrimp and garlic, which tastes completely different from cabbage thoran. The cabbage roll is another classic Cantonese dish you must try. You can serve it with steamed rice or as part of the dim sum platter. The cabbage is stuffed with minced meat and steamed.
- 380g (1 cup) cabbage, sliced thinly
- 100g (1 medium) onion, sliced thinly
- 60g (1 small) carrot, cut julienne
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 stalk curry leaves
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp hing (optional)
- 4 dried chilies, cut into sections, remove seeds
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp water
- 1/4 cup grated coconut (optional)
- Cut the cabbage and onion into thin slices.
- Cut the carrot into fine julienne.
- To temper the spices: Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and saute until it starts to splutter. Then add the cumin seeds and wait until it changes colors. Add the curry leaves and the dry chilies for 15 to 30 seconds to release the oil’s flavor.
- Add the onion and saute until it becomes tender.
- Season with turmeric powder, hing, salt, and fry with the cabbage until soft. You can sprinkle some water if it is too dry and stick to the pan.
- Fry the cabbage until it is cooked but remain crunchy. Dish out. Note: If you want to include the grated coconut, add to the pan and continue to fry for one minute before serving.
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Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet, Non-Stick,12 inch - Skillet Pan For Stovetop, Oven Use & Outdoor Camping
Rani Black Mustard Seeds Whole Spice (Rai Sarson) 3.5oz (100g) All Natural ~ Gluten Friendly Ingredients | NON-GMO | Vegan | Indian Origin
Great Bazaar Swad Cumin Seeds, 7 Ounce
Dried Curry Leaves | Aromatic and Distinctive Flavor | With All the Flavor of Fresh Leaves | Kari Patta 1.5 oz.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 148Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 618mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 4gSugar: 9gProtein: 3g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 11/8/2020