What Is Poriyal?

Allison Boelcke

Poriyal is a dish that is composed of a mixture of vegetables, lentils, and spices that are combined and lightly fried. It is a primary component of the cuisine of the Tamil, a specific ethnic group of India and Sri Lanka. Tamilian cuisine tends to consist mainly of vegetables, lentils, and dairy-based dishes rather than meat. The dish is similar to a curry or thick stew in its main ingredients and preparation, but does not contain sauce or other liquids.

Ground coriander seeds are often used to season poriyal.
Ground coriander seeds are often used to season poriyal.

The combination of spices tends to be the foundation of poriyal, while the vegetables and type of lentils chosen may widely vary depending on the cook and which vegetables are available. Common staple spices in the dish include ground coriander seeds, dried curry leaves, turmeric, and dried chili peppers. Other flavoring agents that are often used are ginger, garlic, tamarind, and nutmeg.

Dried curry leaves are one spice found in poriyal.
Dried curry leaves are one spice found in poriyal.

Poriyal is typically prepared by first heating the combination of spices in a pan with oil until the spices begin to toast, which usually only takes a few seconds. Toasting the spices allows them to release their natural oils, providing a richer flavor to the dish. Once the spices are toasted in the oil, the desired chopped vegetables are added to the oil until they are heated through and have the preferred texture. The vegetables may be covered in water to prevent burning and to add a softer texture, and then cooked until the water evaporates.

Shredded coconut is often sprinkled atop fresh poriyal just prior to serving as both a garnish and to add extra flavor and texture to the dish. If the dish is being served alone as a main entrée, it is often accompanied with a starch, such as hot rice or an Indian flatbread known as roti, to make it more filling. When served as part of a multiple course meal, poriyals are often served along with vegetable and lentil-based soup or stew, as well as yogurt or another type of dairy product, which may help cool down the palate from the spiciness of the dishes.

Traditional poriyal recipes tend to have the cooking technique and the spices in common, but a wide range of variations of the dish exist. A common specific variation of the dish is prepared with potatoes as the main vegetable. This version generally consists primarily of potatoes sautéed with onions and Indian spices. Another common recipe uses shredded cabbage as the main ingredient, while other versions call for mainly peppers, green beans, lentils, or a combination of vegetables.

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