Aruna Dayanand's Avarekalu Usali

#1000Kitchens is a series that goes into kitchens all over the country, documenting heirloom recipes that tell a story. In this edition, Aruna Dayanand shares the recipe to a traditional Lingayat Avarekalu Usali, or hyacinth bean curry.

On Sunday morning, Aruna Dayanand, mother to two children and a brightly coloured macaw, wakes before sunrise, like every other day of the week. By 7 am, she has worked in a brisk morning walk, finished her first cup of coffee, fed Jenny (the macaw) and showered. She makes her coffee in a steel filter-coffee press, and is a particular cook by all accounts. By 11 am, breakfast is done, lunch has been cooked, and the kitchen is closed. Now she can settle in for a bit of Netflix at her dining table.

Today she’s showing us the recipe to her family’s Avarekalu Usali. Her mise en place is ready by the stove, and her kitchen is tidy to the point of being bare. ‘Where is everything?’ we sputter, coming from kitchens that veer dangerously toward the maximalist side of life. She hands us two glasses of fresh, frothy orange juice, and pulls open a cupboard door: inside, shiny rows of stainless steel tumblers sit adjacent to neat stacks of plates and bowls.  

But Aruna’s pantry is quite the opposite of her kitchen; stocked to every corner. She walks us through her neatly ordered pantry shelves: coffee, dal, rice, tea, sugar. But her KonMari efficiency is betrayed by the largeness of her heart: the 3 largest metal bins in her pantry are filled with feed for pigeons and crows that visit her terrace garden, and for the cats on the street below.

averakai recipe 1000kitchens
averakai recipe 1000kitchens

Today’s avarekalu usali is a recipe Aruna inherited from her mother-in-law. “It’s a simple dish,” she promises, “With the addition of a few ingredients that take it to another level.” The Lingayat community, to which Aruna belongs, is most famous for their avarekalu usali. “We are obsessed with it,” she says with a shy smile. Avarekalu is serious business, and no one serious about avarekalu would buy their stash from anywhere but Malleswaram, no matter where in the city they live.  

Avarekalu or hyacinth bean is a buttery green bean, in season during the winters, when the state of Karnataka is gripped in mad frenzy. Every household finds creative ways to incorporate the bean into each meal, making the most of its short season. The pulsing heart of this feverish consumption is the Malleswaram market where heaps of tender shelled beans are sold in open carts. A true aficionado would only ever buy avarekalu here.

averakai recipe 1000kitchens
averakai recipe 1000kitchens
averakai 1000Kitchens 6.jpg

By her stove, as Aruna pours a bit of coconut oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, and the mustard seeds sputter, she tells us about villages in Tumkur where the beans are cooked on wood-fire, in the open fields: “Men shell the beans directly into a pot, and cook it with just a simple oggarane (spice tempering) thrown in with butter. When the pot is covered, a bit of water is poured on the lid, and the beans are slow-cooked on a low flame. Steam from the lid cooks the beans inside, preserving the intensity of their flavour.” 

Aruna’s family recipe is considerably different, forgoing the luxury of slow-cooking to keep pace with her busy city life, but without compromising on flavour. As she fastens the lid on a pressure-cooker, she shares the key to her recipe. “Equal quantities of onion and beans; proportion is everything,” she says. One whistle later, she uncovers the cooker, and lets the water simmer down before heaping in fresh coconut and a big squeeze of lime. “Just these two ingredients make all the difference.” She spoons the beans into a bowl by the window, dropping in a large knob of butter that quickly disappears into the steaming bean curry.

averakai recipe 1000kitchens

We sit together at her table, folding hot ghee dosas into the avarekalu usali. The beans are slippery and soft, creamy in this light and delicious curry. Aruna sips on a coffee. She is leaving for yoga class soon, where she meets friends for a bit of catch up. “Sometimes we go to the movies together. But if the usual bunch is busy, or it’s a movie no one else wants to watch, I love going alone, too.”

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1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 sprigs curry leaves
2 cups onion, chopped fine
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
2 green chilli, chopped fine
2 cups avarekai beans
1 cup of water
Juice of half lime
Coriander, chopped
1/2 cup grated coconut
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
A knob of butter
Salt, to taste
2 tbsp coconut oil

Place a heavy bottomed pressure cooker on medium heat and pour in the coconut oil. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. When they begin to sputter, add in the curry leaves quickly followed by the ginger-garlic paste. Cook for a minute.

Now add in the onion and cook till they soften. Add in the green chilli and stir well. Now add the beans, and pour in enough water to cover the contents of the pot. Cover the pot and cook on a low flame for one whistle of the cooker.

Meanwhile, dry roast and grind the cumin and fenugreek.

Uncover the pot, add salt and the cumin-fenugreek powder. Cook on low flame to let the water reduce.

When it reaches the consistency you like, add in the coconut and coriander, and a generous squeeze of lime juice.

Check for seasoning. Serve hot with a knob of butter. Best eaten with ghee dosas.

averakai recipe 1000kitchens

Words by Anisha Rachel Oommen; photographs by Aysha Tanya; and illustration by  Ananya Broker Parekh.