Today’s recipe is that for Avial, a heritage South Indian dish. For the uninitiated, it includes a multitude of vegetables, cooked in a coconut gravy. It is actually a simple thing, but the coconut that goes into it and the cumin and green chillies it is flavoured with make it mind-blowingly delicious. In our family, the Avial is also drizzled with a coconut oil-mustard seeds tempering, which is the ‘cherry on top of the cake’!
History of the Avial
Did you know that Avial might have date back to the times of the Mahabharata?
Some legends believe that the popular South Indian dish Avial was invented by Bheema, one of the five Pandavas. When the Pandavas were in hiding from the Kauravas, they took refuge for a while at the palace of King Virata, in disguise. Bheema worked as a cook in the palace kitchens, by the name of Ballava. One day, when he was asked to cook something delicious, he had only some odds and ends of various vegetables to work with – and he came up with the Avial.
There are a few different stories about the origin of the Avial, with another popular legend crediting the Maharaja of Travancore with the discovery of the dish. Today, there are several variations of the Avial that exist, with the Tamilnadu and Kerala styles being the most well known.
Whoever invented this deliciousness, though, I’m sure glad they did!
Our family recipe for Avial
Amma would always make Avial in the pressure cooker, as opposed to the way it is traditionally cooked in a pan, and I continue to follow in her footsteps. The pressure cooking saves a lot of time and effort, without compromising on the taste of the Avial.
We use a mix of country and ‘English’ vegetables to make Avial, again contrary to ancient, traditional recipes (Read notes for details). To be honest, I believe the mix of veggies works better in today’s times and makes for an even more delectable Avial.
I believe this is the Tamilnadu style of preparing Avial, wherein it is kept slightly runny, enabling one to mix it with rice. As far as I understand, the Kerala version is ‘drier’, has less of gravy to it.
How we make Avial
Here is how we go about making Avial.
Ingredients (serves 4-5):
- 3 cups mixed vegetables (I have used red pumpkin, raw banana, flat beans, French beans, carrot, green peas, potato and sweet potato)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- 1 drumstick
- Salt to taste
- 1/3 cup fresh grated coconut
- 3 green chillies
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 2 pinches of asafoetida
- 1/4 cup fresh thick curd
1. Prep all the veggies needed for the avial, first. Peel the pumpkin, potato, raw banana, sweet potato and carrot. Remove strings and seeds from the pumpkin. Cut all these veggies into large pieces, and transfer to a wide vessel. Add in the shelled green peas. Remove strings from the flat beans and French beans, and chop them into large pieces too. Add these to the vessel as well.
2. Add in 1/4 cup water to the vessel, from the sides. Add some salt, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder and the curry leaves to the vessel. Mix it all up roughly.
3. Take about 1 cup of water in a pressure cooker bottom. Place a stand inside, and keep the vessel on top of this. Close the pressure cooker and put whistle on. Pressure cook on high flame for 3 whistles. Let the pressure release naturally.
4. When the pressure in the cooker has completely gone down, open it and get the cooked veggies out. Reserve the water the veggies were cooked in, if any remains.
4. Chop the drumstick into 2-inch long pieces. Transfer them to a pan.
5. Add about 1/4 cup water to the pan, along with a little salt. Cook, covered, on medium flame till the drumsticks get tender. This can take 4-5 minutes. You will need to open the cover at intervals, check on the drumsticks, and add in a little more water if they have dried up. The drumsticks are done when they have slightly changed colour and you are able to easily pry one open. Switch off gas at this stage.
6. Keep the cooked drumsticks ready. Reserve the water they were cooked in, if any remains.
7. Take the fresh grated coconut in a small mixer jar. Add in the cumin seeds. Chop the green chillies roughly and add them in too.
8. Grind the coconut, chillies and cumin together to a coarse paste, adding a little water. Keep ready.
9. Add the cooked veggies in a large pan, along with the water they were cooked in. Place on high flame. Add in the coconut paste too.
10. Add the cooked drumsticks to the pan, too, along with any residual cooking water. Mix everything gently, but well, together.
11. Taste and adjust salt if needed. Also, if the mixture looks too dry, you may add in a little more water. Once the pan heats up, reduce flame to medium. Let the mixture cook on medium flame for about 2 minutes, then switch off gas.
12. Heat the coconut oil in a small pan. Add in the mustard and allow it to sputter. Add in the asafoetida. Switch off gas after a couple of seconds. Add this tempering to the veggies in the other pan. Mix well.
13. Let the veggie mixture cool down completely, and then add the curd to it.
14. Mix the curd gently, but well, with the vegetables. Your Avial is now ready to serve. Serve immediately, with hot steamed rice or as part of a complete South Indian meal.
Tips & Tricks
1. Drumsticks sometimes get overly cooked in the pressure cooker. To avoid this, we cook them separately.
2. Use only fresh, thick curd in the Avial. You can prepare the Avial in advance, but make sure you add in the curd just before serving, to ensure that the Avial does not turn too sour.
3. Make sure the Avial has completely cooled down, before mixing in the curd.
4. Adjust the quantities of coconut and green chillies you use, as per personal taste preferences.
5. Coconut oil is a must in the tempering for Avial. The tempering is done at the very end, to ensure that the fragrance of the coconut oil in the Avial stays intact.
6. In the olden days, Avial would be prepared using country vegetables only – sweet potatoes, ash gourd, drumsticks, flat beans and the like. ‘English’ veggies like French beans, carrot and peas were strictly avoided. I prefer Avial made using a mix of country and English vegetables – that’s what has always been done in my family, and think the Avial is all the more delicious that way. Raw banana (vazhakkai), green peas, potato, carrot, French beans, sweet potato (sakkarai vellikizhangu), red pumpkin (parangikkai), flat beans (avarekkai) and drumsticks (murungakkai) are some of my favourite vegetables to use in Avial. If you can get your hands on butternut squash, it goes beautifully in Avial.
7. Some people do not add turmeric to the Avial, to keep it white in colour. We do.
8. Avial can be prepared in a pan, too, as was done traditionally.
9. Do not overcook the vegetables. Add only 1/4 cup water to the veggies, as specified above, and pressure cook on high for 3 whistles only. Please note that cooking times might be different for different gas stoves and pressure cooker brands. I have used an 8-litre pressure cooker here.
10. You may add in a little water later, while putting the Avial together, if it looks too thick.
11. The vegetables for the Avial can be cooked directly in the pressure cooker, instead of using a vessel.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!