Aviyal is a spicy mixed vegetable preparation made with a spicy coconut paste, a souring agent and fresh coconut oil. This dish comes from the south Indian state of Kerala and no "sadya (traditional festive meal) is complete without it.
You will find aviyal, which is also very much a part of Palakkad Iyer cuisine and therefore a regular in my kitchen, featured on many food blogs featuring south Indian cuisine. My version has been sitting in my drafts for ages waiting to see the light of day. It took a request from a reader for me to remind me to post about it.
According to this source, aviyal was invented by Bheema (one of the five Pandava brothers) during their period of exile at the court of Virata. Bheema disguised himself as the palace cook, but was more proficient as a warrior than in the kitchen!
Since he didn't know much about cooking, he apparently chopped up a lot of different vegetables, cooked them and then added some coconut.
I personally have difficulty believing this version since aviyal is typical of Kerala which is a southern Indian state, whereas most of the Mahabharata seems to have unfolded towards the northern parts of India where aviyal is not a part of the cuisine.
A more believable source says that aviyal was first cooked in the royal kitchens of Travancore. Apparently, the head cook had to cook and serve a certain number of dishes. However, he discovered that he had run short of the necessary vegetables for a particular dish he had planned for. So in an inspired moment, he cut up small quantities of whatever vegetables he had on hand and cooked them up into an aviyal. This new vegetable creation became a favourite and the rest is history.
This version has the traditional/ "naadan" vegetables
I always thought aviyal was made the way it was made by my mother and grandmother, but over the years I have discovered there are variations apart from differences that arise from the vegetable combinations used.
This version has some "English" veggies too, like zucchini and potatoes!
Traditionally, a combination of different "naadan" (indigenous) vegetables like elephant yam (chenai), raw plantain (vazhaikkai), payar/ achingya (yard long beans, snake gourd (podavalangai), elavan/ kumbalanga (ash gourd/ winter melon), drumstick (murungakkai – a vegetable and not chicken!), jackfruit seeds (chakka kottai), etc are used. These are the vegetables are still used to make the authentic aviyal served at feasts.
This is an all "English" vegetable version except for the drumsticks
Many "English" vegetables (vegetables which not indigenous but common in our markets today) can also be used and are used these days, in homes (in mine definitely) to make aviyal. So you can make aviyal with green beans, carrot, potatoes, cabbage, green peas, etc. I have even used zucchini a couple of times in my aviyal!
In my home, the spicy coconut paste added to aviyal is made by grinding together freshly grated coconut, green chillies and cumin seeds. My husband's side of the family does not add cumin seeds while making aviyal.
In my side of the family, we use yogurt as the souring agent while making aviyal while my mother-in-law always used tamarind. Some people add raw mango pieces to the vegetables, instead of yogurt or tamarind.
Here I am posting the recipe I use while making aviyal. This version uses cumin seeds and yogurt. A mixture of about 4 to 5 different vegetables is optimum for a good aviyal, in my opinion.
Aviyal (Mixed Vegetables in a Thick Spicy Coconut Sauce)
3 cups (approx.) mixed vegetables, cut into 1 1/2" long pieces
1 cup slightly sour thick yogurt
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 a small coconut, grated
1 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 green chillies (or according to taste)
salt to taste
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 sprigs curry leaves
Grind the coconut, cumin seeds and green chillies into a fine paste. Keep aside. Whisk the yogurt till smooth and keep aside.
Cut the vegetables into pieces about 1 1/2 inches in length (like we cut potatoes for finger chips). Cook the vegetables with turmeric powder and half a cup water till soft but firm. I cook my vegetables in the microwave (without turmeric powder) at 100% for about 8 minutes.
Then I put the vegetables into a pan with 1/8th cup of water, curry leaves, salt and turmeric powder. When this comes to a boil, add the coconut paste and mix well. Turn down the heat and add the yogurt. Mix well.
When the mixture just starts to bubble, take off the heat. The aviyal will have very little liquid in it and the coconut paste-yogurt mixture should be thickly coating the vegetables. Pour the coconut oil and stir. Cover.
Serve hot with rice, sambhar, pappads and pickle. This recipe should serve about 4-5 people.