Cheera Thoran

This is a simple yet flavorful Kerala dish made with spinach, coconut, chili, and cumin and mustard seeds.

Thoran is a type popular dish in Kerala, India.

It is usually made by sautéing vegetables or meat with coconut, chilies, ginger, onions, etc.. It is a dry curry, similar to a stir-fry.

There are many different versions using a variety of vegetables.

what is Cheera?

Bowl of fresh baby spinach.

Cheera is the Malayalam word for spinach. The spinach normally used in the dish is of a tougher variety, sometimes reddish in color.

However, most American grocery stores sell only baby spinach or spinach with tender leaves, so check out your local Indian or Asian market.

If you’re able to find red spinach, it works great in thoran! The leaves are thicker and need to be chopped finely. You will also need to cover the spinach with a lid for a few minutes until it starts to wilt and then continue sautéing.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to buy some so I substituted with baby spinach instead. Baby spinach leaves are delicate and smaller and only need to be cooked for a few minutes until they wilt. It doesn’t taste as authentic but is an acceptable option.

Also, American spinach tends to yield more water, so you may need to cook in a larger pan so the water can evaporate, or remove the cooked spinach and reduce the liquid before adding the spinach back in.

Frozen spinach is not recommended because it will be too mushy.

Fresh Coconut

Bowl of fresh grated coconut.

As for coconut, my parents always use fresh coconut when making Kerala dishes.

If you don’t have any, dried unsweetened coconut will also work. Make sure to soak it overnight in a little water.

Grinding

Mortar and pestle with coconut and turmeric being ground up.

Most Indians use a small wet grinder to make chutneys or grind coconut for recipes. Some also do it the old-fashioned way by hand using a mortar and pestle.

However, I’ve come across other thoran recipes that skip this step and only finely mince all the ingredients.

Frankly, I don’t think grinding is crucial for this recipe. Mincing or grating the ingredients will still produce the same flavor.

How to Make Cheera Thoran

Using a mortar and pestle or small blender, grind together 3-6 tablespoons of fresh coconut, 1-2 small green chilies, 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric, and 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds. Grind well until a paste is formed.

Alternatively, grate the coconut by hand and mince the chilies finely. Then mix with the turmeric and cumin seeds.

Next, heat oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, add 1 teaspoon mustard seeds and heat for 30-60 seconds until they start to sputter. Keep a close eye on them because they have a tendency to burn quickly. 

Then add in 1-3 whole dry red chilies, followed by 1-2 tablespoons minced onion, 1-2 teaspoons each of minced ginger and garlic, and 6-8 whole curry leaves. Sauté everything for 5-8 minutes until the onions are cooked down and translucent.

Add the coconut paste mixture to the pan and sauté for 30-60 seconds.

Finally add the spinach, and stir until it wilts.

If you’re using tougher heartier spinach leaves, cover the spinach with a lid for a few minutes until it starts to wilt and then continue sautéing.

Take pan off heat and season with salt. If there’s a lot of water in the pan, remove the cooked spinach to a bowl and reduce the liquid in the pan by placing it over high heat. Then add the spinach back in.

There are so many variations and recipes for thoran, but this is what I was able to put together after talking to my parents.

It took a while for them to agree on how much coconut to put in, when to add the mustard seeds and chilies, and whether or not to use cumin.

So the amounts I give are rough estimates based on the information they provided. I’m guessing it’s not even how they used to make their own spinach thoran.

Like most family recipes it has probably evolved over time and will continue to do so when I pass it down to my children.

here are Other thoran recipes to try

Cabbage Thoran
A Kerala favorite, this thoran is made with cabbage, chilies, and coconut.
Check out this recipe
Joby's Test Kitchen skillet with yellow cabbage thoran.
Beetroot Thoran
A Kerala favorite, this thoran is made with beetroot, chilies, and coconut.
Check out this recipe
Skillet with beetroot thoran and wooden spoon.

Pan of cheera thoran and red chili peppers.

Cheera Thoran

Joby’s Test Kitchen
This Kerala vegetable dish is made with sautéed spinach, chilies, and coconut.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Indian
Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 3-6 tbsps fresh grated coconut
  • 1-2 small green chilis
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ tsp cumin seeds
  • 2-3 tsps (10-15ml) oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1-3 whole dry red chilies, broken (or a big pinch of dry chili flakes)
  • 1-2 tbsps minced onion
  • 1-2 tsps minced ginger
  • 1-2 tsps minced garlic
  • 6-8 whole curry leaves
  • 6-8 cups fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
  • Salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • Using a mortar and pestle or small blender, grind coconut, green chili/s, turmeric powder, and cumin until it’s like a paste. Set aside. *(see Notes)
  • Heat oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and heat 30-60 seconds until they start to sputter. Keep a close eye on them because they have a tendency to burn quickly.
  • Then add the red chilis, followed by the onion, ginger, garlic, and curry leaves. Sauté for 5-8 minutes until the onions are cooked down and translucent.
  • Next add the coconut paste/mixture and sauté for 30-60 seconds. Finally add the spinach, and stir until it wilts. Season with salt. *(see Notes)

Notes

Spinach: If using red spinach with large tougher leaves, cover the spinach with a lid for a few minutes until it starts to wilt and then continue sautéing.
If using baby spinach or spinach with tender leaves, cook in a larger pan so the excess water can evaporate. Or remove the cooked spinach and reduce the liquid before adding the spinach back in. Do not use frozen spinach.
Coconut: If you don’t have fresh coconut, soak dried unsweetened coconut in a little water overnight.
Grinding: If you don’t have or want to use a grinder or mortar and pestle, mince the green chilies finely and add the grated coconut as is. 
Keyword Kerala, spinach, thoran, vegetables, vegetarian

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