Growing up in a Tamilian household, I always thought that the delicious avial originated from Tamil Nadu. It came as something of a surprise that the concoction of steamed vegetables in a creamy gravy of curds and coconut is also native to Kerala and Udupi cuisine. Avial is a meal in itself, when teamed with steaming hot rice and its status as comfort food is right up there with dal rice and khichdi for me. It’s also a great way to eat unglamorous vegetables like white pumpkin and snake gourd along with drum sticks, carrots, fava beans, elephant yam and plantain.
There are several interesting myths associated with the origin of the avial but most of them relate to Bhima, the strongest of the Pandava brothers. One story goes that during their twelve year exile, Bhima was forced to be a cook for Virata. Since he wasn’t very well versed in the culinary arts, he chopped up all the vegetables he could find, boiled them together and garnished the dish with grated coconut. Incidentally, “avial” signifies the method of cooking, which involves boiling the vegetables or quite literally, “cooking them in water”.
Yet another fable relates to the assassination attempt on Bhima by their foes, the Kauravas. Apparently, Bhima was poisoned and then thrown into the water. The Kauravas went back and told everyone that they’d seen him drowning and a funeral feast was planned. However, Bhima returned, having been saved by the Nagas. Thus, the feast could no longer happen. Disappointed with this development, Bhima mixed all the vegetables that had been prepared for the feast and created a new dish called the avial.
Another popular legend is connected to the kingdom of Thiruvithankor in Kerala. Once, the king organised a huge festival and everyone was invited. However, the stock of food could not keep up with the number of guests. To find a solution, the king went to the kitchen, and saw that there was a lot of wastage when vegetables were peeled. To save the day, he asked the cook to prepare a dish with this with a few other additions. This gave rise to the avial.
So, the next time you have a bowl of steaming hot avial and rice, remember that you may have Bhima to thank for the delicious invention.
Kerala Style Avial by Preetha:
Ingredients for the dressing:
To be ground into a thick coarse paste with very little water:
½ a Coconut
3 to 4 Green Chillies
1 teaspoon Cumin seeds
Vegetables: 3 cups, all vegetables cut into 2-inch length- not mixed
Suran, Arbi, Raw banana, Papdi, Drumstick,
Carrot, Gawar (cluster beans), Madras cucumber,
1/3 cup Thick Sour curds
1 tablespoon Coconut oil
Method of preparation
In a broad pan, add all the veggies which take longer to cook. Add some water and salt. Cover and cook till ¾ done. Add rest of the veggies. Cover and cook for few minutes.
Add ground paste, salt as required and some water. Cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes.Check for salt, add sour curds and mix well. Switch off the flame. Pour coconut oil and add curry leaves. Cover and keep till serving. Mix and serve.