A simple, light summer curry with all the joys and sparkling nutrition of coconut and seasonal vegetables. This is a recipe straight outta Peace & Parsnips and was recently featured online here in Reveal Magazine. Recipes like this are a wonderful reminder for me of special times spent travelling and cooking in India. Kerala is surely one of the most beautiful corners of the planet and its food is surprisingly vegan friendly, diverse and really healthy.
This is a recipe I learnt from my friend Narendra on the patio of a wooden hut in a yoga retreat, rural Tamil Nadu. Although this is (probably) a traditional Keralan style curry, they love it in neighbouring Tamil Nadu also. I had been eating it regularly in India and was so pleased when Narendra took the time to sit down with me and finally get a recipe on paper. He taught me his families traditional recipe, from the ancient temple town of Madurai, and it was pleasing simple. Like many Indian family staples, the difference is in the freshness of the ingredients; the vegetables and the spices. Most Indian households will have what I call a ‘Sabji’ (Vegetable) man. Just like a milk man in the UK, he wanders the streets in the mornings selling his wares from a cart, shouting up to the windows of house wives what’s good , freshest and of course, on special offer! Fresh vegetables are everywhere in India and veg markets are frequent and always interesting to wander around and pick up some funky looking spice or odd looking root (maybe a mooli or two?).
Although this is a simple recipe, cooked most days in Keralan homes, it adapts well to the changing seasons in most countries. Any variety of vegetables can be used in its preparation and Aviyal lends itself perfectly to British/ European veg. In fact, Narendra’s grandmother used to call things like carrots ‘British veg’ as they we only grown and popularised in the time of the Raj, when much of Indian cooking as we know it was altered and influenced by British tastes.
I was lucky to cook in a beautiful kitchen near Wayanad National Park, Northern Kerala with some amazing ladies. Here I learnt some proper Keralan classics and top tips that you can only learn by actually getting your hands on the pots and pans. I loved the way that they used very roasted coconut to add depth and flavour to sauces, especially when used with piles of freshly grated ginger. I also loved cooking with a wide range of local produce, all of their dishes contained only ingredients from their own land. Spices and all! They even grew their own coffee and we were inundated each day with fresh exotic fruits, many of which I’d never seen before. Mangoes grew above the hammocks in the garden, guavas, green figs, coconuts, plantains……you can imagine, it was a bit like eden/ nirvana!
Aviyal is such a healthy, light dish, nothing like the rich and fiery curries of the much of North India. Coconut is king in the south, making travelling around South India a foodie paradise for vegans. Its up there with places like Thailand or parts of the Med for traditional vegan dishes. Anywhere that the vegetable or coconut thrives, you find brilliant vegan dishes. Vegan food is so creative and evolving all the time, but it is nice to find dishes on my travels that reflect a cultures heritage and history. We’ve always eaten and enjoyed vegan dishes, we just don’t necessarily give them that name (which, for whatever reason, can put some people off).
The Bits – For 4
For the curry
•2-3 fresh green chillies
•2 big handfuls of freshly grated or desiccated coconut
•2tsp cumin seeds
•220ml coconut milk or unsweetened soya yogurt
•2 large carrots, scrubbed
•2 large potatoes, scrubbed
•1 large courgette
•6 fat asparagus spears
•2 green plantains, peeled
•1tsp ground turmeric
•1tsp of sea salt
•1 big handful of mangetout or green beans
•2tbsp coconut oil
•2tsp mustard seeds
•3tbsp curry leaves
For the pineapple & watermelon salad
•A small pineapple
•One third of a small watermelon (don’t bother deseeding)
•1 large cucumber
•1 small handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
•A pinch of sea salt
•A large pinch of chaat masala mix or black salt (optional)
In a pestle and mortar or a food processor, blend together the chillies, coconut and cumin seeds (if you’re using desiccated coconut, add 2tbsp of the coconut milk to make a thick paste). This is best done in advance and can be left overnight in the fridge to develop zing.
Cut the carrots, potatoes, courgette, asparagus and plantains into 2.5cm pieces. Heat the water in a large pan and add the turmeric, salt, carrots and potatoes. Bring to a steady boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and pop a lid on the pan. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the courgettes and plantains and cook for 10 minutes more, keeping the lid on.
Add the coconut paste to the curry with the coconut milk or yogurt and stir carefully to combine. Cook uncovered for 8-10 mins on a gentle simmer. Check that the carrots and potatoes are tender, then add the asparagus and mangetout and remove the pan from the heat. Cover, set aside for a few minutes.
Really simply, with steamed rice. Keralans love their rice! A crunchy salad is great as a side, exotic fruits work well here with Aviyal. This is how they served it in the Yoga Ashram (where the food was excellent).
Coconuts are wonderfully healthy, containing high levels of Lauric Acid which is anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacteria. They also have the highest level of electrolytes known to man, making them perfect when exercising or when dehydrated. In some parts of the world it is even used intravenously for the purpose of re-hydration. Coconut can boost our metabolism and make our skin shine.