The Golden Beans

“ When Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu, was carrying the pot of Amrit, a drop fell onto the earth, and this germinated as ‘Averakai’, quips my friend in Bangalore. Averekai is starchy and nutritious, like most other beans, but with a distinct, luxurious aroma known as ‘sogadu’ in Kannada. The credit of the original quote goes to Girisam, from Kanyashulkam, a well-known Telugu play, when he describes the birth of tobacco on the earth.

The beans’ scientific name is lablab purpureus; it’s called the poor man bean in Australia and the butter bean in the Caribbean. The plant is native to Africa and India, and here in Karnataka, it’s called Avarekai. The bean grows purple, but the Indian domesticated variety is generally green. Some wise men call this’ broad beans’ in English. The story goes that the 13th century Hoysala king Veera Ballala II had lost his way in a forest, an older woman fed him boiled beans. The king named that part of the forest Benda Kaalu Ooru or the Town of Boiled Beans, touched by her gesture.

Averakai is the darling of most of the houses in Karnataka. The arrival of the pods provides a festive look in the home. Though the beans are seasonal, they are available throughout the year. Averekai, a legume (such as a bean pod), is composed of one folded carpel. It splits lengthwise two seams into two sections, each representing half of a carpel. The seeds hide in a shiny green transparent colour cover which comes out easily with some effort. These dicotyledons seeds could be off-white or green. The size of the beans and the ‘sogudu’ decide the price- the more robust the smell, the higher the price.

While it looks easy, the process takes a considerable effort before the pods become edible. My brother-in-law has three days of work when the beans arrive home. In the first stage, his single-minded devotion to a pile of beans is to separate the tender ones, the hardy ones, and chuck out the wormy ones. Having separated the junk, he gets busy peeling the carpels and keeps the glistening seeds in a clean container. He spreads an old newspaper on the table for the second stage and sorts the green, brown and off-white into three separate pools. The plumper beans get into a zip-lock bag for storage in the refrigerator. They find their identity in uppittu, sambar, akki rotti or occasionally deep-fried in hot oil to make a savoury trail-mix with slices of roasted coconut and nuts a frequent coffee-time snack.

In the third stage, he sits down with ‘ vibhuti’ ( sacred ash) and starts peeling the cover of the seeds of the second pool. This task requires a lot of attention and skill. He applies the correct pressure from the thumb and the index finger. If the pressure is low, the seed will slip from the fingers and fly off if the pressure is high.

In the fourth stage, green and off-white seeds ( pithuku paripu or hitiku bele) go through another screening before getting into zip-lock bags for storage. My sister gets orders to go with breakfast using the first pool — uppittu or rotti. Occasionally, she makes ‘bill koikotte’ — a double steamed version of upma. Accompaniment is different for each of the recipes. Sometimes, she ventures into making curries or sambar for lunch or dries them for usage at a later period.

The recipe of pithuku paripu gets a lot of attention. My sister is good at this spicey recipe called kootu, which goes well with rice, local pieces of bread and ragi ‘ball’. My brother in law invites his kith and kin for the pithuku paripu meal, a celebration in the house. The guests reciprocate with a similar gesture in their homes. The fierce enemies( personal and political) bury their differences and accept invitations for the sumptuous averekai meal. It is a seasonal merry go round, and I never declined an invitation for such a meal. After these unique lunches and dinners, I usually end up with after-effects for a couple of days — gas and gas pains. Though my digestive system goes for a toss, and I struggle to get rid of the excess gas by either burping or passing gas (flatus), I am ready for the next meal — a typical Bangalorean.

Closing tip: If you visit Bengaluru, you should not miss the Avarekai Mela, an annual Bengaluru fair showcasing unique dishes made from avarekai, from good old curries to delicious sweets.

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…back to a time when I had time.

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Dravida Seetharam

Dravida Seetharam

Life long learner with interests in reading and writing

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