Avial – Mixed Vegetable Stew

Every single dish that’s prepared in our kitchen has a very interesting story behind it, but we never bother to ask or find out, let me tell you how Avial originated. This vegan dish is a delicacy from the southern part of India, it is made with an array of colorful veggies simmered in a coconut cumin sauce. Even though this is a humble peasant recipe it has a special place in all our festive meals.

Back in the old times, farmers harvest fresh produce every morning and sell them the same day. At the end of the day, what they are left with is a hodgepodge of vegetables. Since there was no refrigeration back then, they take these home to be cooked immediately so that it won’t go to waste. Their ingenious wives came up with this wonderful recipe to use up all these colorful veggies in one tasty dish and that is called Avial. It is made with simple ingredients found in the farm kitchen and this creamy goodness tastes mighty delicious. I call this the Indian version of the French Ratatouille. Interesting, right?

If you have noticed, For Ratatouille the vegetables are very thinly sliced in circles, In the same way for Avial the vegetables are cut into thin strips (julienne) The idea behind this is to highlight the color, texture and the presence of each vegetable in that particular dish. Recipes like this show how much the farmers cherish their produce.

South Indian Avial

This recipe serves 4

Ingredients

  • Carrot – 2 
  • Beans – small bunch
  • Potato – 2
  • Green plantain – 1
  • Chayote (chow chow) – 1
  • Peas – 1/4 cup
  • Turmeric powder – 1/4 teaspoon
  • Salt – 1 1/2 teaspoons

For the paste

  • Grated coconut – 1/2 cup
  • Cumin – 1 teaspoon
  • Green chili – 3

For the seasoning

  • Sesame oil – 1 tablespoon
  • Mustard seeds – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Curry leaves – few
  • *Onion Vadagam – 3 (optional)

*Vadagam is a unique sun dried cracker made with shallots (chinna vengayam),It is widely used in South Indian cuisine.

Finely chopped shallots and curry leaves are mixed with a paste made by Urad dal, red chili, cumin and garlic. This mix is scooped on to a clean cloth or trays in a rustic shape and sun dried for days. Once it’s dried it’s taken out of the cloth and stored in a air tight container to be used throughout the year. It is shallow fried in oil, you can eat them as crackers or add it to your dishes as garnish. It has a strong aroma and it’s considered a delicacy.

  • Cut, slice, wash and drain the veggies

  1. Add the veggies to a deep pan.
  2. Add turmeric, salt and 2 cups of water, just the right amount to submerge the veggies.
  3. Mix it well, cover it with a lid and let it come to a boil.
  4. Cook until the veggies are soft yet have a crunch.
  5. This doesn’t take long it cooks very quickly.
  6. If you see some water on the bottom of the pan do not drain it.
  7. Use a scoop and ladle 1/2 cup of this cooking water. We are going to use this to make the coconut paste.

To make the paste

  1. Add the coconut, cumin and green chili into a blender and grind it into a powdery mix,  then add the reserved cooking liquid (should be warm) and grind into a smooth paste,
  2. Add this paste to the cooked veggies and let it simmer in a low flame for couple of minutes.
  3. Once it thickens up to the consistency of a stew, Take it off the heat and set it aside.

Now we have to make the seasoning.

  1. Crush the vadagam into tiny pieces. Vadagam adds a wonderful flavor to the avial, but it’s totally optional.
  2. Heat oil in a pan add mustard seeds,
  3. once it pops add the curry leaves and vadagam,
  4. once it turns slightly golden brown pour it on top of the cooked veggies.

There you go the avial is ready!

Variations

There are many versions of this avial. My mom adds yogurt to this dish and also use coconut oil for the seasoning. My grandmother adds ground onion and garlic to the coconut paste. 

You can add any veggies of your choice that will withstand the cooking process, we also add Indian eggplant, drumstick and butter beans to this dish. Instead of chayote you can use sliced bottle gourd. 

This is my version of the humble avial which is unique, simple, easy to make and tastes delicious. We typically eat this as a side dish with rice and curry in my household.

Next time you sit down to eat, take a minute to find out where that particular dish originated from? why and how it’s made? Tell these stories to your kids, this makes them appreciate fresh veggies and it definitely makes their meal time very interesting. When it comes to a rustic dish like this there are no strict rules. Follow your heart and put your own spin on it, this is what makes your dish very unique and delicious.

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Published by Latha @ savvysouthindian.com

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