Thursday, August 14, 2014

Vella Aval (Sweet Flattened Rice Or Poha With Coconut, Cashews and Raisins)

Janmashtami or Bhagavan Krishna's birthday is not complete without Vella Aval; at least some type of sweet aval was always made on the occasion of Janmashtami in our home. The main ingredient, the aval (Tamil), or poha (Hindi), is flattened rice similar to rolled oats. The humble aval is transformed into something truly divine in this simple dish! Vella Aval is also a favorite in many temples in South India - to be given as prasad for all visitors.

The story associated with aval and Krishna is very sweet; it is about true friendship. We never tired of hearing this story as children. Here is the story for those who may not be familiar with it:

Krishna and Sudama were school friends. They were best of friends and parted ways promising to remember each other always.

Sudama wanted to visit his friend but was not sure he should. His wife knew of Sudama's friendship with Krishna and asked her husband to visit him. Sudama was delighted with the idea of seeing his childhood friend again and agreed to go. He told his wife that he needed a gift for his friend. His wife collected rice and prepared aval from it. She tied it in a piece of cloth and gave it to Sudama.

Sudama took the humble gift and walked to Dwaraka, Krishna's city. He arrived in Dwaraka all tired and dusty from his travels. As soon as he saw Sudama approaching his palace, Krishna ran out to meet him and embraced him warmly in spite of Sudama's remonstrances that he was dusty and dirty. He led his friend by hand to his palace and washed his feet with his own hands! Sudama was overwhelmed by the sweet hospitality of Krishna and his queen.

Sudama was shy to offer the gift he had brought thinking it was too small a gift to give a king. But Krishna spied the little package and exclaiming his joy at receiving a gift, reassured Sudama that anything offered with love was dear to him. Krishna said, "a flower, a leaf, a fruit, or even a drop of water offered with a pure heart will be accepted by me with love" and proceeded to gobble it all up.

Krishna and Sudama spent the time reminiscing about their time at school and soon it was time to return home. Sudama left with a reassured heart that he and Krishna had a true friendship irrespective of the difference in their stations in life.

Janmashtami is celebrated grandly with goodies children love since it is the celebration of Baby Krishna's birthday. Crunchy rice flour snacks like spiral murukku and thenkuzhal, marble-sized savory cheedai, etc were customary savories at our house; Vella Aval, vella cheedai, neyyappam, Payasam, fresh fruits, etc the sweets.

Every home and community has its own special menu for the celebration. The whole neighborhood smelled divine with the aroma of cooking wafting in the air. But all of us children knew that we must wait for the special hour of blessing. It was a lesson in patience as well as joy of anticipation before the special treats were blessed and everyone got to enjoy them.
Vella Aval

Here is the lovely Vella Aval recipe:


1 cup Aval or Poha
1 cup Jaggery or Brown Cane Sugar
1/4 cup Coconut
2 Tbsp Cashews (optional)
2 Tbsp Raisins (optional)
1 Tbsp Ghee OR Earth Balance
1/2 tsp ground Cardamom/ground Dry Ginger


Pick over the aval to remove stones or other debris; rinse and drain. Add about a half cup of water and let soak while preparing the following.

Place jaggery in a wide pan with 1/2 cup of water and heat over medium heat until jaggery dissolves and forms a thick syrup. Let it boil for a couple of minutes until the raw aroma disappears.

Add the cardamom or ginger and mix well.

Stir in the aval and keep stirring over low-medium heat until aval has absorbed the syrup and become hot and fluffy; there should not be any excess moisture left. Turn off the heat.

Heat the ghee and fry the cashews in it until pinkish; add the coconut and cook until golden.

Stir the raisins in and stir well until raisins begin to puff up.

Remove coconut mixture from heat and stir into the aval. Mix well. Let cool.

Vella Aval is usually served at room temperature.  Enjoy!!

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