Tuesday 21 August 2012

"Poove Poli Poove" - The Aviyal

Onam also known as Vamana Jayanthi is a Hindu festival and the state festival of Kerala celebrated by the people of Kerala. The festival commemorates the Vamana avatar of Vishnu and the subsequent homecoming of the legendary emperor Mahabali. It falls during the Malayalam month of Chingam (August-September) and lasts for 10 long days. Onam brings out the best of Kerala culture and tradition. Intricately decorated Pookalam, sumptuous Onasadya, breathtaking Snake Boat Race, and the exotic and graceful Kaikottikali dance are some of the most remarkable features of Onam - the harvest festival of Kerala.

The beauty of the festival lies in it's secular fabric. People of all religions, castes and communities celebrate the festival with equal joy and verve. This beautiful festival also helps to create an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood by way of various team sports and other events organized on the day.

I grew up in an apartment complex (where my parents continue to stay) where we celebrated almost all festivals. And Onam was one of our favorites. I still remember very fondly the late nights with all the aunties and friends at the apartment, very busy at work preparing a beautiful and colorful floral carpet. (Pookalam) One of the most marvelous facets of Onam is the unfolding of its rich and well-established culture. We see not just glimpses but a whole gamut of it in the ten-day-long carnival. Pulikali, Kaikottikali, Kummattikalli, Kathakali, Thumbi Thullal besides several other folk arts and traditions can be seen on one platform called Onam.

Personally for me, the Onasadya is the highlight of the festival, the most delicious part of the grand festival called Onam. It is considered to be the most elaborate and grand meal prepared by any civilisation or cultures in the world. It's a feast which if enjoyed once is relished for years. Onasadya is prepared on the last day of Onam, called Thiruvonam. Legend goes that Mahabali who was so attached to his people requested Gods to allow him to visit Kerala every year. People of Kerala wish to convey that they are enjoying the same age of prosperity as was witnessed during the reign of King Mahabali by preparing a grand Onasadya. Rich and the poor, everybody prepares Onasadya in a grand fashion as people of Kerala are extremely devotional and passionate when it comes to the sadya. So much so that, it has lead to saying, 'Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam', which means - men go to the extent of selling all their possessions for one Onam Sadya.

The Meal

Rice is the essential ingredient of this Nine Course Strictly Vegetarian Meal. All together there are 11 essential dishes which are prepared for an Onasadya. Number of dishes may at times also go upto 13. Onasadya is so elaborate a meal that it is called meals, even though it is consumed in one sitting. Onasadya is consumed with hands, there is no concept of spoon or fork here.

A traditional Onasadya comprises of different varieties of curries, Upperies –stir fried veggies, Pappadams/pappads, Uppilittathu - pickles of various kinds, Chammanthi - the chutney, Payasams and Prathamans or puddings of various descriptions. Fruits and digestives are also part of the meal.

The food has to be served on a tender Banana leaf, laid with the end to the left. The meal is traditionally served on a mat laid on the floor. A strict order of serving the dishes one after the other is obeyed. Besides, there are clear directions as to what will be served in which part of the banana leaf. (I haven't followed this method as I didn't know which dish went where!) These days Onadaya has toned down a little due to the urban and hectic living style. Earlier, Onasadya used to be even more elaborate. There were about 64 mandatory dishes - eight varieties each of the eight dishes! At that time three banana leaves were served one under the other to accommodate all the dishes. How exactly they were accommodated in the tummy is definitely food for thought!

Today, I have for you one of the most special dishes of the Onasadya (and my favourite dish), the Aviyal. Aviyal is a mixture of vegetables, coconut, souring agents such as raw mangoes, tamarind extract or curd, seasoned with coconut oil and curry leaves. It is an extremely healthy and nutritious dish since it contains a whole lot of vegetables. Veggies most commonly used in aviyal are raw green plantain/ethakka, elephant yam/chena, cucumber/vellarikka, winter melon/ash gourd/kumbalanga and drumstick/muringakka. You can also use vegetables like achinga payar/yard long beans, carrot, tindora/kovakka, beans, brinjal, chembu, jack fruit seeds etc. You can use 4-5 vegetables among these but plantain and yam are the most important vegetables in this dish. This dish is easy to prepare but the vegetables need to be cooked to perfection, sourness just right and the grated coconut needs to be crushed/ground perfectly to get a delicious aviyal. The coconut oil and crushed curry leaves added at the end gives the dish a beautiful aroma and taste. The use of coconut oil and curry leaves cannot be compromised on.

So, here is today's Onam special vibhavam (dish), the Aviyal.


Vegetables - 3 cups (refer notes)
Chilli powder - 1 tsp
Green chillies (slit lengthwise) - 3 to 4
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Sour Yoghurt - 1/4 cup (refer notes)
Grated Coconut - 1 to 1/4 cup
Shallots/Pearl onions - 5 to 6
Cumin seeds - 1/2 to 3/4 tsp
Curry leaves - 2 to 3 sprigs (refer notes)
Coconut oil - 1 to 2 tbsp
Salt - to taste


Cut the veggies into long thin slices. (preferably all the veggies should be of same size for easy cooking and a better visual appeal) Cover and cook the vegetables, curry leaves, chilli powder, turmeric powder and adequate salt in enough water. (refer notes) Be careful not to add too much water to avoid veggies getting overcooked. If overcooked, the aviyal will end up all mushy and watery.

Grind coconut along with shallots/pearl onions, green chillies, cumin seeds, a few curry leaves and 1 tbsp of yoghurt.

Add the ground mixture to the cooked veggies and mix till combined well. (be careful not to break the veggies) Cover and cook for a few minutes till the raw taste of coconut disappears. Add sour yoghurt and mix well. Check for salt and adjust at this time. Cook without lid till steam appears. (1 or 2 minutes approx.) Switch off flame. Add the fresh coconut oil and crushed curry leaves. (crush the curry leaves between your palms to release more flavour and fragrance) Cover with lid and keep aside for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot with rice.


1. You can use any veggies you like. These are the vegetables I used: raw plantain, elephant yam (chena), winter melon/ash gourd/cucumber (kumblanga/vellarikka), drumstick, carrot, potato, beans. You can also use fresh farm veggies like colocasia/Taro/Arbi (chembu), brinjal etc...

2. You can also use raw mango instead of sour youghurt. Add sliced raw mango depending on the sourness. (about 1/2 to 1 whole mango) Raw mango slices should be added when the vegetables are half cooked. Once the mangoes go in, cover and cook till veggies are fully done.

3. Curry leaves and coconut oil are a very integral part of this dish. More the better.

4. Yam can be cooked separately if it involves more cooking time. You can pressure cook the yam slices with a pinch of chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt or just as it is. This cooked yam can be added to the rest of the cooked veggies just before adding the ground coconut mixture.

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