Recall the scene from Disney Pixars movie 'Ratatouille'. The one where Remy the rat prepares the ultimate Provencal peasant comfort food ratatouille, The sauce layer at the bottom of the pan with uniformly sliced veggies layered over & baked to perfection.. The expression on Anton Ego's caricatured face sums up the ecstasy that many of us have felt when biting into that particular comfort food that we all grew up with.
For many of us, Avial is one such food. At its dismissive best, the term 'Avial' implies a hodge-podge of various veggies cooked together & bound by a coconut gravy. & yet it was the vegetable of choice for many a South Indian mother for any special occasion.
The uniqueness of Avial lies in its elegant simplicity. Cumin & Green chillies bound together with coconut & possibly a dash of soured buttermilk. That's it! It leaves you free to add whatever combination of vegetables you prefer.
This variation of Avial has been baked casserole style rather than cooking the individual vegetables separately and then adding the paste as in done the traditional way.
For the paste, you need:
1/2-2/3 can of Coconut milk
1 tbsp grated coconut
1-2 tbsp Jeera,
2-3 Green chillies to taste
1 sprig fresh curry leaves
a pinch of turmeric
Salt to taste
Coconut oil to taste
Coriander for Garnish
Combine all these ingredients in a blender & grind into a smooth paste. Set aside.
Pick any 3-5 vegetables of your choice from the list given below :
beetroot (Yellow ones preferred unless you want a deep crimson colored dish!)
Patty pan Squash
Slice vegetables into uniform discs preferably using a mandoline
In a an oven proof dish (brushed well with coconut oil) , Place a layer of potato over the bottom.
spoon a layer of the coconut masala.
Arrange vegetables over the masala as shown below,
Continue alternating layers of masala & vegetables as per your preference,
finishing with a layer of vegetables. Drizzle over the top with coconut oil if desired.
(Remember the ol' mommy rules, the starchy & crisp vegetables are cooked for a longer time compared to the pumpkin/squash veggies, That rule still applies here, try to layer the crisp starchy veggies in the bottom & middle, & finish off with the zucchinis which cook faster)
Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and prick holes for steam to escape.
Bake in a 350 C oven until vegetables are cooked. (~ 20-25 min)
Cut and serve over plain rice or rice noodles or simply by itself as a gratin bake!.