This Avarakkai Poduthuval/ Thoran or Green Hyacinth Beans is representative of cooking certain vegetables representative in our traditional Palakkad Iyer style. A poduthuval (Palakkad Iyer Tamil) or Thoran (Malayalam) is a dry vegetable side dish. The diced or sliced vegetable is stir-fried, South Indian style, and finished with a sprinkling of fresh coconut. Kerala style Thorans sometimes are made with onions and garlic too. We are a community that traditionally eats neither so out Poduthuval/ Thorans are made without them.
Poduthuval/ Thoran is generally made with certain kinds of vegetables like variety of beans, carrots, cabbage, jackfruit, pumpkin, amaranth greens, banana blossoms or flowers, snake gourd, etc., to mention a few. I make some kind of Poduthuval/ Thoran at least 3 days a week as a side for lunch. Certain vegetable combinations like cabbage and French beans, carrots and French beans, cabbage and carrots, cabbage and green peas also lend themselves well to making this recipe.
I read somewhere that the origin of the name “poduthuval” comes from “podi” (meaning powder, of the spicy kind) and “thuval” (meaning to sprinkle). In Tamilnadu, there is a type of vegetable preparation where a coarse spice and lentil powder is sprinkled to finish the dish. It is possible that that has been adapted to use coconut instead, using the plentiful supply of coconuts in Kerala. Possibly, the original name remained but the recipe changed a bit over time.
This Avarakkai Poduthuval/ Thoran or Green Hyacinth Beans and others like this, can also be made two ways. One is to finish the dish with just a sprinkling of fresh grated coconut which is mixed in before serving. The other is to use a crushed coarse mix of fresh grated coconut and green chillies to finish it. Both taste good, but my preference is for the second method. Crushing the coconut releases a little of the coconut milk which gives the Poduthuval/ Thoran a different taste entirely. If using the first method, just slit a couple of green chillies lengthwise and add it along with the beans while cooking.
Poduthuval/ Thoran can also made without the final addition of coconut. Certain vegetables, especially hyacinth beans (avarakkai) and cluster beans (kothavarakkai), which have a faintly bitter or strong flavour are best cooked with coconut. Avarakkai or Hyacinth Beans are also known as Lablab beans. There are different varieties of Hyacinth beans and the one commonly found in our markets are green or very deep green. They’re also known as “Sem” in Hindi and “Vaalpapdi” in Goa.