Vegetables in Yogurt (Avial)

Let's talk about spices. Indian spices.

I grew up in northwestern Minnesota eating meat and potatoes. The only spices I knew were salt, pepper, and ketchup. Spices like coriander, cumin, turmeric, and ginger never crossed my palate until I was in college. Now, I love Indian cooking. It took me a while, and I am still picky about the dishes I like... Eventually, the complex spice combination that makes my taste buds dance and my nose relish in the intoxicating scents wins me over.

While I love the navratan korma at Bombay Bistro, delving into the mysterious world of Indian cooking is daunting. I have a couple dishes I like to make, but I wanted to expand my repertoire.

So, this past weekend, I went browsing at the library and stumbled upon a cookbook by Monisha Bharadwaj entitled India's Vegetarian Cooking: A Regional Guide. The book has mouthwatering pictures and recipes from all over India. I had been craving a yogurt-based sauce and so Vegetables in Yogurt (or Avial) seemed like the perfect recipe with which to begin!

Avial is steamed vegetables in a creamy coconut-green chili sauce. My version of the recipe ended up a little on the sweet side because I used Italia peppers for the green chilies simply because that's what I had on hand. Italia peppers look very similar to Anaheim chili peppers, but they taste much different! Peppers confuse me. I have the hardest time telling them apart and knowing what pepper is good for which recipe. I probably should have used Anaheim chili peppers, but the dish still tasted delicious. A spicier pepper with a little zing would have been nice.

This recipe also calls for curry leaves. Curry leaves do not make curry powder. Confusing! Curry powder is a mixture of spices, and the flavors of that mixture can vary greatly. Curry leaves are an herb that look similar to bay leaves. I've read that they taste tangy or citrusy and that their flavor is extremely difficult to replicate. Sometimes basil works well. I used celery leaves. The celery I got from my CSA this week is the strongest tasting celery I've ever had. The leaves smelled so fresh and summery that I couldn't throw them away. They added a wonderful flavor to this dish but were in no way trying to replace the curry leaves that I had failed to find.

Vegetables in Yogurt (Avial)
4 servings, adapted from India's Vegetarian Cooking: A Regional Guide by Monisha Bharadwaj

1 cup dried shredded coconut
2 fresh green chilies (I used Italia peppers)
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground cumin would work fine too)
10 black peppercorns, crushed
11 ounces mixed vegetables, cubed (I used 2 carrots, 1 celery stalk and 4 medium potatoes)
2/3 cup plain yogurt, seasoned with salt (yum!!)
10 curry leaves (I used 1/2 cup chopped celery leaves)
Salt, to taste

  1. Steam the vegetables. Place in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add the coconut, peppers, cumin seeds, and crushed peppercorns to a food processor. Turn on the processor and slowly add some water to make a fine paste.
  3. Add the paste to the cooked vegetables and 2/3 cup water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
  4. Add the salt to the yogurt and stir well. Then, add the yogurt mixture to the pan. Simmer for a couple of minutes, then add the celery leaves and stir. Serve over plain rice.

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