Aviyal or Mixed Vegetables in a Spicy Coconut Sauce is a iconic dish from the South Indian state of Kerala. It is typically made with a mix of vegetables cooked in a spicy coconut paste, a souring agent and fresh coconut oil. The souring agent is either yogurt or tamarind depending on who is cooking it. We typically use sour yogurt. No “Sadya (festive lunch) in Kerala is complete without Aviyal.
Aviyal, is also very much a part of Palakkad Iyer cuisine and therefore a regular in my kitchen. Most South Indian food blogs will have featured it. The recipe is more or less the same. What differs is the combination of vegetables that go into it. Some recipes will call for sour yogurt while others will ask for tamarind as the souring agent. Some people like to cook this till it is almost dry. Others cook it with a lot of gravy. It is usually cooked with a little gravy so it is wet like today’s recipe.
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. I also make a version that uses “English” veggies too, like zucchini and potatoes depending on what I have in the fridge!
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.
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. On 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.You can find another version of aviyal made with raw papaya here.