Ulli Theeyal (Little Onion Curry)

ഉള്ളി കറി


This is a wonderful sidedish to our Kerala Cuisine, mostly associated with part of the traditional Onam Sadhya, but if you like onions, and we certainly do, I promise you it is very difficult to resist not having it fairly frequently as a side dish to any curry or just with some rice or even just with a couple of freshly made chapattis or parathas. The choice is yours – all I am asking is that you please do give this dish a try.


Before you start your preparation make sure you have a small face towel near you (to wipe away the ‘tears’ which will come from peeling a small heap of tiny onions), some music to while away the time needed for peeling and also assemble all the remaining ingredients within easy reach.

For the Theeyal you see in the final dish I used 2 heaped cups of peeled onions – and as you can see there is not too much to show for in the end and that’s the reason why I normally make 2 or 3 times the amount for us two!!

Soak a small lump of Tamarind pulp in luke warm water for 15 mins, squeeze, discard the pulp but retain the brown water for later.

Over medium to lowish heat gently fry 1.5 cups of grated coconut*, 5 dry red hot chillies*, 1.5 tsp of coriander seeds, 1-2 Tbsp of sliced onions, 1 Tbsp of broken cashewnuts*, – keep gently stirring all the time, if anything burns throw away and start afresh.


The coconut should take on a dark! Colour (I personally prefer just a slight shade lighter).


When done, let it cool down a bit and then in your Mixy grind all this to a very fine paste, adding a spoon full of water if needed. Keep aside.


Now in a large deep pan or wok heat up 2 tsp of coconut oil* or vegetable oil if preferred, still working on low heat now, add a dash of turmeric powder, mix and then add all your washed little onions and at least 6 green chillies*, slit in half.


Keep stirring until everything is well mixed, turn up your heat to medium, keep stirring and once the onions start taking on colour add the tamarind water. Bring this quickly to a boil, add all the ground masala from your Mixy, check for salt and also add some more plain water, maybe ½ cup or so. Stir once more, cover with a lid, turn down the heat a bit and let it cook until the gravy thickens. This might take anything from 15 to 20 minutes – just keep checking. At the very end, when everything is cooked, add 1-2 tsp of brown sugar*, mix and serve.


Now in a small pan heat 1 tsp of coconut oil, add just ¼ tsp of mustard seeds and a tiny pinch of fenugreek seeds (rubbed between your fingers to release their beautiful flavour) and 1 or 2 dried red chillies, and when the seeds finish crackling, pour this over your Ulli theeyal.


Bring to your table and watch the smile on the faces of all who are eating this – like we do shortly when we sit down for our lunch.

• Try to use very small onions, otherwise cut in half.
• Frozen grated coconut is fine but never use dehydrated!!
• You can of course use less or more of those red chillies, but 5 are just right (I think).
• Use broken cashewnuts, they are cheaper than the whole once – after all they go into the Mixy.
• Personally I only use a tiny amount of Sweetener.
• If you can get coconut oil use it, it brings out the flavours more – otherwise vegetable oil is fine.
• And by the way – it tastes even better the next day IF you have any left.



36 thoughts on “Ulli Theeyal (Little Onion Curry)

  1. Oh yes! Definitely!! And new to me: blessings to Keralan cuisine . . . I buy these small onions here Down Under as ‘shallots’ actually and love to use them. No ‘onions’ red, brown or white of this size available here. Can’t wit to try and thanks . . . .[have just put Kerala? into my notebook for next year . . . well, it’s meant to be a French river cruise or a Prairies venture or . . . but I have waited for Kerala too long . . . ]

    • Eha – I am waiting for your email service to start up again next week!!!! And yes, they are “shallots” of course, that’s what they are called here as well but I somehow did not want to use that word in the above title. Why? Not a clue 🙂 🙂

    • Lorraine, So glad you like this – and I do so hope you will try this one out in your own kitchen. I know, peeling all those little ‘challots’ is a bit bothersome (you should see my eyes afterwards:) ) but it certainly worth it – promise!

  2. Ciao, come stai ?
    Like many dishes ,which taste better if let aside for a bit , this must be superb.
    Love all the ingredients, yet , so imagine the result (maybe?)
    Thanks for your precious suggestions!

    • Hallo Gerlinde, thanks for your comment. Spring onions I love but you can not use them here. It has to be shallots, do try and overcome the peeling problem (you should see my eyes when I work with onions) 🙂 🙂 and have a go at this curry!

    • Hallo liebe Gislinde. Ich hab’ mal eine dumme Frage – kochst Du und was? 🙂 🙂 Jetzt werde ich erstmal ein paar deutsche Gerichte (aus Mutti’s Kueche usw) bringen – mal sehen wie sie hier ankommen. Dir auch liebe Gruesse und weiterhin eine gute gesunde Woche. Tschuess. 🙂

  3. Namaskaram Sakshi 🙂 – first of all thank you very much for your kind compliment. I am married to Jo who is Malayali and he is the one who tought me most of the Indian dishes. This Ulli Curry actually was the first one I tried and now it’s a hit with family and visiting friends. I do love cooking, anything!, – at least most of the time 🙂 and looking at my boxes of collected recipes from around the world I only regret that I took to “food” blogging so late, but as the saying goes: “…..there must have been a reason why…..”. Hope you will come back here soon – just for a little visit. Take care. Carina 🙂

  4. This looks super yummy….i have never ever tried the Ulli Theeyal…i am sure going to try making this for my family….thank you for sharing and special mention for the way you present the small onions with ULLI written with chillies…:)

    • Rushi – how nice you have joined me now – great! I do not know right now where you now live, but….please, yes, do make the Theeyal soon, your family will love you even more 🙂 🙂 :). Jo just told me to point out again, use only the small small ullis (they taste so much nicer) – regarding the spices – I suggest you just go according to your own tastebuds. Here in this house WE LIKE IT HOT 🙂 – but my recipe is spicy but not too much (I think). Let me know how it went, please. Take care – Carina

      • I stay in India’s Capital, Delhi. The small onions are readily available in mkts here….so it will be easier to try. Whenerver i make it, i will let you know for sure…my family loves mildly spiced food so will take care of the spicing part…Greetings, Ruchi 🙂

    • Ashu – I am surprised (a bit 🙂 ) – I always thought that every Indian girl knows Ulli Theeyal. Hm – I live and learn:) I never tried them with Biryani thou – they are so delicious and I know of friends who like to eat those just with chapatties.
      Re my posts not appearing in your reader – I assume that of course you have clicked your “follow” button, ok, the next thing is that WP unfortunately is playing up for some time. A number of my friends in Australia and Europe in particular had the problem and even more. I too was not receiving a great number of posts for a while, but luckily we all kept checking on each other. Take care.

  5. Hello Carina, Namaskaram to you too😊.
    I was introduced to these small onions only after my marriage, my neighbor was from Kerala, mom never used in her cooking. Since then I have used only in Sambar preparations, as per the availability as we kept moving places. It is available here too and I always buy them while buying onions. I liked the recipe, will give it a try for sure😊👍🏻. Hence, thanks to you now I have one more recipe to use them as the main ingredient. I like those small onions.
    As you know India is a big country, it is mostly used in Kerala/South India cuisine, mom never used😀.
    I will keep visiting the site, even if not seen in my WP reader😊.
    Have a great day, and a happy weekend.

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