Entering my home town Kollam in Kerala by road in the early hours from of morning from the North is nothing short of dramatic. As the vehicle starts to roll over the bridge (connecting the twin sea ports of Needakara and Shatikulangara) I always roll down the windows in reflex. Old habits die real hard. This is my route 66. It is according to the National Highway authorities too.
As the window rolls down, the view of the sea and the smell of fish hits me like a welcome embrace.That saltiness and the smell of fish that hang over the Neendakara (long shore) port where hundreds of mechanized fishing boats and trawlers bring in their morning catch.
There is something about the blue of these waters.The huge expanse of the Astamudi lake waters slowly merging into the Arabian Sea. It’s simply spectacular as your eyes span the entire horizon, taking in the colours and the movements. With AVIAL, Kerala’s rock band pumping through the car speakers, their song ‘Njan Aara?’ (Who am I?) takes on a whole new meaning in this beautiful, natural land and waterscape. If you are gifted with a stunning sunrise consider yourself doubly blessed!
Looking at the expanse of gently rolling waters, hundreds of years roll back too and the theatre of spectacular proportions unfolds; of huge Chinese junks (ships) with sails anchored in the port readying to load their trading cargo to barter with Arab merchants.
This is when I visualize Bodhidharma, our Kalaripayattu warrior, Ayurveda vaidyan and monk rolled into one doing his ritual practice on the waters near the shoreline and slowly clambering aboard one of these huge Chinese sail ships to go to China and head the Shaolin Temple.
That’s my Bodhidharma story. From Kalaripayattu to Kungfu.
Every time I traverse this bridge.
But this time we drove to a friend’s home in Shaktikulangara to have an early lunch before heading to Thiruvananthapuram.
It was a classic lunch as usual with fish, rice and veggies.
But it was the king was the veggies on offer that I was repeatedly piling onto my plate. And on enquiring with the lady who cooked it up came the secret ingredient – Shrimps fresh from Shaktikulangara. The classic AVIAL had taken on a whole new avatar. But it was ok by me. If the Shaktikulangara folks were cooking Avial with shrimps in it, bring it on. I’m not complaining. In fact I loved the flavor of shrimps across all those veggies.
Strange but mind-blowing.
Historically, AVIAL is the first dish to be served on an Onam Sadya leaf.
13 vegetables comprise of the AVIAL cooked with yoghurt and coconut.
Bhima, the legendary warrior son of the Pandava family is mythologically known to have created it. Either in the guise of cook Ballava or after the feast for his funeral was cancelled when he rose from the waters after being poisoned by the Kauravas. The Nagas had sucked out the poison.
Anyways, it was always known to be created out of all the vegetables that remained in the kitchen whenever you had surprise guests or whenever the dishes started to run out.
So in a Shaktikulangara kitchen or in a Chinese galleon, some enterprising cook would have tossed in all the left over veggies to create a regular Avial and then decided to toss in the shrimps too. EUREKA!
From the Shaktikulangara kitchens it was not long before the recipe reached Kollam Homes. Shrimps were replaced with Neitholi (anchovies), mussels or squid. But sadly, we have no mythology to fall back on.
As I was strolling around Bengaluru’s COX TOWN market today, I noticed a lady buying up veggies to make an AVIAL and then it struck me that Fresh to Home had delivered shrimp to me this morning. I got all the required veggies for an AVIAL and headed home.
Just as AVIAL, the iconic Kerala rock band weaved its lyrics of folk maladies into hard core rhythmic rock, I had to cook the veggies along with the delicate shrimps. Almost like the electronic grooves, Gibson guitar riffs and thundering drums and bass AVIAL the band creatively molded together to back a high wailing vocals in chaste Malayalam that took the country by storm – I had to be creative too.
Like Bodhidharma asked to cook for a surprise guest, I cooked the array of vegetables along with the shrimp from the sea. AVIAL was after all cooked with what was left behind and a little creativity – This Avial was created with not just the bounty of the land.
It had the bounty of the sea too!
Sea Shrimps: 500 gms cleaned and deveined.
Raw Banana: 1 no. medium sized sliced 2 inches lengthwise
Bitter Gourd: ½ medium sized sliced
Pumpkin: Medium chunk skinned and sliced
Purple Brinjal: 1 no sliced
Cucumber: ½ skinned and sliced
Drumstick: 1 no skinned and sliced in pieces
Amarakka: 10 nos ends sliced off
Onions: 1 no large sliced
Green Chillies: 5 nos large, sliced lengthwise
Coconut: Half grated
Garlic: 6 pods grated
Curry leaves: 1 large sprig
Tamarind paste: 1 teaspoon
Coconut Oil : 4 tablespoons
Cook the cleaned shrimps in a pan for 2 minutes with a spoon of coconut oil, half the grated garlic and salt to taste.
Place the sliced brinjals and raw banana in a vessel of water with a teaspoon of turmeric.
Blend the grated coconut with 2 tsps of jeera seeds, rest of the garlic and salt.
Boil all the veggies in water tinged with turmeric and salt till almost done.
Cook the sliced yam pieces in a pressure cooker for 2 whistles with a dash of water.
Add the cooked yam to the veggies.
Cover with a lid and cook the veggies with the tamarind paste till almost done.
Now toss in the cooked shrimp with the juice.
Temper some mustard seeds, 2 red chillies in coconut oil and pour on top of the cooked dish.
Serve with rice and rasam or eat it plain.
The recipe at a glance
– Cook the cleaned shrimps in a pan for 2 minutes with a spoon of coconut oil, half the
grated garlic and salt to taste.
– Place the sliced brinjals and raw banana in a vessel of water with a teaspoon of
– Blend the grated coconut with 2 tsps of jeera seeds, rest of the garlic and salt.
– Boil all the veggies in water tinged with turmeric and salt till almost done.
– Cook the sliced yam pieces in a pressure cooker for 2 whistles with a dash of water.
– Add the cooked yam to the veggies.
– Cover with a lid and cook the veggies with the tamarind paste till almost done.
– Now toss in the cooked shrimp with the juice.
– Stir well.
– Temper some mustard seeds, 2 red chillies in coconut oil and pour on top of the cooked
About the Author
Monu Danesh Surendran works for a retail organization in Bangalore and heads it online and branding division. He is a foodie by passion and therefore tries his hand at stuff in his home kitchen. While not dabbling in cooking during his days off he likes his music and of course trying out food. He prefers home cooked cuisine though restaurant fare guarantees a good outing with friends.
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