Avial is a traditional and typical dish from the cuisine of Kerala. It’s a wonderful dish that signifies the natural, rich and authentic culture of Kerala. This dish is made with a mix of a variety of vegetables that is steam cooked with some fresh coconut, green chillies and cumin seeds paste and seasoned with coconut oil, hing and curry leaves.
Avial is said to be a unique dish that is generally prepared during any occasion, marriage or feast and is part of the main course in the Sadya (feast) in the state of Kerala. Avial is also popularly prepared in Tamil Nadu. It is an exotic vegetarian dish, full of flavours, aromatic, simple and fast to cook. Every region in south India has their own way of preparing the Avial.
Avial means assorted or a mix. This dish is a mixture of several vegetables that are available locally. Some of the vegetables that are a must in the Avial are drumsticks, plantains, yam, ash gourd, carrots, beans, brinjal, avarakai. You can also add cucumber, ridge gourd, bottle gourd, potatoes etc. Few people also prefer to add raw mango or tamarind pulp instead of curd to give that tangy taste to the dish. The mixed vegetables are all evenly cut in shape and steamed cooked together, spiced with some fresh coconut, green chillies and cumin seeds and cooked with curd to make it delicious, tangy, mildly spiced semi-solid gravy that tastes extremely well with hot cooked rice.
There are two versions on the history of this delicious vegetable Avial. The mythology says this dish is invented by Bhima (one among the Pandavas and a character in Mahabharata) during the Ajnjathavasa. At that time he was hiding his identity as a cook at Virata’s Palace. It is supposed to have been invented by Bhima (one of the Pandava brothers) during their exile. According to the legend, when Ballav (Bhima’s name during this time) assumed his duties as the cook in the kitchen of Virata, did not know how to cook. One of the first things he did was to chop up many different vegetables, boil them together and top the dish with grated coconut.
The other version is that, avail being a special dish of Kerala and invariably cooked for all feasts, marriage functions, birthdays etc. The legends state that – During the marriage of the Maharaja’s daughter, there was a grand feast. After the feast, lots of vegetables were left over and the Maharaja who saw the left over vegetables asked his chief cook whether he can prepare any curry with it. The cook then used all the left over vegetables and prepared a new curry called the Avial.
The cuisine of Kerala is characterised by the use of ingredients extensively grown on its fertile lands, the coast and backwaters around with the swaying coconut trees, some that droop low over the waters or those that grow high into the monsoon clouds. The coconut is a common denominator in most Kerala dishes and the nut gets into the food in many forms, be it grated or as coconut milk. The unique flavour that emanates from the spread on the plantain leaf is that of the cooking medium. It is the coconut oil. Every Kerala kitchen worth its salt uses coconut oil in its delicacies.
Another plant that is extensively grown and part of Kerala meal is the banana or plantain. The special banana variety known as Nendrapazham is unique to this region where from raw to ripe slices goes into the Avial or made into delicious banana chips. The food prepared in Kerala are generally mild through the region, known for its spices grown on the Western Ghats, but the presence of spices is not overbearing in most of the Kerala food because of the liberal use of coconut which mellows the pungency.
A typical meal for vegetarians in this region includes parboiled rice, a couple of fresh coconut curries made of either banana, beans, cabbage, avial, olan, kalan, pulissery and chips like jackfruit, tapioca, plantain all deep fried in coconut oil. Sambar and rasam other indispensable dishes served in the main course. Bananas and coconut are available year round and is a staple of the Kerala diet.
Avial is an outstanding and significant dish which must be prepared during the Onam. Onam is an important festival of Kerala and people believed that it was the time when King Mahabali had blessed us and returned to his abode with a solemn promise to come back next year. A pompous and joyful festival celebrated with all the heavenly and divine tastes of all Kerala delicacies. Few of the most traditional dishes prepared during this festival are the Sambhar, Avial, Thoran, Vendakaya Khichdi (Bhindi or Okra fried and put in a yogurt and coconut gravy) and not to forget the payasam. Avial is a dish full of nutrients (proteins, carbs, fat and energy etc) received from assorted vegetables with a zing in taste to the palate. Not a very spicy dish but very healthy and nutritious to all.
For preparing this nutritious and healthy dish, firstly wash and cut all the vegetable evenly as u like or shape. Break coconut and remove the coconut meat and add into the blender along with some green chillies and cumin seeds. Blend this into a coarse paste and keep aside.
Now in a pan, add all the chopped vegetables and add some water, salt and close it with the lid and cook till the vegetables are 90% done. Once done, open the lid and add half of the coconut oil and cook.
Add the coconut paste and cook for 3 to 4 minutes and then switch off the heat and add curd and mix well. Be careful that you do not stir the vegetable more as they may get mashed.
Now for tempering, add some coconut oil in a pan and when it gets hot, add mustard seeds. Once they crackle, add little hing, curry leaves and add this over the avial.
The fragrance and aroma of the tempering done in coconut oil is truly divine and mouth-watering. The coconut oil actually gives that authentic and taste to this dish making this dish really Keralite.
Do try this amazing recipe and that remember it should be done with coconut oil. Check out the making of the recipe, you’ll surely be tempted for making this dish. Go ahead and view the video by clicking the link below:
Avial is prepared in different ways in South Kerala compared to North Kerala. In South Kerala, garlic is added to the coconut while grinding. And sometimes instead of curd, tamarind or raw mango pieces are used. In some places of Thrissur, the consistency of Avial is very watery instead of the usual dry version. The vegetables are cooked till soft; the coconut is grounded to a smooth paste with liberal quantities of water and buttermilk added. As a final touch, a couple of smashed pearl onions added into the curry, giving it a delicious flavor.
In the traditional style of preparing the avial, all vegetables are added, except some mushy vegetables, like, tomato, brinjal, ladies fingers, cabbage, cauliflower, beetroot (it stains the dish), radish, turnip, onion, sweet potato, etc. This is because most of the Brahmins do not add onion in Avial hence even the foreign vegetables which was brought to Kerala through traders, tourists or invaders. And at one point of time, were considered to be impure.