I am a huge fan of the Onam Sadhya. Anybody who knows me well will tell you how much I love that elaborate meal with loads of flavorful dishes served in a traditional manner, eaten with hands. I wait all year for it. Onam Sadhya is also where I first tasted avial. I have a very hard time remembering names, the restaurant where I eat my Sadhya is kind enough to help me second and third and fourth and fifth helpings of the dish I point to without me having to recite its name, thankfully. But avial, I remember. How do you forget avial? Not possible, really.
For the uninitiated, avial is a dish that comes from God’s Own Country – Kerala. The term ‘Aviyal’ denotes ‘boiled’ or ‘cooked in water’. It is also a popular dish in the South Canara region of Karnataka and in Tamil Nadu. It is also consumed in parts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Central Travancore also has its own version of Avial which features a much thinner gravy, while original Avial is quite thick in consistency. Avial is a mixture of commonly found vegetables found in the region and coconut, cooked with curd, coconut oil and curry leaves. The vegetables generally used to make avial are –
- Elephant yam
- Raw plantain
- Ash gourd
- Green beans
- Egg plants
- Drum stick pods
- Snake gourd
- Broad beans
You can add some, you can skip some. In north Kerala, people sometimes add bitter gourd in their aviyals, while around the Kollam region, people are known to add tomatoes to their aviyals. Some people replace curd in their aviyals with raw mango or tamarind pulp, so that works too. I’ll give a recipe to make aviyal later in the blog, so keep reading.
The legend of aviyal’s invention
After losing their kingdom and themselves to the Kauravas in the game of Chausar, the Pandavas were sent to live 12 years in exile and 1 year in incognito. During their year in incognito, the Pandavas too refuge in the kingdom of King Virata. The Pandavas and Draupadi found various roles in the palace and have their own identities there so they can remain incognito. Yudhishthira assumes the identity of game entertainer to the King of Virata and calls himself Kanaka. Bhima assumes the identity of a cook in the royal kitchen and takes on the name Ballava. Arjun chooses to live out the curse given to him by the Apsara Urvashi of being a eunuch, and assumes the identity of Brihanala – a dance and music teacher, dressed as a woman. Nakula tends to the horses in the palace and takes on the identity of Granthika. Sahdev takes the identity of a cowherd and is called Tantipala. Draupadi assumes the identity of Malini and is the servant maid (sairandhri) of the Queen Sudehsana.
Now, unfortunately, cooking wasn’t exactly Bhima’s specialty. When tasked with cooking for the royal court, he did what he thought was best to do – he chopped up all the vegetables he could find, boiled them, and then added grated coconut to it. Thankfully, the dish turned out to be quite a hit – and hence was born, our dear Aviyal.
So, did Bhima really invent Aviyal?
Now this is quite a legend and must be taken with a pinch or maybe a little more of salt. Records of the Pandava’s exile have been plotted geographically, and it is found that they mostly criss-crossed through parts of North India during their exile, while Aviyal is a definitely a dish from Kerala. You wouldn’t find Aviyal in most North Indian kitchens, unless it is specifically being prepared for some Aviyal lover who tasted it somewhere. There are no historic facts that have been found to back up this claim and legend around Aviyal.
However, I found a slightly crazy but very believable theory online on a blog – Food Detective’s Diary. Here is the theory:
“Aviyal is primarily a Nair delicacy. A popular saying says, Aviyal is no Aviyal if a Nair did not make it. Nairs are a warrior class of Kerala also known for their exceptional culinary skills, a discovery based on folklore and oral traditions. The 17th century Brahmin-inspired manuscripts Keralopathi (Origin of Kerala) and the Grama Padhati of Tulu Brahmins describe the Nairs of Kerala and the similarly matrilineal Bunts of Tulu Nadu as descendants of Kshatriyas who accompanied the Brahmins to Kerala and Tulu Nadu respectively from Ahichatra and Ahikshetra in Northern Panchala, which is where the current-day Uttar Pradesh is. So, it is possible that the legend of Aviyal and Bheema is true and the Nairs actually came from North India with the secret, but not-so-secret recipe, and then it became popular in South India.
It is also possible that the descendants of the Virata Kingdom (originally founded by fishermen) migrated to the Southern Coastal regions and carried the prized Aviyal recipe with them.”
Either ways, we do not have historical evidences that back either the origin of Aviyal in the royal kitchens of Virata or its passage to Southern India. But yes, it is a popular belief that the Nairs make the meanest Aviyal. My closest friend is a Nair, unfortunately, he’s never made an Aviyal for me, though I hope that would change some day. A girl can only hope!
Whether I get an Aviyal or not, let me share a recipe you can use to make the Aviyal. This recipe serves 4 and uses curd, but people do replace it with raw mango or tamarind. There are no strict rules here, go with what you prefer. This recipe is inspired from Veg Recipes of India.
1 cup chopped ash gourd
1 cup chopped pumpkin
1 cup chopped drumsticks
1 cup chopped elephant foot or yam
1 cup chopped Mangalore Cucumber
1 cup chopped raw plantain
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped French beans
For Coconut Paste
1 cup fresh grated coconut
2 to 3 green chilies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/3 to 1/2 cup of water for grinding
1 cup water for cooking the vegetables
1 cup beaten curd
12 to 15 curry leaves
1 to 2 tbsp coconut oil
- Rinse and drain all the vegetables
- Peel and chop the vegetables to form medium-to-long thick sticks or batons. Set aside
- Store chopped unripe bananas in water so they don’t blacken
- In a grinder, take 1 cup grated coconut, 1 tsp cumin seeds and 2-3 chopped green chilies
- Add 1/3 to 1/2 cup water and grind to a coarse paste. Keep it aside
Cooking the vegetables:
- Take the vegetables which would take longer to cook in a pan or pot. Here, we take carrots, drumsticks, and French beans first
- Sprinkle 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and salt to taste
- Add 1 cup water and stir well
- Cover the pan and keep it on a stove on medium-low to medium flame
- Simmer till the vegetables are half cooked
- Then add the remaining vegetables which cook quicker. Here, we add bananas, Mangalore cucumber, ash gourd, and pumpkin
- Mix it with the half-cooked vegetables
- Cover and continue to cook on the medium flame
- Keep checking from time-to-time to ensure the water doesn’t dry up, add more water, if required
- Simmer till the vegetables are almost cooked
Cooking the Aviyal
- Add the ground coconut paste, mix gently
- Let the mixture simmer for 5 to 7 minutes or till the vegetables are completely cooked, the vegetables need to hold their shape, so don’t overcook
- Once the vegetables are cooked, reduce the flame to a low
- Add in the whisked, beaten curd
- Stir and simmer for a minute
- Turn off the flame and add 1-2 tbsp of coconut oil
- Add 12 to 15 curry leaves and mix well
- Cover and let the flavors infuse for 5-7 minutes
- Serve hot with rice, sambar, and some crispy papadums
What are you memories with Aviyal? Do you believe Bhima could actually have invented the Aviyal? Where did you eat your first Aviyal? Tell me about it in the comments or find me on Instagram – @banjaranfoodie