Avial is a popular and well loved dish from the southern regions of India, subtly seasoned with coconut, coconut oil and curry leaves. It is perhaps one of the lightest Indian dishes, where the flavors of the myriad vegetables shine through without getting overpowered by spices.
I will NOT claim this to be the authentic Avial recipe. I fell in love with this quite recently. All the Avials I have had before had not made any significant impressions on me. Most probably because I did not quite like the texutre of yogurt in them – the way the sour and the flavors of the dairy takes over the dish, even if used in little amounts.
But when this dear friend got the “Kerala Avial” for me, cooked with all the vegetables from his yard, I was struck by the beauty of it.
Simple, soothing and nourishing. The very first thing I noticed was that it had no yogurt and it reminded me of our Bengali style mixed vegetables, quite plain, devoid of too many spices. Each vegetable melded into each other, but still had a bite. It is harmony with individulality retained.
I suppose many states in southern India has their own recipe for Avial. Maybe every home has a different one. The basics however remain the same. A variety of vegetables are cooked until tender and then the dish is flavored with coconut and coconut oil. Some souring agent is used, and that is where the yogurt comes in for many recipes.
However a lot of families in Kerala make it without the yogurt like the one I love. Instead green mangoes or tamarind is used for that perfect balance of taste without the texture and taste of dairy. My favorite way to have it is with the mangoes. It lends a wonderful dash of flavor.
Avial in Kerala is the part of Sadhya, the vegetarian feast served on certain occasions. It is a large spread of an array of food plated on banana leaves.
There are different stories told about the origin of this dish: some dating back to the old Indian epics. The simplest story as told by my friend begins in a wedding feast when a man notices all these leftover odd ends of the vegetables after the feast was cooked. Instead of throwing them away, he decided to cook them all together. Then someone else came along and when he saw what was cooking, he threw in some coconut oil and curry leaves – the basic ingredients in Kerala to flavor a dish. And Avial happened.
Avial happened in our home when I found these vegetables in my friend’s yard (yes the same friend who sparked my love from Avial). They are away from home and I am watching over their yard and getting all the vegetables home. Then there were some from my yard. Until now every time I have made Avial it has been with homegrown vegetables. Almost all of it. Except the carrots and the onions shown in the photograph above. That was this time.
It is a pretty flexible recipe. Use any vegetables you want. Just make sure they are all sliced evenly for even cooking.
Avial: Mixed Vegetables with Coconut
Ingredients: (serves: 6-8 )
- 5-6 cups assorted vegetables (try to use each vegetable at approximately same ratio. I have used eggplants, potatoes, green beans, carrots, squash/ripe cucumber, plaintain, okra and ivy gourd), sliced in about same size, about 2 inch length
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup raw green mango, sliced in similar strips as the other veggies
- 4-6 drumsticks
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced onions (optional)
- 1 cup coconut (adjust amount to taste)
- 2-4 green chilli pepper (adjust amount to taste)
- 3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder, divided
- 2 tablespoon pure coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- few sprigs of curry leaves
Note: tamarind or yogurt maybe used as the souring agent instead of green raw mangoes. I have never made it with yogurt because we just do not like the yogurt in it. The raw mangoes add a lovely flavor. I have used a little bit of lemon juice to balance the taste when I had no other souring agent. Not traditional at all, but it works for us.
I have used very little okra here as I had a few from the yard. I would recommend not using it, unless you want to get the dish slimy.
Grind the cumin seeds to a coarse powder.
Combine all vegetables (except mango) in a pot with a fitting lid. Add a few curry leaves, part of the turmeric, cumin powder; toss, cover and cook at low to medium heat. The vegetables steam in their own liquid. Check from time to time to see that they are cooked through, but not mushed. All vegetables should still hold their shape.
Now coarsely grind coconut, green chili, curry leaves and the rest of the turmeric (no water should be added). Add the green mangoes if you are using, the coconut paste and salt to the pot and cook for about 5-10 minutes, partially covered on low flame. The vegetables release a lot of water. The final dish should be sort of on the dry side, not soupy but moist. Allow some water to be there when it is done. It will absorb some of the liquid as it sits.
In a small pan heat the coconut oil. Add some fresh curry leaves to the hot oil and switch off the heat. Finish off thd dish with the coconut oil. This is what adds the final flavor. It is subtle and pleasing. Garnish with more curry leaves if you wish. Allow it to sit for a while before serving, half an hour at least. Keep it covered until ready to be served. Toss gently before serving.
(If you are using lemon juice for souring, add it at the end.)
It is usually served as a side/accompaniment with rice.
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 25-30 minutes
Serves: 5-8 as a side
Difficulty Level: Easy
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