Years ago, as a child growing up in Kerala, I remember trying to paint something and then as I kept experimenting, the painting made no sense any longer. My mother commented, ‘Avial akkinai.’, which meant I made it into an Avial.
Avial stands for a mixture. And a mixture it is..its a mixture of a variety of vegetables cooked in coconut gravy with curd.
Avial is not an easy dish to prepare. Many vegetables go into it. Pumpkin, Drumstick, white gourd, beans , raw banana, yam , carrots , and snake gourd. The vegetables have to cut into pieces of equal length and width. The trick is to cook them to a similar consistency. This is a task , considering that harder and sturdy vegetables like the raw banana , yam, and carrots, softer ones like beans and drumsticks and the squishy ones like pumpkins and gourds. My grandfather would always say that the best avail will ensure that the vegetables are cut in different proportions. The sturdy ones should be thinly cut, the softer ones slightly thicker than the sturdy ones and the squishy ones should be chunky. This would ensure that all the vegetables cooked evenly and tasted well. This also ensure that every time my grandmother made Avial, it was his job to cut the vegetables
Avial has its roots in the Mahabharata. According to the story when Bhima was incognito as the cook Vallala, the King Virat had more guests, one day, than they anticipated. In a hurry to cook up something, he created a concoction of all left over vegetables, added some coconut gravy and boiled the whole concoction in curd. And voila! There was the Avial.
Believe me you, in most households in Kerala Avial is still prepared under similar conditions. The last day before the next market purchase of vegetables, when there are remnants of different vegetables in the vegetable tray in the fridge, the only thing that can be cooked up is Avial.
Avial is a healthy dish as it has so many vegetables. It is usually found in two major forms- the curry and the dry one .The curry one is liquid in consistency while the dry one has the consistency of a paste.
It is at the same time a versatile dish. It can be had along with rice, dosa , neer dosa or in metropolitan Mumbai Malayali households with roti , chappati or like my kids do even with paav.