It is a centuries-old custom still practiced on the day of Vijayadasami that the teachers or parents introduce the syllables of the first language to the kids. We guide them to write the alphabet on a bed of sands as a tradition. Furthermore, we encourage the children to enroll in music, dance, or other art schools on this auspicious day. Now I do feel as if this were the first post when I resume my blogging after a lull of quite a few months. So I have shared a simple Chettinad recipe for a rich and intriguing keerai masiyal. I relished this dish when we dined at a restaurant in Madurai 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 motifs such as 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 instead of saffron for preparing kumkum powder, and we prepare a beverage, Saffron Latte, using saffron.
“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 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.
I began to realize the significance of detoxification only when I started taking a course of detoxification in an Ayurvedic clinic. Detox is as important as giving nourishment to our body. It is essential to keep not only toxins but also toxic thoughts & toxic people at bay for our well being. Since Ayurveda is more effective for detoxification, it is a good idea to include detoxifying herbs & spices by incorporating ayurvedic concepts into our detox diet. In this post I have outlined the Ayurvedic concepts and shared a few of the recipes for Ayur detox.
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.
The larger population of the world generally prefers to preserve their bountiful seasonal fruits, vegetables & other fresh produce by freeze-drying them. But we, Indians, prefer to sun-drying our fresh herbs, berries & spices. We have been using sun-dried (dehydrated) ingredients 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 kuzhambu, a traditional South Indian kuzhambu, using sun-dried vegetables, berries, or fruits and serve with rice.
Spiritual leaders in India used to stress the importance of including white pumpkin into our diet regularly as it is considered Saatvik (meaning ethical, pure & vital) conducive for practicing yoga & meditation. Food plays an important role in achieving deep meditation because each food generates different effects on different parts of our brain. Saatvik food, esp. white pumpkin juice, is recommended to calm the mind and to experience meditation.
Few years ago I had a serendipitous encounter with an amazing fruit kudampuli while I was looking for a gut-friendly substitute for tamarind used in south Indian cuisine. Kudampuli (Garcinia Cambogia or malabar tamarind) is a rich source of an interesting chemical compound hydroxycitric acid (HCA). HCA is well known to the western medicine for its astounding property to convert food into energy and also hinder the accumulation of fat in our body. Thus HCA extracted from Garcinia Cambogia is mostly used in the manufacture of weight loss supplements. They are recommended to treat obese particularly diabetics.
Generally, we prefer to welcome every new beginning with sweets, but we follow a unique tradition of preparing an elaborate meal of different flavours (arusuvai virudhu) on the occasion of Chithirai Vishu (New Year) celebrated on the 14th or 15th of April every year. It is actually an Ayurvedic tradition to stimulate all the parts of our palate by taking a nourishing meal of six flavours like sweet, sour, bitter, astringent, salt & pungent. This also encourages us to embrace each season, or every change in our life gracefully. So we never miss to include the bitter ingredient, neem flower that blooms plentifully in this season, into our New Year feast (Vishu sadhya). We prepare the traditional veppampoo pachadi, a confluence of all the six tastes, using neem flowers and many other ingredients.
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.
Indian gooseberries (amla) were mentioned in Sangam Tamil literature 2000 years ago for their anti-aging properties. The king Adhiyamaan of Chera dynasty was famous for his munificence and he was regarded as one of the kadaiyezhu vallal (meaning last seven patrons) in the history of Tamil monarchy. In those days amla was a scarcely available fruit and it was believed to have anti-aging properties to prolong one’s life. The king as a patron of literature offered such a rarest & precious nellikani (amla) to an old poetess Avvaiyar rather than partaking it by himself. Avvaiyar rendered beautiful verses after receiving amla praising the magnanimity of king Adhiyamaan (you may click here to read those lines).
Black nightshadow (manathakali keerai) is one of the common plants grown in the kitchen gardens in Tamilnadu. Children like to take tiny red/ black berries and chew their leaves as they are useful to treat mouth ulcers. Manathakkali leaves are also useful for adults to treat stomach ulcers and to protect the liver. Still, people in rural TamilnaduIt use these greens to treat Hepatitis. We prepare keerai kootu in different ways: sometimes we prepare kootu with/ without coconut, and other times we prepare this with/ without lentils. Here I have added spicy coconut paste and cooked green gram lentils (moong dal) for making manathakkali keerai kootu.
We take inji legiyam, a digestive jam, the day after Deepavali as we all enjoy a sumptuous feast consisting of sweets & savories during this festival. It is also known as Deepavali legiyam or Deepavali marundhu. A teaspoon of legiyam taken in the morning on an empty stomach helps improve the digestion. So we can take this legiyam after the feasts enjoyed during festivals or weddings. It is also beneficial to children or sick people 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.