Posted on June 25, 2014 by Viji
No feast is a feast without “Avial”, I guess, for any vegetarian from Kerala. Prepared with vegetables mostly native to the region, avial, with its simple, subtle flavor remains as a signature dish from this beautiful southern state, also known as the spice capital of India. With its strong tradition of Ayurveda practice, Kerala cooking is so healthy, colorful and light compared to the rest of India. For those who are not familiar with the dish, it is more like a “Vegetarian Thai Green Curry” using less ingredients to make the paste. Another way of looking at this dish is like a salad made of cooked vegetables, seasoned with coconut paste, curry leaves and coconut oil.
Contrary to general assumption, it is very easy to prepare. Cutting vegetables is the only thing that takes time. Once that is done, it is quite simple. Like most of the dishes from Kerala, cook the vegetables in water, add a simple yet tasty coconut paste, finish it with the addition of aromatic fresh curry leaves and a spoon of pure coconut oil.
Avial is made in two different forms, dry or with gravy. Dry, of a thicker consistency is generally prepared as one of the side dishes, to have it with rice and a main dish, especially during a feast. On a regular day, it is prepared with enough gravy to have it with rice, as the main dish itself. The amount of water used while cooking the vegetables and making the coconut paste determines whether the avial is going to be dry or with gravy. Either way, people in Kerala always have it with rice, the local red rice to be precise whereas outside Kerala it is more famous as the combination “Adai/Avial”, adai being a sort of crepe, made from a spicy batter of rice and lentils.
Vegetables commonly used in avial are yam, plantain, ash gourd, pumpkin, carrots, beans, brinjal, cucumber, drum sticks and snake gourd, with carrots and beans being recent introduction. A small piece or a few of each (depending on the vegetable) would yield about 4-5 cups of cut vegetables required for making this dish.
Please use the quantities mentioned below as a rough measure to get about 4-5 cups.
- 250 gms each of elephant foot yam, ash gourd, pumpkin, yellow cucumber, snake gourd
- 2 drumsticks (the vegetable)
- 2 brinjals (small eggplants)
- 2 raw plantains
- 2 carrots
- 8-10 string beans
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- Salt to taste
- 2-3 sprigs of curry leaves (washed)
- 1 Tbsp pure coconut oil
- 1 1/2 – 2 cups of fresh grated coconut
- 6-8 green chilies (adjust to spice level)
- Tamarind (half the size of a lemon)
- 1 Tbsp cumin seed
Peel the yam, cucumber, pumpkin, ash gourd. Wash all the vegetables. Cut beans and drumsticks into 3 inches long pieces and all the other vegetables into pieces, about 3 inches long with a thickness like french fries. Cook them covered in just 1 cup of water with turmeric powder and salt, until the vegetables are soft yet firm, for about 15 minutes. If the yam and drumsticks are cooked, all the other vegetables would have been done too. If there is any water remaining, uncover and continue to cook until most of the water has evaporated.
While the vegetables are getting cooked, grate the coconut. Grind it with cumin seeds, tamarind and green chilies to a coarse paste, without adding any water.
Once the vegetables are done and the amount of water feels right, spread the coconut paste all over the vegetables and gently mix them together preferably with a wooden spatula. Stir to a minimum and gently to keep the shape of the cut vegetables intact and to avoid a mushy dish. Cook in medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add fresh curry leaves and coconut oil and mix gently. Switch off the heat. Serve hot.
Now, if you are a fan of “Adai/Avial” go ahead and enjoy!
Or as in Kerala, relish it with hot red rice mixed with a spoon of ghee and a pitch of salt…
Note: Like any dish prepared with fresh coconut, this dish would get spoilt if kept at room temperature for more than 6-8 hours (especially in warm weather). So if you are planning to use it much later after preparing, refrigerate it once it cools down; reheat before serving.