There is a tradition in Madras (now Chennai), my hometown, it’s a light meal in between lunch and dinner, and we call it ‘tiffin’. (Strangely such a tradition exists in Spain as well, called ‘merienda’). A tiffin is usually a light meal, eaten at home if you are a kid after coming back from school, and at a restaurant if you are at work/on the road. It normally ends with a strong cup of south-Indian “Filter coffee” (brewed from a mix of coffee and chicory) with milk.
Adai and Aviyal was one of my favorite tiffins. Aviyal is a typical dish from Kerala, later adapted into Tamil cuisine. It is a mild curry made with mixed vegetables cooked in a coconut and cumin paste and served with fresh yogurt. It is made usually when different vegetables are left over, none enough to make a dish on its own, but are mixed together to make this delicious curry. In Kerala it is usually eaten with steamed rice, but in Tamil cuisine, it is paired with a spicy rice-lentil crepe called Adai. It’s very simple to make, and here is how.
Aviyal (mild curry made with mixed vegetables cooked in a coconut and cumin paste and served with fresh yogurt)
2 cups of mixed vegetables, julienned (I used carrots, green beans, eggplant and potatoes)
Coconut – 1/2 of a fresh coconut (Don’t use dessicated coconut, grated frozen is alright, but try and get it fresh)
Cumin seeds – about 1 tablespoon
Green chili – 1 – 3 depending on how spicy you like it (I added only one, because I was serving it to my toddlers)
Yogurt – 1 cup
Salt to taste
1. Cook the vegetables with about 1/4 cup of water and salt, covered till tender, but not mushy (or microwave it on high for 8 – 10 minutes)
2. Grind the cumin, coconut, and green chilis in a thick fine paste with a bit of water.
3. Add the ground coconut mixture to the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust the salt.
4. Take it off heat, let it cool down a bit, mix in the yogurt and serve.
5. At this point you can temper a big pinch of cumin seeds and fresh curry leaves in coconut oil to garnish the aviyal or serve as is.
Adai (Spicy rice-lentil crepe)
Starchy short grained rice – 1 cup
Lentils – 1 cup
(mixture of toor dal/yellow pigeon peas, urad dal/peeled black gram, moong dal/yellow mung bean and chana dal/split bengal gram)
Dried red chili – 2 or 3
Salt to taste
Ghee to cook the crepes
1. Wash and soak rice, lentils and red chili in water for a couple of hours.
2. Drain well, and grind into a coarse batter with water. Mix in salt.
3. Heat a griddle on the stove and spread the batter into a thin crepe. Add a bit of ghee and cook for a minute or two and flip the adai. Cook for a minute more, and take it off the heat.
4. Serve with aviyal.
1. It’s common to mix finely diced onions or tender drumstick leaves to the adai batter.
2. If yogurt isn’t your thing, serve aviyal as is with a teaspoon of lemon juice (or 1/4 teaspoon tamarind paste) or slivers of raw green mango.
3. Feel free to use whatever vegetables you have on hand in the aviyal. Asparagus, zucchini, peas, broccoli, cauliflower (or the more traditional Indian vegetables like yam, plantain, snake gourd, white pumpkins, drumsticks). Avoid vegetables that will turn mushy when cooked or ones that will tint the curry, like beets.