The wafting aroma of the winter beans of Bangalore, Avarekai is almost like a ritual and legacy in every kitchen.
Growing up in Hyderabad, the winter window was always a small time frame and a season that I looked forward too as a child as it was a great way to escape the unrelenting heat of the city through the year. Winter hence always meant a lot of stories of seasonal food mostly of avarekai (Hyacinth Beans / Flat beans) which was not available in Hyderabad. Being in a nuclear family, our meals at home were always simple, fuss free, vegetarian fare. My mother would always focus on eating local and seasonal – a guiding principle at home. And as I write this, I cannot help but think how this is the exact food concept that has taken over the world right now with focus on eating seasonal foods from the region. And come winter the one seasonal delicacy avarekai made its much awaited appearance in late November or early December. My mom would regale us with stories of how shelling the beans and then removing the outer skin would be a family affair with everybody in the family pitching in. She also spoke of how the best beans were the ones that had the characteristic sogadu or the aroma of the beans harvested at the right time and how the bean made its way into everything from idli, dosa, upma, rice, rasam and sambhar. Naturally, avarekai was always vivid in my imagination and one winter my father returned from a trip to Bangalore and came back with a bag full of avarekai.
The distinctive smell of the beans in a cloth bag is a memory that I remember distinctly even to this day. Excited, we (my parents, sister and me) sat together to shell the beans and I remember that I kept looking at my fingers change colour from the oily texture of the outer cover of the beans. My mother explained that sogadu is also when the bean is at its best size and flavour and is usually harvested post a spell of rainfall. The next few days were all about avarekai – from avarekai saaru (rasam), a recipe that she learnt from her mother to avarekai uppitu (upma) and akki roti (rice rotis). However my favourite was the hittaku avarebele huli (a sambhar made using the peeled beans). When I first tasted it I realized that it was unlike the regular sambhar we had at home. The fact that this was made only using the beans cooked in the ground masala without the traditional dal was quite a revelation. And it was a taste that was unforgettable in that sense.
Many years after, we shifted to Bengaluru and winters meant easy access to the much loved avarekai as well as seeing it many other forms including in a halwa and as a fried savoury snack. At my first newspaper job in Bengaluru, the in house canteen served it with puri and it tasted exactly like the one I had at home. The winter is when the Avarekai mela takes place at Bengauru’s Sajjan Rao circle, an annual affair that sees crowds throng to sample the myriad interpretations of the bean. And after visiting several editions of the festival I can say that there is something new to look forward to each and every year. So do not be surprised to see it make an appearance in your pani puri, gulab jamun or even as a fried savoury snack. The versatility of this bean and the way it blends into so many dishes is really like no other. Many people also believe that the name of the city was inspired from the bean as it was called Bendakala Ooru (the city of baked beans) that eventually became Bengaluru. A winter specialty, Avarekai also has a host of health benefits as it is beneficial for diabetics and is a good source of protein too. For me however it is also a food memory that I cherish and hold close to my heart.
Here is my mother’s recipe of the Hittaku Avarebele Huli
- Avarekai without skin – 200 grams
- Onion – 2 medium
- Tomatoes – 2 medium
- Fresh coriander – a few sprigs
- Dry Coconut – 100 grams
- Dry Red Chillies – 4-5
- Fresh Coconut – 100 grams
- Green chillies – 2-3
- Cinnamon – 1 stick
- Garlic – a few cloves (optional)
- Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
- Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
- Asafoetida – a pinch
- Turmeric – 1 tsp
- Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
- Oil or Ghee – 1 tbsp
- Sambhar Powder – 1 tbsp
- Rasam Powder – 1 tbsp
- Tamarind juice 50 ml
- Salt to taste
- Fry onions, dry coconut, cinnamon, garlic and red chillies and set aside.
- Once cool put into a grinder and add fresh coconut, green chillies, fresh coriander, garlic, tomato and grind to a coarse paste.
- Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida. Once the mustard seeds sputter add the ground masala and fry for a few minutes.
- Add the washed avarekai beans and fry for some time. Add a little water as needed and add salt, turmeric, sambhar and rasam powder. Keep adding water in small quantities as the dish starts to thicken.
- Cover and allow the avarekai to cook in the ground masala.
- Add tamarind juice and bring to a final boil.
- Serve hot. This can be had with rice, chappati or puri and you can have the consistency to your liking thick or watery.
This story first appeared in The Hindu dated Feb 16, 2020 here: