Meandering through the gourmet street of VV Puram in Bengaluru, a strange looking jalebi caught our attention. Strange, only for its colour; otherwise, the jalebi looks like any other jalebi—concentric circles forming web-like patterns at places the batter bypasses gastronomical barriers.
This jalebi looked strange because this jalebi is pale green. And soaked in glazing sugar syrup, the jalebi looks neon against the dimness of street lights.
The green jalebi is made of Avarebele or Hyacinth beans. A beloved winter crop in this part of the country. Avarebele (avare-bele, the latter is the term for bean in Kannada) is a seasonal bean in Karnataka. Shelled from avarekai, the whole Hyacinth bean that is used for cooking pretty much everywhere in the country, Avarebele dishes are exclusive to Karnataka.
Cashing in on this no-apologies approach to avarebele love, Bengaluru's buzzing food streets like VV Puram host avarebele festivals in the winter season.
Even then, avarebele jalebi is an innovation. Here, deep-fried avarebele jalebi, which is green in colour, gets powdered and added to the batter, giving it a distinct green hue. Though the jalebi tastes much like any regular jalebi, save for a hint of a nutty flavour, this jalebi is healthier compared to the refined flour jalebi variant.
Avarebele’s health properties are well known, perhaps a reason why people are unapologetic about eating it in all forms as long as it is in season. With absolutely no calories and oodles of calcium and essential minerals like magnesium and potassium, avarebele also provides enough protein per serving.
Health properties aside, it is the nutty, complex flavours of the beans that make it so loved. With technological intervention in agriculture, the once seasonal bean is available throughout the year. It’s certainly good news for farmers but not many Karnataka natives appreciate it. Ganga Parameswarappa (62), a resident of Mysuru, says the naturally grown winter varieties stand apart for their taste. The artificially grown ones are thicker and do not taste as good, she says.
Dishes like avarebele usilu (stir-fried beans with a generous amount of onions and coriander) may not be every first-time’s favourite dish. But once you begin to invest in the bean, it rarely ever disappoints you. For some like me, it is love at first bite. It came hidden in moist uppitu—what the rest of the world knows as Upma.
The versatile bean can be used in sambar to usilu and huli saaru (tamarind curry). Painstaking, because some avarebele dishes like Isk (squeezed) avarebele sambar or huli saaru are ready to be cooked only after it is shelled, soaked overnight and the green skin removed to reveal a pale white bean which is easy to cook. The skinning is possible only after it is soaked overnight and can leave your index finger and thumb sore in the skinning process. These are the times when grandmothers enthusiastically put themselves to use by skinning mounds of avarebele.
But the real bummer is that avarebele, once skinned, has a very brief shelf life—a day at best. In the coldest part of the refrigerator though, it might continue to breathe for another day or two. Does that serve as additional information to a Kannadiga householder’s enthusiasm in sprinkling everything in her sight with the bele? Well, I suppose so!
The whole seed, on the other hand, can go into pretty much every dish. If you are fond of green peas masala you could try avarebele masala in winter—similar preparation, only the primary ingredient varies. Masala roti with avarebele is another dish that is devoured in this part of the country. Avarebele akki roti, is made with a dough prepared with rice flour, masalas, grated vegetables and of course, the bele. Eaten with a dollop of butter and some green chutney, any Kannadiga would vouch for the pure bliss of the experience.
It is an oft quoted joke in Karnataka that avarebele can go into anything but coffee and tea. If you’ve tasted and loved avarebele, you would certainly agree with that.
Image Courtesy: Arathi Menon
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