Fortuitous Fusion – A Recipe

No, this is not about the sun and why we are all alive today, it’s more about writing down a cooking experience for me to not forget 🙂

Anyway, we were having a couple of people over for dinner, and I was in the mood for either an aviyal, or a Chettinad Fish concoction of some kind. But one of our guests was vegan, so no fish and no yogurt, what to do?

Note, this may already be a well known dish, but it is new to me!

A Chettinad style Aviyal

Spices for Seasoning

  • 1-2 tsp of mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp of fenugreek (methi) seeds – these are bitter and add texture and body
  • 1 tsp of black peppercorns – Same, texture and surprise pockets of spice
  • Curry leaves

Spices for Grinding

  • 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera) – Always be mindful of the magic ratio, 3:1 for coriander:cumin)
  • 2 tsp aniseed – the magic ingredient, aromatic and fresh breath smelling, but interesting flavour as well
  • 1-2 tsp of chilli powder. You know how hot your chilli powder is, you know how hot you want your dish to be, careful to begin with. It is also okay to add chilli powder towards the end, it is a prefried and ready to use spice.
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric

Vegetables for Steaming
A mix of what you would consider “avial” vegetables, so plantain, pumpkin, are nice. I also add carrots, peas, beans, broccoli, does not matter. Whatever you use, think of the colour, and the mix of using a starchy vegetable (potato, plantain, etc), a squashy vegetable (pumpkin, zucchini, etc), some fibrous ones (carrots, beans) and peas are always nice. How much? Well, as much as can fit in about 3-4 cups of stew and you know whether you like it all vegetabley or mostly liquid!

The Base

  • One large onion
  • 2-3 medium size tomatoes – juicy, not beefy
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, more if you want to repel vampires (and other people)
  • A can of coconut milk, look for one without preservative, no idea why they have to add preservative to something that is already in a can. If you have time, make it yourself

Why does cooking need strategy? Because parallel processing is fun and you’ll be done sooner, so you can get on with the more important things in life!

  • Chop the veggies for steaming – Medium size pieces so you can bite into them. Coin all cylindrical veggies and cube all others (not the peas, floret broccoli, etc). Once done, steam them, I use a pressure cooker without pressure, but you can just put in a pot with a bit of water and cover. You can also do them Italian style as well, sauté in oil, but it will take longer and won’t really work too well for the squash
  • While the veggies are steaming, use your favourite pot for making the base. Add some oil (use coconut oil to be 100% authentic, or just use your favourite high temperature cooking oil).
  • While the oil is heating up, chop the onions fine and locate your spices for seasoning. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. How do you know it’s hot? Why, the mustard seeds will start popping right away, chicken, meet egg! Once you hear the first seed or two popping, add the peppercorns and the fenugreek seeds. As the mustard seeds continue to pop, add the curry leaves. Of course, you’re stirring well to maximize heat transfer and hurting a bit as hot oil splatters on your arms (wait, that’s only me, nm).
  • If the oil temperature was just right, the peppercorns would pop before the fenugreek seeds turn to tar, but it’s all right if that does not happen! I presume the perfect way to do this would be to add the peppercorns before the fenugreek, because the fenugreek takes very little time to fry, good tip for next time:-) The minute you smell the fenugreek seeds getting seasoned, add the onions and stir well. Adding a wet ingredient to the dry mix has the effect of stopping the frying of the dry ingredients in their tracks
  • The onions should take 10 minutes or so on medium heat. Use this time to dry grind your spices to a fine powder. I have an Indian super machine now, but I’ve used a coffee grinder before (you’ll never get the vague aftertaste of anise out of your coffee ever again, so I’d buy a dedicated spice grinder). Also, chop your garlic into thin slivers and your tomatoes fine.
  • Once the onions are mostly done, meaning translucent and beautiful, add the garlic and fry for a bit more after increasing the heat a little bit. Don’t caramelize, just sauté to translucent
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low and add your fine ground spice mix. Fry for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and saute/fry under medium low until you’re getting a nice base going, meaning the tomatoes are cooked and becoming part of the liquid. It is okay to have a little bit of texture (my personal preference). Mash and stir constantly for this to happen.
  • At some point in time, you should have checked on your veggies to confirm they got steamed. Drain any excess water, but keep it, you may get to use it later 🙂
  • Add the veggies and mix around, let the sauce coat the veggies well.
  • Add the coconut milk, and salt (okay, I did not list salt, but did you expect a saltless dish?). Add to taste, of course.
  • Add some water (how much depends on how thick you like it, and it will thicken over time) and bring to a boil. Of course, if you had your veggie water saved, all the better
  • Season with cilantro, or my new seasoning favourite, the green tips of green onions.

Serve with rice, or chapatis, or naans, or your favourite carb. And remember to invite your friends over to share the meal, most important tip of all.

PS: No food photograph, sorry, didn’t see the point. It will look like a off white stew with vegetables floating around in it, and bits of green seasoning…