Tips for hosting a Kerala sadya at home

Since Vishu, the zodiac new year celebrated by Keralans is just around the corner, I thought doing this post now might be useful for some of my followers. I have been consulted a few times regarding tips on cooking a ‘sadya’ meal at home.  Having been cooking sadya meals every Onam (and sometimes for Vishu too) for the past 18 years in our US home does qualify me for advising folks I guess. We usually host an average of 3-4 families. I get a lot of questions from new cooks all the time! “Chechi, help!” ‘How many dishes to cook?’ ‘How much quantity to cook’ ‘Will there be enough food?’ ‘I have never cooked for so many people’ ‘Will all the food be fresh for the sadya?’  And so on and so forth. Well, my response is always the same – “Take a deep breath. Don’t worry. Its all about planning and once the plan is perfect, execution will be a breeze!”  I guess all my years leading projects at work has also helped me to execute successful sadyas 🙂  Plus I did have the best resources available to me – my husband and I together make a great team 🙂 So before embarking on this particularly adventurous mission, my strong recommendation to you is to first enlist your spouse’s or family members’ support! It will be much needed!

These are some steps that I follow for hosting a successful sadya whether it is for Onam or Vishu or just any other day when you feel like having a sadya meal.

  1. Create a Menu:  Take a pen and paper and scribble down the menu items.  I prefer pen and paper to doing it electronically since paper makes it easy to scratch off things while still letting you see what changes you have made. Just my personal preference but you can use a notepad on your phone or computer as well. Write down the different dishes you would like to make.  Sambhar and Avial I think fall in the ‘must-have’ category meaning they absolutely need to be on the sadya menu or else you won’t have a sadya! Another ‘must have’ are pappadums! After that, come all other lentil or bean type curries – let’s call this ‘Other curries’ – like erisseri, parippu, moru kootan, green mango curry, potato stew etc. I like to include at least two from this category.  Next would be ‘dry vegetable dishes’ like cabbage thoran or green beans thoran or kadala and kaaya thoran etc.  A fourth category would be all spicy and tangy ‘pickle type’ curries called as ‘thodu curries’ – these include paavakka varatharachu curry, pearl onion curry(Ulli curry), Pulli inji (ginger curry). Another very important ‘must-have’ item of the sadya is the ‘Paayasam’. Which paayasam to make?.  Although it is traditional to make two varieties of Payasam, I would recommend doing only one since not only is it time consuming to make two different payasams but after the heavy sadya, in my experience, folks generally will not have room for two different payasams and so it becomes a waste of effort. Decide which one you want to make. ‘Paladda’ is always the easy one and everyone loves that so its a safe bet. If you are ambitious enough to make Parrippu paayasam then so be it – you just need to plan adequately for it.

Here’s what a sample menu would look like. Other than the ‘Must-haves’, you can      pick one or two from each category

Main Dishes (Must-haves) Other Curries: Vegetable side dishes: Spicy and tangy (Thodu) curries:
Sambhaar Erishery Cabbage thoran Pulli Inji
Avial Mooru Kootan Kadala kaaya koottu Paavakka varatharachu
Paayasam Pacchadi Paavakka thoran Ulli curry
Pappaddum Rasam Manga curry
Parrippu curry Manga Pickle
Potato curry Lime pickle

2. Decide how much quantity to cook for each dish:  This depends on your final count. hence get a final count of people sufficiently in advance. Once you have the final count, divide by 4 (for the 4 categories of dishes you have) and that’s how many people you should cook each dish for. The logic behind this is that since you have so many dishes, you don’t need to make huge quantity of each dish.  For deciding the quantity of rice, I take the total headcount and take about 25% off – again the logic being that having a variety of dishes means that folks get full without eating too much rice. So if I have a head count of 20 people and say in general we cook about 1/2 cup of rice(uncooked) for 1 person for a regular meal, which would mean cooking 10 cups of rice, but for the sadya 75% of 10 i.e.  7.5 cups of uncooked rice should be sufficient. For doing all the above, if you are going to be following some recipes from your favorite sites, then make sure you print all of them first and then prepare the grocery list.

3. Plan the grocery shopping: Prepare the grocery list based on 1 and 2 above. And do the shopping sufficiently in advance -at least 2-3 days before the sadya weekend. Include all other ancillary items like plantain chips, plantain leaves, small bananas and any ready made pickles. Make sure you check the quantity of rice you have in your pantry and add to the list if you are short.

4. Stagger the cooking – Begin cooking in advance: 3-4 days before you can make the pickles or tangy curries like the paavaka curry or inji puli since they don’t spoil and keep well. 2-3 days before you can make moru kootan or mango curry etc.  1 day before you can make sambhaar, erisseri and payasam and also finish all the prep work for all the rest of the dishes. For example, finish chopping all vegetables for avial which is best when prepared the morning of the sadya. All thorns with fresh coconut should also be prepared on the morning of the sadya. You can fry the papadums the previous day but make sure to keep them in airtight containers to prevent them from getting soggy.  Create a project plan one week before the sadya so you don’t forget any important steps.  The plan need not be detailed but would look something like this :

Sample project plan:

  • Weekend 1 week before sadya/ 3-4 days before sadya day – Grocery shopping,
  • Thursday – Moru kootan, Pachadi, Inji Puli,
  • Friday – Chopping all vegetables for avial and sambhaar, make sambhaar, make payasam, fry papadums
  • Saturday(Day of sadya): Cook rice, avial,cabbage thoran

5. Ask for help: After completing steps 1-3, take a step back and do a reality check. See how you feel about executing the plan. If this is your first time doing something like this and if you don’t have enough help at home (for example having young kids etc), then consider delegating some tasks to some of your expected guests. Chances are some of your guests may call you in advance offering to help and if you are feeling overwhelmed then that would be a perfect time for you to ask for some help. You can outsource tasks like grocery shopping – either all or some items, ask them to cook one dish or just request if they could stop by early that day in the morning before the sadya – a set of hands always helps, right?

Hope these tips are helpful! What are some tricks you use for hosting a sadya at your home? I would love to know! Happy Feasting – Have a spectacular sadya this Vishu!

Onam Special: Lentil and Coconut Pudding (Parippu Paayasam)

IMG_1639A hearty and Happy Onam to all those who celebrate! To all us ‘Mallus’, Onam equates to ‘pigging out’ as that’s one festival (although not much unlike most other festivals! 🙂 ) where ‘food’ is the main attraction. And Onam sadya or the feast takes center stage. My childhood Onam memories are that of my parents working in the kitchen starting in the wee hours of the morning to have a plethora of vegetarian dishes- atleast 12-15 different ones as well as the mandatory  ‘paayasam’ ready by lunch time!. The sound of amma using the coconut scraper would be what would wake me up! She would easily use up at least 4-5 entire coconuts for the sadya! For the sadya we usually would have many ‘non-mallu’ friends as guests and hence it was not just the variety of dishes that needed to be made but they also needed to be cooked in large quantities! So all the large utensils which otherwise would be relegated to the top shelves of the kitchen would suddenly find themselves being put to good use!

My husband and I have also started this same tradition in our home for the last few years and it gives us immeasurable joy to prepare and administer the sadya! Although I must state that I am eternally grateful to the company that makes and markets ‘fresh frozen grated coconut’! 🙂 I would not be half as enthusiastic if I had to scrape coconuts by hand using the scraper like my mom used to do! This year Onam is even more special for us since my dad is visiting with us and so I have the benefit of learning from the Master Chef himself. Dad’s ‘parippu paayasam’ is ‘much sought after’ in our family and so today I took detailed notes as I watched him make the paayasam and for once I was happy to be the ‘sous chef’:) I should mention that dad has an entire set of sweet teeth and hence the only argument we had was over how much ‘jaggery’ needed to go into the paayasam!  “Paayasam wont be paayasam unless you add twice the amount of jaggery as the lentils” he said. I scoffed and squirmed- ‘Really, do we need that much’? Then upon further thought, I decided to keep quiet – it was after all quite pointless arguing about the hazards of eating too much sugar with someone who had lived for twice as long as I had and with one who had a really healthy track record.  It was best to give in and appreciate! 🙂

So here’s the much treasured ‘Parippu Paayasam’ recipe from our family to yours! Btw, this recipe is for a sadya – makes about 20 servings so you may want to halve or quarter the recipe if you don’t have a crowd coming over! 🙂

The ‘pookalam’ or the floral rangoli is courtesy – Hubby and my dad! Also is a picture of the spread / sadya items for tonight’s Onam Sadya – I made Sambhaar, Avial, Moru kootan, Kumbalanga pachadi, cabbage thoran, kadala and kaaya thoran, matanga erisseri, inji pulli and parippu. Oh boy, feels nice to take a break to write this post! 🙂 Btw we will be serving all these dishes over banana leaves – yes we get fresh frozen ones at our Asian grocers! All the recipes that I haven’t yet posted I will be posting them soon! I am also bringing this Onam Special feast to Fiesta Friday this week. 🙂

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Lentil and Coconut Pudding (Parippu Paayasam)

  • Time: about 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
 This recipe makes about 20 servings of about 1 cup each


2 cups or 1/2 kg(1 lb) split moong dal (yellow split lentils)
5 cups water
2 lbs or 1 kg jaggery Melted with 1 cup water
4 cups thinned coconut milk*(canned or fresh)
1 cup thick coconut milk*(canned or fresh)
1 tbsp cardamom powder
1 tbsp dry ginger powder

1/2 cup ghee or unsalted butter
1/2 cup cashew nut pieces
1/2 cup coconut pieces, cut into small 1/2 inch long pieces
2 tbsp black sesame seeds
1 tbsp raisins


Take the lentils (dal) and wash thoroughly with cold water. Then add about 5 cups water and pressure cook for 3 whistles. Keep aside.

While the lentils are cooking, get the coconut milk ready if using freshly extracted milk(see note below)

In a small pot boil about 1 cup water and add the jaggery pieces to it. Heat until all the jaggery is melted and then again continue to cook on medium heat stirring in between to get a really dark brown color. Then turn heat off.

Tae a large wide bottom pot (best to use a large urn or urali ) and add about 1 tbsp of the ghee. Then add the cooked dal and stir to coat with ghee. Next slowly add the jaggery mixture/syrup little bit at a time so it gets nicely mixed with the dal.  Then add the 4 cups of thin coconut milk and continue stirring for about 20-30 minutes on low/medium heat until the mixture becomes thick. (patience is key here…dad was very particular about this step so don’t skip the stirring and cooking!)

Take the thick coconut milk in a bowl and add the cardamom and the dry ginger powder and stir to mix well. Add this to the above mixture and continue to cook on low heat for another 5-10 minutes. turn heat off. The paayasam should be of a thick consistency at this point.

Finally, take a small pan and add the rest of the ghee. Fry the cashew nut pieces until golden brown and keep aside. toast the coconut pieces until golden brown and keep aside. Next add the black sesame seeds and stir until they crackle. Put the heat off and add the raisins and stir for a few seconds. add all of the above garnish to the paayasam.

Method For extracting the coconut milk:

4 cups freshly grated coconut(or frozen coconut that has been thawed)
4 cups warm water

First grind about 2 cups of the coconut with 1 cup warm water in a  food processor and strain through a strainer to get thick coconut milk. Keep this aside. Then take the same strained coconut and add 1 more cup of water and again blend and strain to get 1 cup of thin coconut milk. Discard the coconut meat after two strains. Again repeat the process with the remaining two cups of coconut – blending with 1 cup water at a  time and straining and blending again with another cup water to get a total of 3 cups thin coconut milk.


If using canned coconut milk, dilute with 1/3 rd amount of water to get the thin coconut milk and use as is for the thick coconut milk.

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