It is a centuries-old custom still practiced here that the teachers or parents introduce the syllables of the first language to the kids by guiding them to write the alphabet on a bed of sands on the day of Vijayadasami. Furthermore, grown-up children also enroll in music, dance, or other art schools on this auspicious day. Now I do feel the same as I resume my blogging after a lull of quite a few months. I have shared a simple recipe for a rich and intriguing keerai masiyal which was served to us when we dined at a restaurant in Madurai, my hometown, a few months ago before the onset of the pandemic.
Saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the world, was used a few thousand years ago by Indian queens to decorate their forehead with a design like the sun, moon, crescent moon, or star. It was ground into a paste along with ghee and used as kumkum, hence the name kumkum flower/ kunguma poo. This tradition of applying kumkum is still practiced by almost every Hindu woman even today. Nowadays we use turmeric powder in the preparation of kumkum.
“It is horrendous to gorge oneself on extremely bitter balls”, this was the thought we all had in unison when we were asked to swallow marble-sized neem balls in an empty stomach early in the morning. Our grandmother tried various methods by sprinkling tiny sugar crystals over these emerald green balls, and promising us a “paal” icecream stick (creamy milky ice pop) in the afternoon or a movie show in the evening, etc. But all her tactics usually went in vain as older children escaped from her clutches easily and young kids just spat them all out.
There were plenty of healthy snacks like boiled peanuts & Palmyra sprouts, roasted corncobs, and locally grown fresh berries & fruits sold in our school canteen. We relished them as much as the deep-fried snacks like puffs, samosa, chips, or sugary snacks like candies, chocolates, ice cream, ice pops, etc. during intervals or at the time of dispersal.
When the larger population of the world prefers to preserve their bountiful seasonal fruits, vegetables & other fresh produce by freeze-drying them, Indians prefer to sun-drying their fresh herbs, berries & spices. Indians have been using sun-dried (dehydrated) produce for culinary and medicinal purposes for over 1000 years. Ayurveda, Siddha, and other Indian medicine systems prescribe medicines prepared using sun-dried herbs or fresh herbs. We use dried herbs for making powders & tablets (chooranam) and fresh herbs for external applications, or for making decoctions, etc. We also prepare delicious vatha kulambu, a traditional South Indian curry, using sun-dried vegetables, berries, or fruits and serve with rice as shown below.
As a child I hated few things imposed by my grandparents during our visit every summer. It was disgusting to find all our clothes reeked of bitter neem oil as they were washed using neem detergents. We also disliked to gobble up extremely bitter balls made of neem leaves paste forcibly given by our grandmother. But now I have been yearning for such eco-friendly chemical-free detergents suitable for my washing machine, and also I feel guilty to give de-worming tablet to my son as I am unable to persuade him to take the home-made herbal substitute available plentiful around us. Nevertheless I feel contented that I can prepare delicious soup using neem flowers that possess almost same properties as that of neem leaves.
Indian medicine system recommends anything that tastes astringent such as banana flowers, pomegranate, red gram (toor dal), Indian blackberry (black plum), etc. for women’s health as they keep uterus healthy. Consuming cooked banana flower with curd or yoghurt is believed to be one of the most efficient ways of treating excessive bleeding during menstruation as it increases the level of progesterone. So it is always better to prepare banana flower lentil crumble (vazhaipoo paruppu usili) and serve with yoghurt curry (mor-kulambu).
Since moringa trees are primarily grown for their seed pods (drumsticks), moringa flowers are hardly available in the market. So we prepare poriyal in small quantity exclusively for a lactating mother in our family. It is preferred to cook buds & young white blossoms gently and use them in salad, soup, or curry. Please beware that it is not recommended to take moringa flowers during pregnancy as it may lead to miscarriage.
Chukku-malli kaapi is a traditional South Indian digestive elixir prepared using dried ginger & other spices, herbs and palm jaggery. Since Indian medicine systems like Siddha or Ayurveda recommends to take fresh ginger in an empty stomach in the morning & dried ginger later in the day to improve the digestion.
Thoothuvalai (Solanum trilobatum) is a quickly spreading herb usually props up in our surroundings after a good spell of rain. It is a medicinal plant used in Indian medicines Ayurveda & Siddha to treat respiratory problems like asthma, cough, cold & flu.
Generally I prepare omam kuzhambu when we return home from a vacation, or after attending a wedding ceremony for few days, as omam is beneficial to treat indigestion or flatulence. I also make omam kuzhambu and serve with hot steaming rice & roasted papad (sutta appalam), when we crave for a home-cooked food that soothes our stomach.
Ginger jam is a digestive jam usually prepared the day after the festival of Deepavali. A teaspoon of ginger jam taken in the morning in an empty stomach helps improve the digestion mainly when we enjoyed sumptuous festive feasts or wedding feasts the previous day. It is also beneficial to children as it aids to increase their appetite.
Vallarai keerai (Centella Asiatica) is an amazing herb used by Indian pharmacologists to prepare a food supplement to improve the memory beneficial to children who are preparing for competitive exams and also to old people suffering from diminished memory. Nevertheless it is better to include such fresh herbs into our diet rather than taking them in capsule form. So we can make vallarai thuvaiyal at home to enjoy its benefits naturally. I personally found a significance difference when vallarai keerai thuvaiyal was served frequently to my father and also to my son.