The story started with the Pandavas. After losing to the Pandavas at the game of dice the Pandavas reached the Kingdom of Virat. Bhima was disguised as cook Vallabha in the King’s kitchen. Bhima transformed himself into a gentle giant and even played the role of a head cook in the kitchen. It is said that when there were no sufficient vegetables to cook any single recipe for a side dish, he put all the vegetables available in the kitchen, julienned them and threw them into a large iron vessel, and cooked them with enough water. When he realised that the vegetables have been cooked to perfection, he quickly added some grated coconut along with some other ingredients he could lay his hands on and nicely stirred it with a large iron ladle. And he named it Avial.
King Virat loved this innovative dish. He immediately offered gold to Vallabha as a gift. Then of course Avial travelled far and wide and reached its current form. Though originally a dish that was discovered in North India, when it reached down South it had changed flavours and ingredients.
So what about the story of the modern Avial?
During the reign of King Swathi Thirunal the Padmanabha Swamy Temple used to have regular Mura Japas. This ritual which used to be stretched over days were attended by pandits from all over the country. Rice was being cooked in large cauldrons. But towards the last few days, vegetables ran out of stock and there wasn’t time to buy more. But the chief cook quickly made a dish by throwing the leftover veggies and coconut paste and finished it with a large helping of coconut oil. This new dish was appreciated by the King and the guests. That’s the modern story of Avial.
Traditionally a medley of what is popularly known as the locally produced vegetables are used in an Avial—plantain, elephant yam, string beans, snake gourd, Malabar Cucumber, drumstick, beans, sambhar chilly, and carrot. Though curd is used for tartness, some people use tamarind or raw mango. In South Kerala, garlic is added while grinding the coconut, some add onions or small onions along with the coconut. Before we go to the recipe take a note of these instructions.
Here are some of the things to be considered while making an Avial
• All the vegetables should be of equal size. It not only makes it appealing but also aids uniform cooking.
• If using vegetables with different textures, first cook the vegetables like yam, carrots, etc which take a longer time to cook. Then only you have to add the soft vegetables like ash gourd, mangoes, etc.
• We can't imagine a vegetable Avial without drumsticks, so do put one or two.
•The coconut should not be a past, it should be crushed without adding water.
Also, there are different variations to the avial apart from the mixed vegetable one. Cheera Avial (where spinach is the main vegetable along with a few other veggies), Egg Avial (hard-boiled eggs headline this dish along with a few other veggies), Kovakkai Avial (Kovakkai is the main vegetable) and Vendakkai Avial. Did you know that Avial is also very popular in TamilNadu? In fact, it is widely believed that this was adopted from Tamil Nadu, and we gave it a spin. Tamilians usually team it up with ada dosa. In fact, the Bengali Sukto (they avoid coconut and uses poppy seeds for thickening and also add sweet potato, Bengali five-spice powder mix, yellow mustard seeds) and Gujarathi Undhiyu (made of seasonal vegetables and fenugreek dumplings) are also other variants of Avial, though the taste differs,
Yam, carrot, plantain, cowpeas beans, snake gourd, Malabar cucumber, drumstick, sambhar chilly (1 cup, julienned)
Turmeric powder—1/2 tsp
Chilli powder-1 tsp
Green chili- 5
Take a thick bottomed Kadai, pour a tsp of oil and sauté the yam pieces. This helps in softening the yam and adds to the taste
Once it’s nicely done, add all the vegetables except drumstick and raw mango
Add the dry powders, pour some water, and allow it to cook
Once its partially cooked, add the drumstick and raw mango pieces
Put the grated coconut, jeera, and chilli in a blender and give it a quick spin. It only needs to be coarsely ground
Add this to the cooked vegetable and let it simmer for 5 minutes
Lastly, season with a generous dose of coconut oil and curry leaves.
This recipe was provided by Meera Sivadas, Mannoongal House, Perumbilavu Road, Guruvayoor.