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Cabbage Poriyal and a traditional Indian Wedding

August 16, 2011

Poriyal is a South Indian dish, which in the Tamil language means a fried vegetable dish.  The Tamil Nadu region, the southernmost tip of India, including the northeastern part of Sri Lanka boasts with a very long list of prodigious Tamil people who have contributed to world politics, business, science, medicine, cinema, music, dance,.. eminent scholars, athletes and writers, including Abel Laureate S. R. Srinivasa Varadhan for his contribution to probability and creating a “unified theory of large deviation” (huh-huh, self-sarcastic) and many many others.  After my cultural introductory statement that obviously doesn’t do justice to the expansive wealth of culture the southernmost part of India offers, if you clicked on the link above and saw the list of people for yourself, I should probably give you my personal reasons for this immense interest in South India beyond ‘simply Poriyal’.  My best friend who is a native of South India and works on the West Coast in the US recently got married and sent us pictures of his elaborate wedding ceremony which lasted several days and included something like one thousand attendees.

In these pictures, we saw his beautiful wife dressed in different robes varying in colors and style, a community gathered in a salon as big as a movie theater, a.k.a. the wedding attendees, and traditional steps throughout the ceremony representing different symbols of the family relationship and the newlyweds’ future life together.

It was fascinating to see the harmonious togetherness within the culture and between the family members on each side, bride and groom, showing even through the pictures.  But most of all, as I will have to make a full circle and bring it back to the food, I found the use of a banana leaf – to plate the food that was served at the wedding reception, also typical way of everyday serving in South India – fascinating! Sustainable for obvious reasons but also medicinal as the leaves contain the type of polyphenol antioxidants found in green tea and molecules used to produce L-DOPA, a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine, for treating Parkinson’s disease.


  • 1/2 white cabbage head (small)
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 white or red onion (small)
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 red chili pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp yellow curry powder
  • 2 hot green chilies
  • 2 tsp curry paste (optional)
  • 1 tbsp mustard
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 red peppers (not bell)
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp raisins
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp salt

Heat oil in a large saucepan and throw in chopped onion, garlic powder, chopped red chili pepper, cumin and curry powder.  Saute on medium heat for 2-3 mins and add green chili peppers, chopped, the panaeng curry and mustard.  Stir well and add chopped cabbage and carrot.  Saute for 3 mins and bring in water and peas.  Reduce heat and cook on low covered for 10 mins. (Some even recommend simmering it no longer than 7 mins as prolonged cooking causes the cabbage to lose its sweet and mild flavor and acquire unpleasant odor, but it also destroys important enzymes.) You may want to give the cabbage a few stirs while it’s cooking turning it over from the outer end of the pan toward the inside so that all the ingredients mix well and cook evenly.  Half-way through simmering, add chopped red peppers, vinegar and raisins and stir well.  Once the cabbage seems to have tenderized, taste and decide if this is how done you want it to be.  If not, cook a little more.  Finally, and this is just optional, add the salt and honey, stir the whole mixture from the outside in, and let stand for a few minutes.  Serve still warm garnished with fresh parsley.

*Tip: To make your vegetable chopping easier, use a food processor to shred the cabbage, onion, carrot and red peppers.  Cut them in large chunks before placing them in the food processor and chop for a few seconds on a low-medium setting.


/Adapted with wide ingredient variations from Lisa’s Kitchen which specializes in Indian cuisine.


From → Indian, Summer, Vegetarian

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