Despite the facts that moringa trees are known to attract pests and they are so fragile that they can not withstand strong winds, they are grown in almost every house to enjoy the benefits of nutritious leaves, flowers & pods. Normally we don’t allow children to go near this tree as woolly caterpillars found on it may cause skin hives when contact with their strands. It is a common phenomenon that branches of drumstick trees break apart and fall down during windy or rainy season.
I am thankful to the creator of The Popeye show for motivating my son, a picky eater, to have a liking for insipid spinach even at his tender age. This cartoon show made my job easier to convey the importance of taking wholesome food and also made a small kid to understand a profound theory, “we are what we eat”. He did not like to take spinach with rice when he was a kid, instead he enjoyed taking plain spinach just like the great Popeye did.
It is a myth that bitter gourds (Balsam pear) are always bitter. Onions & bitter gourd share a similarity: they both have strong flavors when eaten raw and lose their flavors when cooked. Thus bitter gourds taste bitter when taken raw, when cooked its bitterness reduced by half, when deep fried they are slightly bitter, and when fried in low temperature for a long time bitterness can be totally eliminated.
It is really challenging to prepare piquant poriyal using mildly-sweet earthy-flavored beetroots. I tried various preparations with different ingredients to make beetroot poriyal more palatable, eventually I found that sauteing beet root along with garlic in coconut oil adds a burst of flavor and also adding pepper & coconut aids to spice up the sweet beetroots. I have also added nicely fluffed up yellow lentils along with deep red beetroot chunks for adding beautiful color and delicious texture.
We normally celebrate every new beginning with sweets, but we follow a tradition of serving sumptuous meal consisting of 6 tastes viz., sweet, sour, bitter, astringent, salt & pungent on our New Year usually celebrated on the 14th of April. This tradition is being followed in our society to encourage us to embrace each season of a year. So we never miss to include bitter neem flower pachadi to our elaborate lunch meal specially prepared on the occasion of Chithirai Vishu every year.
It is really challenging for every mother to cook the vegetables that are her family’s bêtes noires to their liking. Yard-long beans (karamani) is one such insipid vegetable but is full of nourishment compared to the commonly used green beans. So it is impossible for us to ignore the properties of these beans and include tender green beans often instead of fibrous long beans.
Appalam making is a leading cottage industry prevalent in my maternal grandfather’s village. As a kid I was completely awestruck watching women & girls in our neighbourhood kneading mountainous dough, rolling appalam at lightning speed, and stacking dried appalam like a tower. Whenever I was upset with my cousins or siblings I used to run to one of those houses and spend endless hours there watching them making appalam while enjoying their warmth & the food. During my mother’s recent visit there, they fondly remembered my childhood favorite appala-poo and prepared them along with appalam specially for me, even though they are not into this business currently.
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.
Ridge gourd (Luffa acutangula) is a native vegetable that grows plentifully in every village in South India. Mildly-sweet flesh and the fibrous peel of ridge gourds are edible, so we generally prepare gothsu as a side for idli & dosa and kootu for rice using the flesh, and chutney (dip) using the peel.
Cassava (yucca/ manioc) plants are widely grown in India as their roots are used for culinary purposes & leaves for their medicinal properties. These gluten-free tubers are known as maravalli kizhangu in northern districts of Tamilnadu & yezhilai kizhangu (meaning seven leaves) in southern districts.Since they are available in plenty during Nov-Dec, I have been making cassava poriyal often for lunch and also serve as an evening snack.
As bland white cabbage has always been my family’s bête noire, I find vibrant purple cabbage/ red cabbage the best alternate, and I have prepared cabbage poriyal using purple cabbage and served with radish sambar as below.
Vallarai keerai (Centella Asiatica) is an amazing herb used here to improve the memory for children who are preparing for competitive exams and also for old people with decreased memory. It is always better to include such fresh herbs into our diet rather than taking them in capsule form. I also found that when we served a chutney using vallarai keerai to my father everyday, there was a significant improvement in his memory. So we can take vallarai thuvaiyal to improve our memory power naturally. It can be used as a spread for breads, dosa, or wraps and it can also be used as a side for idli, dosa, or any rice varieties.
Avarakkai poriyal (Broad beans poriyal) is a nutritious side dish that goes well with rice & sambar, rasam, morkuzhambu, or any other kuzhambu. Kids also like this vegetable mainly for the delicious nutty beans inside the pods. Indian broad beans (avarakkai) are good sources of calcium, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and iron, and they also contain some dietary fiber and vitamin C.