Everyday Simple Recipes, Kerala Recipes, Side Dishes, Vegan

Thaal Avial – Colocasia Stem Avial

“Naattinpuram nanmakalaal samruddham”
This line from a Malayalam poem loosely translates to “Goodness abounds in the village.” Life in the village is so much about sharing. Produces from your garden, special items made in the kitchen, sweets and savories that relatives bring, everything is shared with neighbors. Commonly cultivated backyard vegetables like drumstick, drumstick leaves, mango, jackfruit, all these items are shared with neighbors. Colocasia is one such plant/vegetable that neighbors share. Pictured here is a very sweet and super-efficient Saraswathi chechi, a great lady. One of her many roles include being a domestic help to my mother and many other families in our neighborhood. All special items such as banana stem, drumsticks, colocasia stem, tender jackfruit, raw mango, pass hands through Saraswathi chechi and a portion reaches all households in the vicinity.

Tender leaves inside colocasia stemI would say that the colocasia plant is highly underrated. All parts of the colocasia plant – leaves, stem, and bulb can be used for cooking. Not all varieties are edible. Some that grow in wilder areas are to be avoided, I hear. Gujarati cuisine has colocasia leaf rolls called Paatra. The Mangalore region also has recipes using the leaf. I am not sure if any cuisine apart from Kerala uses colocasia stem. At home, we make 3-4 different varieties of dishes using colocasia stem and the leaf.

Thaal (colocasia stem) avial is a dish that I learned from a neighbor while I stayed in Kochi. The best part about learning a recipe from someone is that you can never forget them even after many years. The first time you tasted that dish and how it smelled then lingers in your mind forever. Along with that the people involved with that memory stay on too.

There have been many requests for this recipe. Due to lack of availability of ingredients, I have had to wait long before I could make the dish and click photographs. I was super excited yesterday when I finally got to make the dish after waiting for several years; all thanks to Saraswathi chechi.

IngredientsIngredients:
Colocasia stem (medium sized) – 2
Long beans – 100 gms
Raw banana (long) – 1
Raw papaya – 200 gms
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Red chili powder – 1 tbsp
Tamarind – lime sized
Water – as needed
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Coconut oil – 1 tbsp
Salt to taste

To Grind:
Grated coconut – 1 half coconut
Jeera – 1/2 tsp
Shallot – 1

Peel colocasia stemMethod:
Wash all the vegetables. Peel the skin from colocasia stem. Remove the edges from long beans. Peel raw papaya and raw banana. Cut all the vegetables into one-inch long pieces. Keep the raw banana pieces separately. Add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder to a bowl of water and put the raw banana pieces in this bowl of water. Keep aside. The colocasia stem pieces seem like a lot but it shrinks to 1/4th size when cooked.

Keep raw banana pieces separately

Soak tamarind in 4-5 tbsp of water and keep aside.

Add tumeric, chilly powder, and saltPut all the vegetables except raw banana in a thick-bottomed vessel. Add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder, red chili powder, and salt. Add 1/2 cup water to the vegetables, close the lid, and maintain medium fire. Stir occasionally and cook for 5 mins. When the vegetables start looking pale and getting cooked, add the raw banana pieces. Stir well and close and cook for another five minutes. Extract tamarind juice from soaked tamarind. Add to the vegetables being cooked. Mix well.

Meanwhile, grind the grated coconut, shallot, and jeera to a coarse paste without adding much of water. When the vegetables are well-cooked and the salt and tamarind extract has been absorbed into the vegetables, mix the ground coconut paste with the vegetables. Cook for two minutes. Add curry leaves. Turn off. Add coconut oil and mix well. Enjoy the wafting aroma when you mix fresh curry leaves with the hot vegetables and coconut oil. Serve hot along with rice.

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Festival Recipes, Kerala Recipes, Main Dish, South Indian, Vegan

Thiruvathira Recipes

Thiruvathira, a festival observed mainly by Keralites and Tamilians, is a women-centic festival celebrated on the day of Thiruvathira star of the Malayalam month of Dhanu masa that mostly coincides with full Moon day. Thiruvathira is also the birth star of Lord Shiva and also the day when He came out his deep meditation after Sati’s self-immolation and married Parvati. Women observe a day long fast and perform various rituals. Tamilians celebrate this day as Ardra Darshanam and worship Shiva and go to the temple before sunrise. There is also a version that Thiruvathira festival is celebrated in memory of the revival of Kamadeva, the mythological God of love, after he disrupted Shiva’s meditation that resulted in him burning to death due to Shiva’s fury.

My mother still fondly recalls the joyful Thiruvathira days during her teenage days. They used to wake up early (4 am) and women from other homes would come and they proceed as a group, gathering other women along the way and singing songs praising Lord Shiva as they walk towards the temple pond of a Shiva temple. They would carry clothes, new set if it was available. At the pond, they would place their clothes on the roots of the huge banyan tree. Getting into the pond would be a difficult task as Dhanu masa mornings are misty and cold although Kerala hardly experiences any winter. Some bold ones who have already got in would splash water on the hesitant ones still staying by the steps of the pond. While taking bath, they sing songs and rhythmically splash water using their fists (thudichu kuli). Towards the end, while still standing inside the water, they hold hands and stand in a circle. After bath, they wear their new set of clothes, visit the Shiva temple, and then eat a banana and chew betel leaves. My mother says they were too poor to even afford to buy bananas and she used to look forward to the banana that was given by one of the women who belonged to a rich family. They sing songs and return home where a swing hung on a tree in front of the house awaits them. They take turns to sit on the swing, sing songs, and swing each other.

Thiruvathira fasting is observed by women by abstaining from all rice-based items and only eating preparations of wheat, millets, fruits, and a mixed vegetable dish called Thiruvathira puzhukku cooked mainly out of tubers. The main ingredients of this dish are purple yam (kaachil/kaavithu), colocasia (chembu), Chinese potato (koorka), yam (chena), raw plantain (ethakaya), broad beans (avarakkai), mung beans / long beans cooked with a thick paste of freshly ground coconut and jeera. A sweet dish made of arrowroot powder (koova) and jaggery is also a speciality of this festival. In some parts of Kerala, on this day, women chew 108 betel leaves and redden their lips.

Women observing Thiruvathira fast keep vigil at night by engaging in song and dance rituals on this full moon night. An image of Siva is placed at the central courtyard and flowers, banana, and jaggery are offered to the deity. Women then perform Thiruvathirakkali round the deity.  They stand in a circle around a lighted lamp and sing and dance clapping their hands. The theme of the songs revolves around Parvati’s love and longing for Shiva’s affection. Thiruvathira dance is the epitome of feminine grace, charm, and subtle lasya.

There is also a custom called Pathira poochoodal (wearing flowers at midnight). The first Thiruvathira of a new bride is called Poothiruvathira or Puthen Thiruvathira is very special.

Thiruvathira Puzhukku

A special preparation cooked using tubers during the Thiruvathira festival. The main ingredient of this is a special purple yam, which is harvested during winter.

Purple Yam CollageIngredients:
Purple Yam (Kaachil / Kand) – 250 gm
Raw banana – 1
Pumpkin – 250 gm
Green gram – 1/2 cup
Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
Grated coconut = 1 cup
Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
Red chilly powder/green chillies – 1/2 tsp/4
Water – 1 glass
Coconut oil – 1 tbsp
Curry leaves – 2 stalks

Method:

Soak the green gram dal overnight and pressure cook it. Keep aside. Cut the vegetables into cubes and put them in a cooking pot. Add some water (just enough to immerse half of the cut vegetables). Add turmeric powder and chilly powder. Close with a lid and stir occasionally.

Grind the grated coconut and cumin seeds to make a coarse paste. If you are using green chillies, add that along with the coconut and cumin seeds. When then vegetables are tender and well cooked, add the cooked green gram, grinded coconut paste, and salt. Mix well and cook for 2 minutes. Turn off the fire and add the coconut oil and fresh curry leaves. The dish gives out a pleasing aroma. This dish is a self-sufficient meal in itself. There are many variations to this dish. You can also try adding your own combinations of vegetables.

Arrowroot Pudding (Koova)

A sweet dish that is made from arrowroot powder, which is usually made from home-grown arrowroot plant.

Its a lengthy and tedious process of pulling out the root, cleaning, chopping, grinding, adding water, and distilling the powder. At the end of all this you end up with very little quantity of arrowroot powder.

ArrowrootIngredients:
Koova (arrowroot powder) – 100 gm
Jaggery – 200 gm
Water – 3 glasses
Grated Coconut – 1/2 cup
Cardamom powder – 1 tbsp

Method:

Melt the jaggery in water. Strain to remove the impurities. Mix the arrowroot powder in some water and make a smooth and thin paste without any lumps. Add this paste to the jaggery syrup. Place this mixture on the stove. Stir continuously on low flame. The mixture starts thickening. Turn off the fire when the mixture becomes a fine paste. Add cardamom powder and grated coconut. Mix well. You can add ghee or cashew fried in ghee but this is optional. You can also add cooked moong dal along with the arrowroot powder.

There could be regional variations to both these recipes.

During Thiruvathira, Palakkad brahmins prepare a dish called Kali, a sort of rice halwa.

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Everyday Simple Recipes, Kerala Recipes, Side Dishes, South Indian, Vegan

Colocasia Stem (Thaalu) Avial

A quick post about colocasia stem avial on demand.

Ingredients:

Tender Colocasia stems – 200 gms
Long beans (payar/chowli) – 100 gms
Raw banana – 100 gms
Raw papaya – 100 gms
Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
Red chilly powder – 1 tsp
Salt – as needed
Tamarind – size of lemon
Water – 1/2 glass
Coconut – 1/2
Shallot – 1-2
Jeera – 1/4 tsp
Coconut oil – 1 tbsp
Curry leaves – 2 stalks

Method:

Wash and clean the vegetables. Peel the colocasia stem, raw banana, and Papaya and cut into slender 1-1/2 inch long pieces. The colocasia stems are porous and reduce after cooking. So cut them slightly more thicker than the other vegetables. Remove the edges of the long beans and cut them to 1-1/2 inch long pieces. Put the cut vegetables in a cooking pot and place it on fire. Add Turmeric and chilly powder and half a glass of water. Stir and close the pot with a lid. Stir occasionally to ensure vegetables do not stick to the bottom. Cook in medium fire.

Meanwhile, soak the tamarind in 2 tsp of water and extract the juice. Grate half a coconut and grind the coconut along with one shallot and jeera to make a fine paste. Keep aside.

When the vegetables are tender and cooked, add the tamarind extract. At times colocasia stems tend to cause itching. Adding tamarind juice removes this itch. Mix well and cook for a minute. Add the grinded coconut paste. Stir well and cook for 2 mins. Remove from fire. Add salt as needed and then sprinkle curry leaves and then add coconut oil. I cannot describe the aroma that will fill your kitchen when you add the curry leaves and coconut oil to this warm avial. You need to experience it. Anything that smells great tastes great too!

I do not have any pictures to post at the moment. I hope I get a chance to make this avial and share the pictures very soon!

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Festival Recipes, Kerala Recipes, Palakkad Iyer Recipes, Side Dishes, South Indian

Avial

A healthy concoction of vegetables in mildly flavored coconut gravy, a stew of sorts, a must-have for feasts.

Ingredients:
Assorted vegetables cut in 1-1-/2 inch size – 500 gm
Water – 1/2 cup
Curd* – 1 cup
Curry Leaves – 2 stalks
Coconut oil – 1 tbsp

* In case any of these ingredients are unavailable, check the alternate ingredients section for other options.

To grind:
Grated coconut – one cup
Cumin seeds – ½ tsp
Green chillies – 3 or 4
Shallots – 1-2 (optional)

*Alternatives:
You can add tamarind pulp instead of curd.

Method:
You can use any vegetable for avial. Avial itself means an assortment/mixture of various things. Yet, the traditional avial uses only native Kerala vegetables and does not use vegetables like potato, capsicum etc. So try to use ‘traditional vegetables’ to get the conventional taste. Traditionally used vegetables for avial are ash gourd, malabar cucumber, drum sticks, elephant yam, carrot, raw banana, pumpkin, long beans, snake gourd, bottle gourd. Wash, peel, and then cut the vegetables of same length of 1 to 1-½ inch pieces.

In a wok add ½ cup of water and add the cut vegetables. Ensure that the water is just enough for the vegetables to get cooked, not too much and not less. Add a pinch of turmeric powder. Close with a lid and cook in medium flame until all the vegetables are cooked. Stir occasionally. Add salt.

While the vegetables are cooking, in a mixer, grind the grated coconut, green chillies, cumin seeds, and shallots. Grind coarsely. Add the ground paste to the cooked vegetables and let it simmer for 2 minutes.

Add curry leaves. Turn off the fire. Beat the curd and add it to the cooked vegetables. Mix well and add 1 tbsp coconut oil mix. Avial is ready to be served.

Notes:
Avial can be eaten along with rice and sambar. It is a wholesome dish and can be eaten as a salad also.

Trivia:
Here is an interesting story about the origin of avial. Bheema, the strongest of the of Pandava brothers, worked as a cook in the Virata kingdom during the one year that Pandavas spent in disguise. The king of Virata did not like wasting a thing. Once, during one of his trips to the royal kitchen, the king noticed that there were small bits and pieces of various vegetables lying around even after all the cooking was complete. The king ordered that these vegetables should not be wasted and should be put to better use. Bheema then cooked all the leftover vegetables together and added some leftover coconut, curd and the rest is history! The inevitable item of every good sadya was thus born in the royal kitchen. It is a much loved dish and is commonly found in restaurants. But seldom will you find the original taste of avial there. Try an authentic sadya avial and then you will know.

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