Falling in the month of ‘Chingam,’ Malayalam Calendar’s first month, Onam is celebrated by the Hindus of Kerala in South India. Onam Festival too has huge amounts of food involved in its festivities, the most special being the all-vegetarian Onam Sadhya. Here, I have shared a signature compilation of Onam Recipes that are also a part of the lavish feast sadya. Most of these recipes are easy and can easily made at home.
The significance of Onam Festival is varied, of which some important ones are – one, that it is the annual harvest festival and second, that it celebrates the homecoming of the asura king Mahabali from paatal lok (the netherworlds) followed from the subsequent appearance of an avatar of Lord Vishnu, Vamana. In 2023, the main day of Onam Festival is on August 29.
Significance of Onam
Onam Festival is a 10-day festival. The last day being the main day of celebrations. Like I mentioned in the beginning, it is the rice harvest festival and is also celebrated to welcome back one of the most loved kings of Kerala, King Mahabali.
The kind of prosperity and happiness that was witnessed in his reign remains unmatched. He was banished to the netherworld by Lord Vishnu’s avatar Vamana (a short Brahmin), yet he got a boon that he could visit his subjects once a year.
Thus, Onam becomes a festival of welcoming the king back, and the ambience of the festival is the same as it was during his reign.
Feasting with the magnificent spread of the Onam Sadhya, along with other special Onam Recipes and much merriment marks the day, in Kerala and in any part of the world a Malayali resides.
The most significant part about this Malayalam festival is that it spread the message of peace and solidarity, and is a unifying factor for not just all Malayalis residing in the picturesque state of Kerala but also for people of all other religions there.
Although the last day of Onam Festival is considered the most noteworthy, but still all the other 9 days also hold some or the other importance and significance.
The most interesting part about the festivities is the ‘pookkalam’ – the typical designs and patterns made with flowers on the ground by women – very symbolic of Onam Festival.
Next most specific thing that symbolizes this festival is the delicious, hearty and a completely vegetarian feast of ‘Onam Sadya’ served on plantain or banana leaves.
A variety of Onam Recipes, comprising of curries, dry veggie dishes, rice, accompaniments and desserts are prepared and served in this meal.
In addition to these, people adorn themselves with new clothes and also gift each other the same in a customary tradition known as the ‘onakkodi.’
Then, there is the famous snake boat race or ‘vallamkali,’ which is a huge event organized in Kerala during this festival.
More of rituals include the decoration of elephants with ornaments, various cultural activities like music, art, Kathakali and the iconic Pulikali dance.
The Pulikali dance is a traditional form of folk-dance form in which dancers represent tigers by painting themselves in yellow and black.
In Malayalam language, ‘sadya’ means a ‘banquet.’ So, a classic Onam Sadya is essentially a 9-course vegetarian meal with about 26 to 28 dishes that is served on a banana leaf during the Onam Festival as well as other religious occasions and weddings too.
The Onam Recipes that make up the sadya actually depict all flavours of food, and is savoured by everyone, without any barriers.
I have had the opportunity of relishing a full-fledged Onam Sadhya meal, a couple of times. In this collection, I have shared Onam Recipes that are made for the sadya during Onam Festival.
There are variations and some or the other dishes may be interchanged, depending from individual to individual. But the essence remains the same. The dishes are also served in a particular order and not randomly.
Also, before the recipes, here’s this mighty food spread, decoded for you:
- Parippu Vadai – Fried lentil patties also commonly called Dal Vada
- Ulundu Vadai – Donut shaped fried lentil fritters popularly known as Medu Vada
- Parippu Curry – Moong lentils curry with coconut, pearl onions and spices
- Kizhangu Stew – Lightly spiced potato stew made with coconut milk.
- Moru Curry – Also referred to as Kachiya Moru is tempered buttermilk made with or without veggies.
- Thoran – A delicious sautéed or stir-fried preparation of vegetables made in coconut oil with plenty of coconut.
- Malli Chammanthi – Herby coriander chutney made with coconut and some more spices.
- Thakkali Chammanthi – Tangy and spiced tomato chutney.
- Thenga Chammanthi – Thick coconut chutney
- Ulli Theeyal – Pearl onions or small shallots in spiced coconut-tamarind sauce.
- Avial – Mixed vegetables in a coconut and yogurt sauce
- Mangai Pachadi – Sweet and sour mango relish
- Kootu Curry – Various mixed vegetables and lentils made with coconut and spices.
- Pachadi – Tempered raita made with curd or yogurt with or without vegetables.
- Pappadum or papad
- Mulaku Kondattum – Curd and salt soaked and sun-dried red chilies which are deep fried.
- Appam – Rice and coconut milk pancake.
- Kalan – Yam or plantain or both cooked with yogurt and coconut.
- Sambar – Lentils and vegetable stew.
- Steamed red rice
- Pal Payasam – Creamy rice kheer made with milk.
- Sakrai Upperi – Jaggery coated fried sweet banana chips
- Chakka Upperi – Fried jackfruit chips
- Pazham Upperi – Salted banana chips made with the variety of banana called nendram pazham in Malayalam.
- Unniyappam – Sweet appam made with jaggery and wheat flour.
- Naranga Achar – Salty and spicy lemon pickle
- Inji curry – Spiced tangy ginger curry
- Mangai Achar – Mango pickle
- Ghee or nei/ney
- Uppu or salt
- Pazham or banana
Preparing all Onam Recipes for any sadya takes a lot of time. So, you can start the day before, chop the vegetables required for the various dishes and refrigerate them.
Grate coconut and keep in the freezer. In some of the recipes, ground paste of coconut, cumin and green chilies is used. So, you can grind this together and then use it in parts for the required recipe.
If possible, do take help while preparing the Onam Sadhya, as it does take a lot of time. Also make small portions if you are a family of 3 to 4 people, as there will be leftovers the next day. In a few recipes I have used onion and garlic. But if you don’t use them, you can skip them or skip making the recipes where onion is the hero ingredient.
There are sambar recipes which will require a sambar powder. I would suggest to refer this Sambar Powder to make your own at home and use it in these Onam Recipes for an enhanced flavor.
If you have some of the leftover pachadi from this Onam Sadya, then you can have it with some steamed rice paired with Sambar or parippu, the next day.
Payasams or South Indian style kheers is what dominates this Onam Recipes list. And most of them require coconut milk as one of the main ingredients.
So, the best thing to do is to refer this How To Make Coconut Milk post and use the homemade one in your recipes. If at all, you can’t, then use a good branded one.
Majjiga or Sambaram or Neer Mor a.k.a Neer Moru or Neer Majjige is a delicious variant of a spiced and salty buttermilk well-known across South India. This recipe variant is made with curd (yogurt) and water, which is later spiced and then tempered. It makes for an equally refreshing summer drink with digestive properties.
Beans Thoran is a delicious beans recipe made with french beans (green beans) from the Kerala cuisine. Apart from the fewer spices used, both fresh grated coconut and coconut oil gives this dish a remarkable flavor and taste – not to forget the taste & flavor of beans that also merges well with the coconut flavors.
Sweets and Snacks
This collection of Onam Sadhya recipes from the archives, originally published in September 2017 has been updated and republished on February 2023.