Kerala Avial – A Vegetarin’s Delight

Avial
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How do I describe Avial? A mix of vegetables in a  tangy coconut sauce ?  This  could  describe a  number of  things.  This is a  dish popular in  Kerala and neighboring  regions.   Different variations  of this  recipe  exist in other parts of  south India  – those  I would  refer  to as “vegetables with in mildly tangy coconut sauce”.

A perfect Kerala Avial is “a  thing of  beauty”.  The  vegetables  are  cooked just enough to hold its shape while still managing  to flavor  each  other. These are  lightly coated  with fresh ground  coconut  mix.  There is a  bare minimum of  spices  used – cumin, green chilies , curry leaves  and turmeric, but  that is all it  takes. It is  not a  dish overwhelmed  by the  coconut or  spices,  the  star  here is  the  vegetable mix.

There is no tadka  or  tempering , just a dash of  extra virgin coconut oil  at the  end.

When raw  mango is  available, that  is  used as  the  sour  agent , other times  it is sour  curd or tamarind.   Whichever you prefer  use only a  little, just  enough to round off the  flavors.  Of all these  the raw  mango is  the  wild  card.  It could  turn   more  tangy  as  it  cooks, or  more  sweet  if  it  were  close  to  ripening.  Raw mango  goes  in  with the  vegetables,  so once you add it  there is  no turning back. But   Avial made  with  raw  mango is one  of  the best.  Sour  curd  and  tamarind  are,  let me  say,  more “cook friendly”. You can add as much or  as  less as  needed  along  with the coconut.

Search the  web  and  you will  find  stories  of  origin  of  this  dish.  Many attributing  to  avial  mythological connections.  Bhima  from Mahabharatha is   reputed to be  the  creator of this  dish.  Whenever  the  kings and  princes  of  these  great  stories  are  banished  from  their kingdom, they seem to  end  up in the  South.  Wonder  why !!

But  that is  not  the  story that I have  read, and  was  told  in my childhood.  This  dish  was  the  brainchild  of  a  cook or  his  master  who loathed waste.  So the  vegetable scraps  leftover  from the  meal prep were  thrown into a pot  with a few seasonings  and that is  how  this  delicious  concoction came to be.

This  is  a  story that  seems  entirely plausible. There is  a  little of  all popular  Kerala  vegetables  that  go into  this dish, so much so that  enterprising  vendors  used  to  sell  the  mix of  leftover  vegetables  as “Avial Pieces”  decades back.  There is padavalnga (snake gourd), carrots, plantains or  green  bananas, beans like long beans or cluster beans, ash gourd, kovakka (ivy gourd),  and  list  goes  on.  Some  even add  add  not  so  popular vegetables like bitter gourd as well.

Whatever  the  origins  are,  Avial is an important part of  Kerala  feasts,  whether it is OnaSadya or  celebratory feast like  birthdays or  weddings.  The way Malayali’s  make it

Avial Steps

If you are  lucky to have the  traditional  Kerala vegetables  use  them, otherwise  use  the mix  you have . Leafy vegatables, okra, and pretty much anything  that  turns slimy or into as  mush as  soon as cooked  are not  used.   Cut  the  vegetables into pieces  about 11/2 to 2 ” long (some  prefer it longer)  and  about 1/2 cm tick .  If  you have  vegetables  with varying  cooking  times , either start  those  early or  layer  them  at  the  bottom of the pan.

So let’s get on  with  recipe, eh !

Kerala Avial

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Kerala Avial

Ingredients

Vegetables - See Notes
Raw banana - 1 Small
Carrots - 1
Vellari - 1 Piece
Elepant Yam - 1 piece
Long beans - A few
Jackfriuit Seeds - 5 to 6
Brinjal - 1 small
Padavalanga (Snake Gourd) - 4" piece
Kovakka (Ivy gourd) - 5 to 6
Drumstick - 2 to 3
Pearl Onions - 4 to 5 (optional)
Sour Agents
Raw Mango strips - 1/2 C or
Tamarind - Marble sized ball
or Sour Curd - 1/2 C
To Grind
Cumin Seeds - 1/2 Tsp
Grated Coconut - 1 C (lightly packed)
Flavorings
Green Chilies - 2 to 3 (To Taste)
Turmeric - 1/2 Tsp
Salt - 1/2 tsp (To Taste)
Curry Leaves - A few
Coconut oil - 1 to 2 Tbsp
Water - 1/2 C

Instructions

If using tamarind as sour agent soak it in 1/4 C warm water.

Cut the drumstick into 3 " long pieces. Cut the remaining vegetables into 1/2 cm thick strips of around 2 inches in length.

In a pot add the veggies one by one in layers, starting with the ones that need more time to cook first (See Notes). Add the chilies and a couple of curry leaves. Sprinkle salt and turmeric on top and slowly drizzle the water over. Place the lid on and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooking grind the coconut and cumin seeds into a coarse paste without adding water.

Open the lid and check the vegetables. If he vegetables aren't cooked through, cook for a few minutes. Add the coconut paste replace the lid and cook on low heat for another 5 minutes. If using pearl onions, crush and add along with the coconut paste.

Remove the lid and add enough tamarind water or curd for sourness and slowly turn the vegetables over so that the spices coat eat piece. .

Taste and adjust salt as needed.

Turn off the heat an drizzle the coconut oil on top. Place a few curry leaves on top and cover with the lid. Let the Avial rest at least 30 minutes to give the flavors a chance to mature.

Notes

  • I have given a list of traditional vegetables, when not available use vegetable like - beans, carrots, potatoes, and cucumbers in equal quantity.
  • If using mango as the sour agent, add it as the top layer along with the vegetables, so it can be removed easily if it turns too tart while cooking.
  • Onions, if using, are not added with the vegetables. Add them along with the coconut paste.
  • If there are vegetables very different cook times , pre cook the ones with longer cook times before adding the rest.

https://oventales.com/kerala-avial/

 

Is  there  any wonder I called  this a vegetarian’s  delight ?   There are over 10 different vegetables in a traditional  recipe.  If you are not in Kerala, chances are  all these  vegetables aren’t in your  kitchen.    Use  the  one  you have , I have  made  Avial  with  only carrots, beans, cucumber  and  potatoes.  Though  the  aficionados  may thump their  noses at  this –  a  handful of  vegetables is  better  than  nothing  :-).

The  traditional vessel for  cooking  Avial is a Manchatti or  Kalchatti –  an unglazed earthernware  or  stoneware pot. These  hold  heat more  than the  metal pans  and dish tends  to cook  a  little  more  as  it  rests.  If  you own one of  these use it  to make  Avial.

Avial

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