A is for Avial


Avial comes from Kerala, the state located on the western coastline of India, historically known as the Malabar coast. A vegetarian dish, it is made of a mixture of vegetables with coconut, green chilies and yogurt. It is an essential part of ‘Sadya’ ( the traditional feast served for festivals and celebrations.

Origin stories variously credit mythological characters Bhima or Ganesha for coming up with the dish. 

What I like most about avial is that it is so versatile; it can be made out of any mix of vegetables as long as they are not too soft or wilty. Root vegetables – potatoes, yams, taro – work well in the mix. So do some of the gourds like ash gourd and snake gourd. Though traditionally not included in the mix, carrots and red peppers add color to the mix.

Some versions even add bitter gourd, which of course gives the whole avial a slight bitter flavor liked by many. 

Vegetables are cut into uniform sized long pieces and added to the pot based on their cooking time. For example, if you have included any of the yams or taros in your mix, they should be allowed to cook half way through before the rest of the vegetables are added. 

Curry leaves are the signature ingredient that gives avial its unique flavor. 

Crushed along with freshly grated coconut, green chilies and cumin, the spice blend is so fragrant.

And the final touch is a spoonful of coconut oil drizzled over the dish.

Though the traditional Avial is made with a mix of vegetables, you can try this dish with a single vegetable. A favorite one to try will be potato avial. Also, egg avial, made with boiled eggs, can be so yummy!

A is for Avial



  1. Cook the vegetables in a largish pot, adding them to the pot in batches based on the time they will take to be done. Add the turmeric powder, if using.
  2. Coarsely crush the coconut, green chilies, cumin and curry leaves.
  3. When the vegetables are almost done, add half cup of yogurt and salt to taste. Mix well.
    Continue to cook.
  4. Mix the remaining yogurt with the crushed coconut blend.
  5. When the excess water is cooked off and the vegetables are almost dry, add the yogurt-coconut blend. Gently mix together taking care not to break up the vegetables too much.
  6. Turn off the heat and drizzle the coconut oil over the top.
    Serve with cooked rice.
Keywords:Avial, Kerala, south indian, Vegetarian

Kerala Fish Meets Mediterranean Bulgur

We all know what we mean when we refer to the Mediterranean cuisine, though it is up to debate whether there is something called a Mediterranean cuisine at all! After all, the countries where the cuisine is supposed to be practiced – Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain etc, all countries around the Mediterranean Sea – have such diverse foods and recipes!


Still, Mediterranean food has been identified by study after study, as the healthiest way of eating in the world. And there are diet plans being marketed based on the concepts of Mediterranean food.

So what are the characteristics of the food style known commonly as Mediterranean cuisine? It is based on the traditional food items of the area and consists mostly of plant based ingredients like whole grains, tomatoes, olives, lemons and uses olive oil for cooking.


Also, most of the protein in the diet comes from lentils and fish, with meat, specially red meat, limited to small quantities. In fact, the word Mediterranean itself brings up lovely images of lemon trees and olive orchards, bright sunrises, and silvery fish swimming in blue waters.


One of the cereals that feature prominently among Mediterranean food is bulgur. Made out of wheat groats (hulled kernels that include the cereal germ and bran portion which are lost during regular milling), it is high-fibre, and has a light, nutty flavour. It is different from cracked wheat, which it resembles a lot.


A bulgur with some beautiful red and green components… perfect for a summer dinner!


And to add some protein to the meal, a fish fry from the shores another sea, far away in the south western corner of India!


Fish is one of the mainstays of the food in Kerala, located on the southern most western shores of India. With a long shoreline, fresh fish is abundant except for the few weeks at the height of the monsoon rains.


And as olive oil is typical of the Mediterranean, coconut oil is the main cooking medium in Kerala. At least, it was so till the numerous warnings about the cholesterol in coconut oil turned people towards other oils. I’m so glad to see the tide turning these days and the health benefits of coconut oil being recognised.


So these two items from so far away, but from similar backgrounds, work well together in this great dinner. Try it, you won’t be disappointed!





Kerala Fish Meets Mediterranean Bulgur
Recipe type: Dinner
  • 2 filets of white fish (such as tilapia or hake)
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 medium sized shallot (quarter of a white or red onion will also work)
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 sprig curry leaves (available in Indian grocery stores)
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper powder (adjust according to tolerance for heat)
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 1 cup chopped green olives
  • 1 cup chopped sugar snap peas
  • ½ cup chopped carrots
  • 1 ¾ cups water
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  1. Grind together the shallot, garlic, curry leaves, cayenne pepper and turmeric powders, with salt to taste.
  2. Marinate the fish filets in the paste for at least 1 hour. You can keep it in the refrigerator overnight, but bring to room temperature before cooking.
  3. Bring 1 ¾ cups of water to a boil. Add olive oil, lime juice and bulgur. Mix well, remove from heat and let sit covered for about 20 minutes. Once at room temperature, add the chopped ingredients and mix well.
  4. Heat the coconut oil in a non-stick frying pan. When shimmering hot, add the fish filets (keep a splatter screen handy) and cook for about 3-5 minutes per side. Remove and serve with the prepared bulgur.

Boatman’s Crab Curry

There is nothing sophisticated about this dish… It is as rustic as can be. Prepared in a hurry, with ingredients that are easily available, by people who are definitely not accomplished chefs. But boy, is it yummy! Once you have tasted it, you will never forget it, I guarantee. And of course, as can be guessed, the secret behind the goodness of this dish is the freshness of its ingredients.


The backwaters of Kerala, the small state on the south western coast of India, are well known for their natural beauty. However, something that is not so well known is the fact that the same backwaters are major channels of commerce. Boats plying on them ferry commodities and people, village to village.

To the boatmen who guide these boats through the network of waterways, the boats are their homes, especially as they are away from their villages for weeks at a time. At the end of a day, they moor their boats and settle down for the night, maybe after a visit to the shop on the banks for some daily necessities. Then it is time to prepare a quick meal in the light of the hurricane lamp. And is there anything better to cook than what can be harvested out of the water, then and there? But they have no time or patience for elaborate preparations. A chop of this, a handful of that… stir together and the boatmen’s fish or crab curry is ready… hot and spicy, enticing!
The ingredients are very basic… chopped onions, tomatoes, crushed ginger and garlic. And a bit of crushed cloves and cardamom. And a mix of coriander, chilli and turmeric powders.


The only change I have made to the original recipe – picked up from watching it being made – is that it has been mellowed down a bit, by the addition of coconut milk.
And of course, the key to the awesomeness of this dish is fresh crabs… I mean, really fresh ones.


Sauté the onions, add the powdered spices, stir in the tomatoes… toss in the crab pieces and stir together.


Add the coconut milk and cook covered for 10 minutes. A sprinkle of curry leaves makes it complete.


Serve with hot boiled rice and you will hear the lilting songs of the boatmen echo on the silvery waters on a still night.




Breadfruit… the Vegetable with a Past!

In the 18th century, the British were looking for cheap, but high energy food sources to sustain the empire’s slaves in the Caribbean. As early as 1769, they had recognized the qualities of breadfruit as a suitable crop for this purpose. Accordingly, in 1787, a British Naval expedition was sent to Tahiti on the ship HMS Bounty, to procure breadfruit saplings for planting in the Caribbean. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Bounty sailed from Tahiti after a stay of five months, with a thousand and fifteen breadfruit trees. Meanwhile, some of the crew members had got accustomed to the life in Tahiti and also had formed relationships with local women. They did not want to leave and mutinied. They imprisoned the captain and set him afloat in the ship’s launch, along with 18 of the crew members who were loyal to him. The mutineers sailed the Bounty back to Tahiti and further to Pitcairn Island where they remained, till many died and some were captured by the British Navy and prosecuted. The captain managed to navigate to Dutch East Indies, a trip that took 47 days, with only a quadrant and a pocket watch!
The incidents related to the Bounty’s expedition to procure breadfruit trees captured the world’s imagination in a big way. Several authors, including Lord Byron, Sir John Barrow, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, and Orson Wells, have written about them. A number of movies have also been made based on these incidents. One of them, Mutiny on the Bounty made in 1935, won the Oscar for Best Picture that year. Even an episode of The Simpsons was based on the mutiny!
Interestingly, though the trees were planted successfully in the Caribbean, the slaves refused to eat the breadfruits!

I have always loved the breadfruit’s starchy potatoey consistency. And the smooth creaminess it attains when it is fully grown, but not ripened. So when I saw a plump specimen in the vegetable shop, it was an instant decision to grab it.

Then the question was what to do with it, especially as the breadfruit fares well in a number of preparations. I zeroed in on ‘thoran’, a coconut stir fry. This is a traditional dish of Kerala, the south western state of India.

The breadfruit is cut into thin pieces, and then julienned into matchstick thickness. And stir fried with a basic spice mix of red chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt.

This dish gets its awesome flavour from the coconut coarsely crushed with garlic, cumin and curry leaves. And it should just be heated through after being added to the vegetable. If you cook the coconut thoroughly, the taste of the dish changes.

This dish can be served with a rice dish on the side. Goes especially well with yogurt rice or lemon rice.

Also, you can make this dish with any vegetable that has a firm texture.



Breadfruit... the Vegetable with a Past!
Recipe type: Vegetarian
  • 1 breadfruit
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 cup scraped coconut
  • 6 small cloves of garlic
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 2 stalks curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • Salt to taste
  1. Cut the breadfruit into four quarters and peel the outer green skin.
  2. Cut each quarter into thin slices and cut the slices into matchstick sized juliennes.
  3. Crush together the garlic, cumin, curry leaves and coconut using the pulse function of the blender.
  4. Heat the oil in a pan.
  5. When the oil is hot, drop the mustard seeds into the pan and cover with a splatter screen.
  6. After the mustard seeds have finished spluttering, add the breadfruit pieces, chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt.
  7. Turn the heat down and cover and cook, adding a quarter cup of water if required.
  8. When done, add the crushed coconut mixture and quickly stir to combine.
  9. Immediately, remove from heat. Delicious breadfruit thoran is ready to server.