Avial: A zero waste dish with rich folklore

Avial or Aviyal is a popular South Indian vegetable stew served with either rice, poori, chappati or Dosa. It is healthy, aromatic and above all, involves no wastage of vegetables while cooking. Legend has it that this dish dates back to Mahabharata. 


Image credit: Goya Journal

George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist, once said that “there is no sincere love than the love of food”. And when it comes to the love for food, it is often, not the Michelin star gourmet meals that one thinks of, but rather the food associated with our fondest memories stolen from the hectic moments of our mundane lives – piping hot noodles in the hills, crispy fritters and tea on a rainy day, hot coffee with a friend on a chilly day and the warmth of a home-cooked meal. One such mouthwatering delight comes from South India: Avial or Aviyal .

The epitome of comfort food, Avial is a hot vegetable stew made in creamy coconut curry, typically served South Indian pancakes, or Dosa. Sometimes, this nourishing meal is also paired with rice, poori and chappati. This dish is ubiquitous across the households in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and parts of Karnataka, albeit there are regional variations and each version has a charm of its own. But did you know that this dish also has a mythological connection?

Origin of the dish

According to one version of an Indian folklore, the origin of Avial can be traced back to Mahabharata times. Pandavas, during their course of exile, spent years in the forests. It is said that Bheema, the 2nd eldest brother, assumed the name Ballava and joined the kitchen of Virata’s Matsya kingdom. Bheema, however, knew nothing about cooking! So, he cut up different vegetables, boiled them together and garnished it with grated coconut.

The other folklore states that the Maharaja of Travancore used to perform an annual ritual where the entire kingdom came to participate and enjoy an elaborate feast. One year, there happened to be a shortage of curry on the last day of the ritual. The king visited the kitchen and found that a lot of vegetables were wasted and only a few vegetables were leftover from the previous days. Upon the king’s orders, the cook cut all the leftovers into long thin pieces and prepared Aviyal. The king ordered it to be served as the first item, hence, Avial is always served first in Onam Sadhya.

A zero waste dish loaded with nutrition

No matter which version is to be believed, Avial is a dish that is perfect for people with any kind dietary preference. But that is not all. This savoury food can be prepared with variety of vegetables that are left over and avoid any unnecessary wastage of food. This one pot meal is also very nutritious: According to health experts, it contains Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, iron, zinc, phosphorous, magnesium & calcium. Some of the vegetables that are commonly used to prepare this dish include drumsticks, pumpkin, carrots, unripe bananas,  curry leaves, yogurt, green beans and eggplant. Some variations also incorporate raw mango or even soaked tamarind water.

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