This common and easy to make fare is often scoffed at by expert cooks. Perhaps it acquired this reputation from Kuchela (aka Sudama).
This poor peasant goes to visit his childhood friend Krishna with nothing more than a handful of aval as a gift. Krishna, by then the king of Dwarka, receives his friend with open arms. In a gesture of extraordinary hospitality Krishna and his wife take the aval from Kuchela’s reluctant hands and eat all of it with the utmost relish. This story from the Bhagavata Purana is told over and over by every grandmother to every grandchild. (Today they probably have a DVD to replace grandma.) There is too a Kathakali opera based on this story.
Black mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Chana dal Rinsed – 1 tsp
Urad dal – 1 tsp
Asafoetida (hing) powder – 1/2 tsp
Green chilies, minced – 3 or 4
Curry leaves (minced) – 4 -6
Chopped cilantro (coriander leaves) – small bunch
Fresh mint leaves – 2 or 3
Chopped onion – 1/2 cup
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Sambar powder – 1 tsp
Black pepper corns – 1/4 tsp
Peanuts or cashew pieces – 1/4 cup
Diced potato – 1/4 cup
Carrot sticks – 1/4 cup
Cherry tomatoes – 6 -12
Dry bread cut into small pieces – 1/2 cup
Canola and sesame oil blend – 2-3 tbs
Lemon or lime juice – 2 tbs
Salt – to taste
Aval or Poha – 3 cups
Rinse the aval in cold water with one or two changes of water. Then allow it to drain in a colander for to ten minutes . I usually add the salt and lemon juice to the poha at this stage and mix it so the aval does not clump.
Heat the oil in a large saute pan and temper the mustard seeds. Add the pepper, cumin, hint, urad and chana dal in succession. Add the nuts and sauté for a minute. Add the hing and turmeric and sambar powder. Add and sauté the onions until they begin to clear and add the chilies other vegetables. Stir, lower the heat and cover for a few minutes. When the potato begins to soften, add the tomatoes, curry leaves, cilantro and mint. Now add the bread and stir for a few minutes. Finally add the rinsed and salted aval and stir over low flame till it is well blended with spices and heated.
Serve with lemon pickles and a patchadi or plain yogurt.
My aunt Vijaya used to make delicious variations of this simple dish with tamarind, with coconut, with fresh ground pepper. On certain festival days she would make it with jaggery and ghee. Aval Uppama in her hands was transformed into a delicacy of some subtlety.
As a young boy this used to be one of my favorite breakfasts in the hostel where I lived for a few years. It then became part of my repertoire in the one stove bed sitter I had in London. It was cheap, easy to make in a single pan. It was filling and it reminded me of home. What more could one ask for of food? Over the years I have added vegetables and nuts and a variety of ingredients to add textures and flavors. Be generous with the cilantro and curry leaves so the aval is infused with these flavors.