Avial is a popular dish of South Indian origin. It is a thick mixture of vegetables and grated coconut, and is seasoned with curry leaves sautéed in coconut oil. Avial is an essential part of the ‘Sadya’, the multiple-course vegetarian meal served during the festival of Onam in Kerala.
The word ‘avial’ is also used to denote a mixture of things, and is said to have been invented by Bhima (one of the Pandava brothers, who were the main characters of the Mahabharata) during their exile. According to the legend, when Bhima started to work as a cook in a royal kitchen, he did not know how to cook. One of the first things he did was to chop up many different vegetables, boil them together and top the dish with grated coconut. A variation of that story is that Bhima prepared the avail when the king had unexpected guests and he used the available vegetables (too few by themselves for a side dish) and made a new dish.
Vegetables commonly used in avial are elephant yam, plantain, pumpkin, carrots, beans, brinjal, cucumber, drum sticks, bitter gourd and snake gourd. The vegetables are boiled and then cooked in a ground mixture of coconut, cumin and green chillies, to which yoghurt is added. The dish is usually eaten with rice.
The presence of multiple vegetables, which mean added nutrients and fibre, in itself makes avial a healthy side-dish. Furthermore, the use of grated coconut and yoghurt instead of cream mean fewer calories and fat.