“The Avial Master”

This blog post comes from Radha Rayasam whose blog Radha Rayasam’s Home Made Sumptuous Meals reflects Rhada’s skill in the kitchen: “I’m a self taught cook, and I’ve always received flattering complements from everybody.” Thanks for the great post Rhada!  Be sure to check out the rest of the Apron Strings contest submissions and rate them. The lucky winners will receive gift certificates to shop at Fiesta Farms.


My dad gave me the recipe for this dish. I still remember the whole event.

I was getting ready to leave to school. I was sixteen years old. I had several strict rules in the house, like I could not go anywhere after 6:00 PM, no make up whatsoever, and I had to be accompanied by a family member to all of my freinds’ houses. I realized at that point of time that the world was very cruel outside the home, and my parents were trying to protect their precious princess, their only daughter!

I was in 12th grade, dressed in my all white churidhar, white canvas shoes, white ribbons braided in my long, oiled hair, tied next to my ears and looking like eggplants! The other girls in my class refused to tie those ribbons and let their hair loose. Letting my hair down was a big no-no in my home. So I had to wear those horrendous ribbons. The boys in my class called me saamiyar (the holy one who had renounced all worldly pleasures) and the girls in my class laughed at my title. I never cared, I just was busy in my own world. I had a best friend, and we both would giggle and talk about the latest movie songs featured on TV. You guessed it, we were not allowed to go to the theater to watch movies! We went as a family to watch old ‘golden’ movies that were supposed to instill good character in us!

Coming back to that fine morning, I recalled that when I had attended my cousin’s wedding, my uncle (dad’s older brother) was request by all to make avial. He made it and it was an instant hit. I realized that the relatives regarded my dad and uncle as “Avial Masters” of the family. I was curious, and as dad enterd the room, I asked him about the recipe. He explained the recipe to me. I did not write it down, but his words simply stuck in my head. I never made avial when I was with dad. I made it for the first time after marriage, and my husband fell in love with my version of avial. Dad would have beamed with pride if he had eaten avial made by his precious daughter. unfortunately, he never tasted one dish made by me after my marriage, as God had decided that he needed an ‘Avial Master’ for himself. Everytime I make avial, his words and instructions ring in my ears and I feel that he is guiding me as I make it.

My dad acquired the original recipe from his best friend’s mother. This friend was a Palakkad Brahmin, and their hometown is in this little Palakkad district located in Kerala, nestled on the Western Ghats. It is the borderline between Kerala and Tamilnadu, and this friend can speak Malayalam and Tamil with equal ease. As in any regular malayalee household, this family’s cuisine is dominated by coconut dishes. This friend’s mom had a special plate for my dad, and it was called “Gopu Thattu, meaning Gopal’s plate.” My dad and his brothers are good cooks and Avial is one of their signature dishes.

Flash forward to the present day, I must admit that my husband has an aversion towards vegetables!! He does not like the avial made in most South Indian homes as they try to make it tangy by either adding tamarind pulp, mango powder, or sour yogurt. He also hates it when all the vegetables are mushed up in the pressure cooker. My dad’s version is very simple, and the veggies retain their crispness. I do not try to overcrowd this dish with too many veggies, I try to only stick to four at the max. As the aroma of the avial wafts through the house, the kiddos and the adults come into the kitchen several times. They do not understand what they want or why they came to the kitchen. My Father In Law folds his newspaper, sets it down , and visits the kitchen, then reaches out for peanuts, and it dawns on him that this was not why he felt compelled to come to the kitchen. As lunch time draws closer, the kiddos and all realize that they are hungry. As I serve the steaming avial and hot rice, everybody gets that light bulb going on ‘AHA’ moment that this was what they had been searching for.

I do not usually get any comments for any of my cooking. As the wise people say, the proof is in the pudding, and the disappearing of all the avial is proof that this is the work of the “Avial Master.” My Mother In Law is in total disagreement as to how awful the dish is, and how I have broken the time tested rules of making this dish in the traditional way. She explains for the umpteenth time how to make it and I listen to her nodding my head in silence. She stops explaining when my husband asks me for second servings, and is almost disgusted to actually see him eat all the veggies! Sorry MIL, but I win this kitchen battle fair and square!

Veggies —- 4 Cups
Coconut —— 4 Tsp
Fresh yogurt ——1 cup
Half and Half—— 1 cup
Green Chilies—— 3 spicy hot thai chillies
Salt—–according to taste
Turmeric —–1/2 Tsp
Curry leaves—-30
Dry roasted and powdered fresh cumin——-1-1/2 Tsp
Water——-4 cups
Coconut oil——- 3 Tsp
Cumin seeds——-1 tsp

1.) First take the veggies and steam it for exactly five minutes. The veggies should be half done and it should be intact and crisp.
2.) Dry roast cumin seeds and powder it. Keep it ready.
3) In the blender, add green chillies, powdered cumin seeds, 1 cup of water and blend into a fine paste.
4) Take a heavy bottomed pan and set it on medium heat.
5) Add Coconut oil and let it melt and get slightly hot.
6) Add 1 tsp of cumin seeds and brown.
7) Add the steamed veggies and saute until slightly golden. Add curry leaves and saute for a minute.
8.) Add the blended paste consisting of water, green chillies, and cumin powder.
9) Add turmeric, salt, and raise the heat to medium. add the remaining 3 cups of water. As soon as the first boil comes, immediately switch the heat to simmer.
10) Return to the blender, add yogurt and half and half. Blend until frothy.
11) Add the blended yogurt, half and half mixture into the simmering pan, mix well, and close the lid for ten minutes. If this mixture boils or is on high heat, the yogurt will break up and the whole dish will look messy. Low heat is the key to retaining the integrity of this dish.
12) Turn off heat, do not open the lid, let sit for atleast 30 minutes.
13) Once the dish has cooled down, open the lid and check for salt. Give it a good mix.

Tasty and creamy avial is ready.
Serve it hot with white rice, or with adai and jaggery.

Important notes before cooking this dish:

Vegetables you can use:

Potato, green beans, yam, raw green plantains, carrots, peas, drumstick, green bell pepper, zucchini, eggplant, white pumpkin, yellow pumkin, butternut squash, and acorn squash.
Do not use Mullangi (radish or parsnip), tomatoes, ginger, garlic, shallots, onions, and okra in this dish.

Traditionally, I see a lot of people using shallots, but I do not prefer that. Use only four veggies at a time and not to make the dish too confusing.

Coconut: Use fresh grated, frozen, dry and dessicated: make sure you use the unsweetened variety only. I usually use the fresh grated coconut from the freezer section. I defrost it in the microwave and it is ready.

Yogurt: Usually people use sour yogurt for tanginess. We absolutely do not want any tanginess and make this dish creamy and focus only on the taste of cumin and green chillies. We are centering the taste here to minimum basics. I use Stoneyfield Organic yogurt with all the cream on the top.

Coconut Oil: Use organic coconut oil to make sure that it is unbleached and rich in healthy fats. The smell and taste of this oil is overpowering. So, use a little bit, say 1 Tsp for preparing this dish the first time. If you are aware of the way this oil works, then you can use 3 Tsps as I do.

Turmeric: This spice is loaded with anti oxidants and is proven to prevent alzhimers disease. Turmeric is pungent and spicy. Use little until you get comfortable with this spice. Use only 1/4 tsp until you understand this spice. I use this spice for natural coloring only, the emphasis is not on the turmeric taste, so go lite on turmeric in avial.

Green chillies: Go lite when the focus is to make children eat up their veggies. Add more if you want to highlight the spicier side of this dish.

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