Avarekai (in Kannada, a language spoken in the south Indian state of Karnataka) are broad beans that belong to the same family as fava beans. Just as fava beans are seasonal and celebrated during the brief period that they appear in; Avarekai are adored during the cooler winter months that they are abundant in. Preparing Avarekai beans for cooking is a labor of love. Seeds are first extracted from their waxy outer shells, just as you might shell peas or fava beans. With fava beans, you blanch the seeds in salty hot water for about 30 seconds or so to slip off the coating on the seeds. But with Avarekai, the seeds need to soak in water overnight before you can slip off the coating on the seeds. The part of slipping the coating of the seeds is usually a communal activity, non-trivial, and can take hours to complete. In fact, its a coveted skill where the experts can do the skinning with both hands. You literally pinch a soaked seed between your pointer and thumb to slip off the coating. Sounds simple, but just try it.
And then you cook them. Despite the fact that about a pound of Avarekai beans will yield about 1/3 cup of shelled and skinned seeds, Avarekai is a vegetable widely eaten in the south Indian state of Karnataka. Actually, strike out the word ‘widely eaten’. Its more of a ‘frenzied eating’.
These days it is possible to find frozen Avarekai (shelled, but not skinned) in Indian grocery stores. It is marketed under the name Surti Lilva, but lacks the intense smell and flavor of fresh Avarekai. If you are lucky to have someone in India who can prepare the seeds for you and dehyrate them, you can enjoy Avarekai year long. Thankfully, I am the grateful recipient of a decent stash of dehydrated Avarekai. I store the dehydrated seeds in the freezer where they last really long. That is, if you can resist the temptation to use them up. To hydrate the seeds, I soak them in water for up to 4 hours before I use them in cooking as described in the recipe below. This picture shows how they look once they are ready for cooking. The seeds have lovely beige and green hues.
Avarekai are widely used, but this is a popular way to eat Avarekai. This dish is typically served with pooris (deep fried bread made with a wheat flour based dough), or dosas (fermented lentil-rice pancakes). This is a dish I can eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I can also wake up at 2 am and sit down to an Avarekai meal!
This dish consists of making a sauce based on onions, coconut and spices, and cooking the avarekai seeds in it until tender.
Serves 4 Ingredients (sauce): 1/2 tsp vegetable oil 1/2 cup chopped red or yellow onions 1/2 tsp cumin seeds 10 fresh curry leaves 1 tbsp white poppy seeds 1/4 cup fresh grated coconut 1 generous tsp coriander seed powder 1/2 - 1 tsp red chilli powder 1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger Ingredients (saagu): 2 tbsps vegetable oil 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds 1/2 cup chopped red or yellow onions 1/2 tsp turmeric powder 10 fresh curry leaves 3 cups prepared avarekai seeds salt to taste 1/2 tsp coriander powder Method: Sauce - In a saucepan, heat 1/2 tsp oil. Add onions, cumin and poppy seeds.Cook until onions are translucent and slightly caramelizing on the edges. Remove from heat, add coconut, coriander powder, red chilli powder and fresh ginger to the onion mixture. Blend all this with about 1/2 cup water to make a thick paste. Set aside. Saagu - In another saucepan, heat the 2 tbsps oil. Add black mustard seeds and when they start popping, add in the onions, turmeric powder and fresh curry leaves. Salt the onions lightly in order to render some moisture out of the onions. When the onions are transparent, add the avarekai seeds. You will start smelling the fragrance of the avarekai at this point. Cook until the seeds turn a shade darker and add the paste you made earlier. Add extra water to enable cooking of the seeds. Lower heat, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. You want to get to the point where the seeds are soft but not mushy and retain their shape. Season with salt and sprinkle the 1/2 tsp coriander powder. Serve hot with pooris or dosas.