Thengai Paal Keerai


To make this dish, green gram is first simmered in coconut milk until creamy and tender and then enriched with amaranth greens. The natural sweetness of coconut milk balances the heat from the ginger and green chillies resulting in an aromatic, silken stew.


This recipe is from Why Cook, written by writer and publisher Archana Pidathala. In Why Cook, Archana engages with food as a way to interact with the world, chronicling stories and recipes from 16 women—friends of hers who are artists, musicians, farmers, and entrepreneurs—exploring why they cook.  The recipe was featured in the chapter on Vishalakshi Padmanabhan, founder of Buffalo Back Collective, and social activist.

Split green gram with skin ¼ cup
Fresh coconut, grated 1 cup
Coconut oil 1-2 tablespoons
Onion, chopped 1
Green chillies, slit halfway 2
Ginger, grated ½ inch
Garlic cloves, peeled and crushed 3
Curry leaves 5-6
Tightly-packed cups amaranth leaves, washed and finely chopped 6
Turmeric powder ¼ Tablespoon
Salt To Taste

A mixer or food processor, sieve or muslin cloth, and heavy-bottomed pan.


Wash the green gram thoroughly and soak in water for 20 minutes; drain.


Grind the grated coconut along with 1 cup of water in a mixer/food processor. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve or muslin cloth, squeezing the coconut pulp to extract as much of the liquid as possible. This will yield about 1 cup of the first thick extract.


Place the squeezed coconut pulp back in the mixer/food processor along with 1 cup of water and grind again. Strain to get a cup of the second thinner extract. Repeat the process to get a cup of the third extract, which will be the thinnest of the three.


Heat the coconut oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onion, green chillies, ginger, garlic and curry leaves. Sauté for a few minutes, until the onion turns translucent.


Add the drained green gram, and sauté for a minute more. Add the third coconut milk extract and cook for about 15 minutes or until the lentils are just short of fully cooked.


Add the chopped amaranth leaves, turmeric powder, salt and the second extract of coconut milk. Mix and cook until the lentils are soft and mushy.


Stir in the first extract of coconut milk. Bring to a gentle boil over low heat and simmer for a couple of minutes. Do not cook for longer at this stage, as the coconut milk may curdle. Taste and add salt if required. Serve with steamed rice.

Tips and Variations

You may use store-bought coconut milk instead of grated coconut. If using store-bought coconut milk, you will need 1¾ cups. Set aside 1 cup as the first thick extract. Dilute ½ cup of the coconut milk with ½ cup of water to make the second extract. Dilute the remaining with ¾ cup of water to make the third extract. Use each extract as instructed in the directions.

Vishalakshi Padmanabhan runs Buffalo Back Collective, which works with small and marginal farmers who follow sustainable agricultural practices. The collective, led by Vishalakshi, also runs an all-women bakery in Ragihalli. 


To know more about Vishalakshi and Buffalo Back, read this excerpt from ‘Why Cook’ by Archana Pidathala. 

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