The nine nights of Navratri are always hectic. Most of Mr. P’s cousins reside in and around Thane and it has become a recent ritual that we all gather at one of the houses for chants and later dinner, one night at each one’s home. It is fun but exhausting, and the dinners being feasts end up heavy on the stomach. When it was my turn to have everyone over, I decided on keeping things light. The meal was typically Tamilian. Palakkad Iyer style, to be precise. Thinking light was not a bother at all as our food is naturally light. My in-laws, being Mangaloreans enjoy Tamilian meals a lot and I being the only Tamilian in the family, enjoy serving them delicious PI food. Their favourites are rasam, thogayal, aviyal and of course, loads of crunchy pappadams! A lot of our cuisine consists of naturally vegan foods but aviyal is one of the exceptions. The base of aviyal and its charateristic taste and aroma, when made the Iyer way, comes from thick, sour yogurt. The vegetables are simply salted and cooked and the sauce holds them all together.
Aviyal is made differently in different regions of Kerala. Palakkad Iyers make a saucy gravy, the consistency being similar to that of sambar gravy – a notch thicker. We serve aviyal as a side dish with rice and pappadams or karudams (dried fritters made with rice or other gluten free options) on the side. In some regions of Kerala aviyal is made with a tamarind base, and the coconut is ground with cumin seeds. My Kerala Christian friends would add a generous dose of garlic, use yogurt, and omit tamarind. Most of my friends who did not have aviyal made in their homes traditionally and adapted it as a result of social learning, add mustard seasoned in coconut oil towards the end. The authentic recipe does not include that last bit. Usually aviyal is served with a drizzle of coconut oil for the aroma. In my kitchen we feel the coconut is all you need. Most of my dishes, except when made for guests or when displayed in the blog, do not undergo that last minute seasoning, characteristic of Indian curries.
The vegan aviyal, my dear friends, is royalty, especially since I make it with my all natural vegan cashew yogurt. The guests were royal too. The secret to the vegan aviyal is a clever combination of tamarind, lime, cashew yogurt and fresh coconut. The last ingredient, I would not substitute.
Treatment of the vegetables:
The vegetables that go into aviyal are a mix of whatever is ‘in season’, or available through the year. Firm, raw bananas (kachha kela), elephant’s foot yam (suran), potatoes, and ashgourd are essential. Green peas, string beans, carrots, koorkai (a tuber found in Kerala), jackfruit seeds, and raw mangoes are added when in season. The vegetables need to be chopped like fries, just over an inch in length. Note that they must be cooked till soft, but not mushy, at the same time not just done. Al dante is not something we appreciate much in South Indian cuisine. We like our starches, whether from grains or from vegetables.
I have posted the recipe for regular aviyal long back here. Today as I went through the recipe, I could see so many changes in myself. It is amusing and feels good to see the changes, the notable ones being my transition to a healthier lifestyle, and organic eating. I guess my writing has aged too – has it?
Aviyal is made often but is mandatorily served at functions such as wedding or any other auspicious occasion and during festivals.
Recipe : Aviyal | Vegetables in yogurt sauce | Dairy free | GFCF | Vegan
Serves 3-4 persons
A cup of mixed vegetables, cut into cuboids, about an inch in length (read above) – 1.5 cup
Turmeric powder – 1/8th tsp.
Fresh, grated coconut – 1/2 cup, packed
Green chillies – 2, or as per taste. We like ours hot.
Cashew yogurt – 2 tbsps.
Tamarind extract, homemade, fresh – 2 tsps.
Lemon or lime juice – 1 tbsp. (More if needed to adjust)
Coconut oil – A few drops
Cook the vegetables in enough salted water with turmeric powder till they are almost done. The water should just cover the vegetables. The precaution is necessary as it is easy to lose the consistency in this dish. At this point add the tamarind extract and cook further till soft. A knife must pass through the carrot with least resistance.
While the vegetables cook grind together the coconut, cashew yogurt, and green chillies to a soft, homogenous paste with just enough water. Since the vegetables already have stock, it would be advisable to use just as much water as needed to blend.
Add the ground paste to the cooked vegetables. Stir lightly. The gravy needs to be of soupy consistency. Cook on low heat to round off the dish.
Taste, and if needed add lime or lemon juice.
Remove from heat. Drizzle a few drops of coconut oil if desired and serve hot with rice and pappadams.
If you can, try and get someone to grate the coconuts. I find that a huge job and Mr.P offers to do it all the time. :)
To make tamarind extract:
Soak a marble sized ball of dark tamarind (I use a pulpy variety) in a quarter cup of water for about 15 minutes. Press and mash the ball with your fingers and let the juice fall into the water. Mix and use the amount stated in the recipe. This forms a thin extract that is enough for this recipe.