Avial, A Kerala Tradition

The pookalam during Onam. Onam is the traditio...

The pookalam during Onam. Onam is the traditional festival of Kerala, India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Onam is a festival celebrated in Kerala by people of all religions. This 10 day festival time commemorates the annual return of a much loved mythical King, Mahabali from the underworld. It is also a harvest festival.The season is marked by shopping for new Onakodi (traditional Kerala clothing made of fine cotton and gold zari borders), making a pookalam (a round motif placed on the floor made with flower petals), annual snake boat race or Vallamkali and the great Onam Sadya or feast.

This feast is served on a banana leaf with course after course of vegetarian dishes, and sweet payassums (dessert). There are at time almost 18 different dishes served for this feast.


Avial ( pronounced avee-yil) is a very traditional Keralean dish and a must for the special days of Onam. This mixed vegetable dish has ground coconut (like most dishes from Kerala) and a little yogurt. In India there are more variety of veggies that are included in this dish but here in the US, options are more limited. we can’t get Chena, chembu etc so I use vegetables we get here like bell peppers, zucchini and squash. It is quick and easy to prepare.

This recipe was requested by my med school classmate, from Ooty, NG—-enjoy!


1 red and 1 green bell pepper

Handful of green beans, trimmed
1 zucchini
1 squash
1 potatoe
2 carrot
1/2 onion, sliced

If available- 1/2 a green mango, 1/2 a green plantain

6-8 curry leaves

1/2 cup plain yogurt
Salt to taste
Coconut oil to drizzle

To grind:
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
2 green chilies
1/4 tsp turmeric


The key is to cut all the vegetables in the same size and thickness- generally in long sliced pieces.
Add all the veggies in a saucepan, with salt and curry leaves, add a little water. Cover and cook until soft.Can do this in the microwave as well.
In the meantime, take all the ingredients in the “To grind” list and grind to almost a semi-fine paste.

Add this to the cooked veggies and combine. Cook uncovered until most of the water has evaporated.Will be slightly mushy. Add more salt if needed. Remove from stove and add yogurt and drizzle a little coconut oil.


Sambar- Spicy South Indian Lentils



I make sambar at least once a week. It is a spicy, tangy lentil dish packed with protein and flavor. Usually an accompaniment with plain rice, idli, dosai or  vada. A true south Indian meal is rarely complete without it. It always tastes better the next day. I cook the dhal in my rice cooker– it has a soup setting so no fuss. But you can cook the dhal on the stove. This is a recipe for a weekday sambar, nothing fancy, easy to prepare.


Serves 6-8


1 cup Toor dhal, rinsed

1 tsp turmeric

3-4  cups water

2 cups mixed chopped vegetables- Zucchini, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, beans, , etc (can also use froz vegetables)

1 cup frozen okra

1 cup chopped sliced cherry or grape tomatoes

2-3  tbs sambar masala (found at any Indian grocery store, I like Periyar or Eastern brand, you may add more or less according to how spicy you want it)

1-2  tbsp tamarind paste dissolved in a 1/4 cup water and strained

1 tsp asafetida (Hing or chayyam)

Salt to taste

Chopped cilantro for garnish

Seasoning: 1 tsp oil, 1/4 tsp mustard seeds, 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (uluva), 2-3 red chilies, 1 small onion-sliced,


Wash the toor dhal well and place in a rice cooker with 3 cups water and 1 tsp turmeric and cook on medium heat until well cooked and dhal is falling apart. You can also use a pressure cooker as well for 3 whistles or use a pot on the stove. Mash up the cooked dhal– I usually use my immersion mixer and give it a few twirls to make it more smooth but some prefer to keep it a little chunky.

Place all the vegetables, except the okra and the tomatoes– in a microwave safe bowl. Add 1/2 cup water and 1 tsp salt and a pinch of turmeric. Microwave for 5-7 mts or until cooked. With a slotted spoon transfer the vegetables to the cooked dhal. (Reserve the water to use for thinning out the sambar if too thick.)

Add sambar powder and let boil for a few minutes. Turn down heat, add the asafetida and the tamarind paste water. Do not let boil after adding tamarind or it will become frothy.

If the sambar is too thick, add some of reserved water. Add salt to taste. It will thicken some as it cools. Add frozen okra, cover and remove from stove. The frozen okra will cook quickly and won’t get slimy this way.. If using fresh okra, add and let the sambar simmer for a few minutes before turning it off.

Season Heat oil in a small frying pan, add mustard seeds, allow to splutter. Add fenugreek seeds, red chilies and sliced onion and a pinch of salt. Allow to brown. Add the tomatoes and sauté for a few minutes. Add this seasoning to the sambar and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves

Onam dishes….Inji Puli—Perfect balance of Sweet and Sour….


It is Ladies lunch time again!  After a long and hectic summer break for everyone, we meet again. We have been having monthly ladies lunches for maybe 5  yrs now. I fell off the circuit after returning to work. Missed the camraderie, gossip and trying everyones varied cuisines. We have such a diverse group that we can travel thru a different state of India every month.

 That is what I love about our small town…..we have people from almost every region in India that not one group is a majority (…well maybe Andra Pradesh has the lead)  but we all come together as Indians of varying backgrounds. There are no separate Malayalee (people from the state of Kerala—where I originate from)  groups, Tamil Sangam, Kannada Kootam, etc….  meeting on their own, doing their own thing, celebrating their own festivals. We celebrate together. I always quote a friend, Rajagopal, who jokingly said our town is utopia…. maybe it is.

Anyway back to Ladies Lunch.I am hosting the ladies lunch this week in honor of a Kerala festival called Onam.  Onam is akin to Thanksgiving in the US. It is a harvest festival as well as the return of the great king Mahabali. He returns once a year to be with the people of Kerala once a year( …..long story involving a demon, being banished from his home, etc….most Indian folklore follows the same story line…..maybeI’ll tell that story another time) Anyway, one of the traditions of Onam is the Onam Sadya(feast), a vegetarian feast served on a freshly cut banana leaf . More than  30 different dishes are served one after another with a method to the service and how it is placed on the banana leaf . It is a slow and steady eating ritual done only once a year. Everyone in Kerala celebrates Onam, Christian, Muslim or Hindu alike.

I thought I would do a  “mini-Onam” lunch. Now, “mini” and Onam do not go together but more so “mini” and anything I do don’t go together!!   

So one of Onam recipes I’ll share is sweet and sour and spicy, all at the same time—

Inji Puli Curry   (Ginger Tamarind Curry)

This is  one of my favorites. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t make this more often than during Onam.There is saying– “Inji puli ondinkkal 10 para choru oonam”  “—if there is inji puli then you can eat 10 measures of rice”……. And yes, it is best with plain white rice.It really is an accompaniment than a curry as a little goes a long way. They also say that Inji Puli is like Life at its’ optimum—–a perfect balance of Sweet and Sour. So, friends, I wish you all a perfect Inji Puli Life!!

Inji Puli Curry


4 cups of sliced fresh ginger

 3 Dried Red chilies
8-10 fresh curry leaves
2 sliced green chilies1/2 cup chopped onionTamarind- lemon sized ball dissolved in 2 cups of water1 cup dark brown sugar

1 tsp red chili pdr

 1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp Mustard seeds

 pinch of asafoetida

Salt to taste

1/2 cup Coconut oil (can use Vegetable or Canola oil)

1 tsp Chana Dhal
1 tsp Urad dhal

a large frying pan heat coconut oil to medium heat and  add the sliced ginger. Fry unti golden brown. Take care not to burn it. All that ginger will reduce to half  when fried.

Remove ginger to a separate plate leaving oil in pan. Into oil add the mustard seeds. After spluttering add curry leaves, red chilies and dhals. Then add chopped onions, green chilies and let brown slighly. Add chili pdr, garam masala, salt. Then add tamarind water and fried ginger. When boiling add the brown sugar and let thicken. Add the asafoetida and remove from stove. Let cool and transfer to a clean jar. Will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or so.

Perfect with some  piping hot rice ….That’s all I’ll need for dinner tonight! Now as for my son ..that’s a different story–I’ll have to buy him a pizza or something ! 🙂

Inji Puli