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A recipe for pumpkin payasam and other sweet stories from Onam

While the milk-based paal payasam and jaggery-infused pradhaman are well known, Kerala has a diverse variety of this sweet dish made with fresh harvests of fruits and vegetables too

College students perform a dance during celebrating the Onam festival at College campus in Chennai on Tuesday (Photo: ANI)
College students perform a dance during celebrating the Onam festival at College campus in Chennai on Tuesday (Photo: ANI)

The 10-day countdown to Onam has begun and festivities are in full swing. A significant part of the preparations involves food and the preparation of the traditional Onam feast, the sadya. A variety of payasams round off this hearty meal—such as the milk based Paal Payasam with rice and the jaggery-infused Kadala Parippu Pradhaman with split gram and coconut milk.

“The idea is to have a light and dark payasam in the Onam sadya," says Oneal Sabu, a Kochi-based food writer. He adds that payasam is not just a dessert, it has a significant role in the sadya, which is modelled on Ayurvedic principles. A traditional version will have a smidgen of salt and is not served in a bowl. A spoonful is plopped on the plantain leaf, a banana is mashed into in and a pappadum is crushed over it. “All of this is mixed and then eaten. It is a complete dish in itself with varied textures and flavours," he explains.

The sheer variety of payasams can be a bit mind-boggling for amateurs. For instance, while Paal Payasam uses whole rice, Palada Pradhaman needs ground rice steamed in plantain leaves. Sabu adds there are regional variations too. In Trivandrum, payasam is served atop a pancake-like item known as boli. There are temple versions as well. Pala payasam from Sree Parthasarathy temple at Aaranmula is quite popular. And now, chefs in Kerala are experimenting and creating payasams with non-traditional ingredients. Acting as a judge at cooking contests in the state, Sabu has tasted a macaroni payasam and one made with tomatoes. But now, he says, a fascinating payasam with bitter gourd introduced by Kerala’s most renowned caterer, Mohanan Namboodiri, has caught the fancy. Along with bitter gourd, it contains aloe vera and fragrant spices. Namboodiri has kept this recipe a secret.

Traditionally, payasams are prepared with freshly harvested ingredients—from rice to fruits and vegetables like pumpkin, jackfruit and yam. Bengaluru-based home chef Rati Dhananjayan (, says most Kerala homes have a backyard where these vegetables are grown in abundance. In the monsoon and winter months, they are prepared with some extra ghee and jaggery because these ingredients are believed to have health benefits to stave off colds and infections.

Dhananjayan acquired two family recipes of payasams from her ancestral home in Kannur, Kerala, including an unsual pumpkin payasam, that she shares with Lounge.

Kadala Parippu Pradhaman


One and half cups chana dal/ Bengal gram (kadala parippu)

500 -550 gms jaggery

4 cups thin coconut milk

3 cups medium thick coconut milk

One and half cups thick coconut milk

Half – three-fourth cup coconut bits (thengakothu)

3 crushed cardamom

Half cup cashew nuts

3-5 tbsp ghee


1. Wash chana dal. Heat 2 tsp of ghee and roast the dal on low flame in a pressure cooker, till the nutty aroma is released. Usually it takes 4-5 minutes. Make sure you don’t brown it. Add 3 cups of water and pressure cook, till it's done.

2. Mash the cooked dal using a wooden spoon. If you prefer a chunky texture, don’t mash it too much. However if you like a smooth texture, mash it well.

3. Melt the jaggery by adding half cup of water. Strain the melted jaggery and add it to the mashed dal.

4. Cook the melted jaggery and mashed dal in a wide and deep non stick pan, on low flame. Cook till the mixture becomes thick and the melted jaggery is almost dried. Stir it frequently to prevent it sticking to the bottom. Add 2 tbsp ghee and mix well.

5. Gradually, add thin coconut milk to this and mix well. Bring it to a boil. Simmer it on low flame till the mixture reduces to almost half the quantity. Add medium thick coconut milk and stir well. When it boils, reduce the flame to the lowest and cook till the mixture thickens, 10-15 mins (it can take longer too).

6. Add thick coconut milk and stir well. Do not boil. Keep stirring and cooking on low flame for 5-7 mins. Add crushed cardamom powder.

7. In a small pan, heat the remaining ghee and brown the cashews. Place them on a paper towel. In the same pan, add more ghee, if required, add coconut bits and fry till they turn golden brown. Add this and the fried cashews to the payasam.

Note: The payasam tends to thicken a lot while it rests, so adjust the consistency accordingly.

Mathanga Payasam (Pumpkin payasam)


550 gms pumpkin (measured with skin, grated)

250-300 gms jaggery

Two and a half cups medium thick coconut milk

One and one-fourth – One and half cups thick coconut milk

Half cup coconut bits (Thengakothu)

10-12 cashew nuts

3 cardamom (crushed)

3 +2 tbsp ghee


1. Melt jaggery in half cup water. Strain and keep aside.

2. Heat ghee (3 tbsp) in a wide and deep pan. Add grated pumpkin. Cook on lowest flame for 12-15 mins till it becomes tender.

3. Add melted jaggery to cooked pumpkin. Mix well. Continue to cook on low flame till the mixture is almost dry and starts leaving the side of the pan. It will take around 10-12 mins.

4. Add medium thick coconut milk and bring to boil. Simmer and cook till it's reduced in quantity and becomes thick in consistency.

5. Add thick coconut milk and mix well. Continue to cook on low flame for another 7-8 mins. Add crushed cardamom and remove from fire.

6. Heat ghee (2 tbsp) in a small frying pan and add the coconut bits and cashew separately and fry till they become golden.

7. Garnish the payasam with fried coconut bits and cashew nuts.

Note: If the pumpkin is sweet, adjust the quantity of jaggery accordingly.

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