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.
Ever since the humble beetroot juice emerged as an indispensable dietary supplement for the elite Olympic medalists and accordingly attained the special status of a superfood, the benefits of taking this juice became more evident to the general public. Nowadays, beauticians recommend taking a glass of beetroot juice daily in the morning for glowing skin. Dietitians consider this juice as an excellent liver detox, and fitness trainers suggest it for endurance. Cardiologists & pulmonologists prescribe plain beetroot juice for building a healthy heart & lungs. It is all due to a magic ingredient, nitrate, found plentifully in beetroots.
Jerusalem is one of my favorite cookbooks for the traditional middle east recipes written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. You may download the e-book here. I find several vegetarian recipes that we, Indians, could very well try without demur since most of the ingredients are readily available here. Helbeh is one such recipe that caught my attention as it is an exceptional semolina cake prepared with fenugreek seeds and almonds.
Women of all virtues are regarded as goddesses in our society even today, we could find men treating his worldly-wise mother as Sarasawathi, the goddess of wisdom & knowledge, his caring wife as Durga Devi, the goddess of strength & protection, and his lively daughter as Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Our prime minister, a devotee of goddess Durga, inducted a righteous woman into his cabinet of ministers as the national defence minister. We could also find several references in our ancient literature that stress the need for the respect of women in unequivocal terms.
It is really challenging to prepare piquant poriyal using mildly sweet earthy-flavored beetroots. I tried various beetroot poriyal recipes by adding different ingredients to mask the sweet flavor and make it more palatable. Incidentally, I found that we can add a burst of flavor by sauteing beetroot along with garlic in coconut oil and spicing it up by adding pepper. I have also added nicely fluffed up yellow lentils along with deep red beetroot chunks for adding beautiful color and delicious texture.
Paruthi paal is a cottonseed milk dessert popular in the villages near Madurai, my home town. People, esp. the villagers, prepare a nutritious dessert using cottonseed milk, a traditional vegan milk. As a part of my college education, I served as an NSS (National Service Scheme) volunteer. We used to camp in the surrounding villages during summer vacation to understand the living conditions of the people and also help them improve their standard of living. We were always greeted with a glass of delicious paruthi paal in almost every household in those villages. Normally they used to grind a large quantity of cottonseeds everyday and used as a fodder feed particularly to milking cows. Apparently cottonseed milk is beneficial to lactating mothers as well. Others consume this dessert during summer to keep them cool.
Indian medicine systems recommend all the ingredients that have an astringent flavor such as banana blossoms (vazhaipoo), pomegranate, red gram (toor dal), Indian blackberry (naval pazham), etc. for women’s health as they keep our uterus strong & healthy. Consuming cooked banana blossom 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 a good practice to serve vazhaipoo paruppu usili (lentil crumble) with yoghurt curry (mor-kuzhambu).
Since moringa trees (murungai maram) are primarily grown for their seed pods (drumsticks), moringa flowers (murungai poo) are hardly available in the market. So we prepare murungai poo poriyal in small quantity exclusively for a lactating mother in our family. We need to cook the buds & young white blossoms gently, so we can use them in salad, soup, or use them as garnishes for a curry. Nevertheless, we don’t recommend women to take these nourishing flowers during pregnancy as it may lead to miscarriage.
Cassava (yucca/ manioc) plants are widely grown in India. The roots (tapioca root) are used for culinary purposes & the leaves for medicinal properties. These roots are known as maravalli kizhangu in the northern districts of Tamilnadu & yezhilai kizhangu (meaning seven leaves) in southern districts. We prepare cassava root poriyal and serve this either as a salad or as a side dish for rice.
Radish (mullangi) sambar tastes as delicious as shallot (chinna vengayam) sambar as they both absorb the flavors of all the spices used in sambar. Hence I like to savour mullangi sambar not only with hot steaming rice but also with idli or dosa.
Ulundham Paruppu Sadham (Blackgram rice) is a unique rice dish popular in Tirunelveli and surrounding regions and this rice is typically served with ellu thuvaiyal for lunch. We usually serve this nutritious meal to young girls during their cycle every month and also to pregnant women as blackgram is beneficial to strengthen their hip bones. Nevertheless it can be served to kids, men & old people alike.
Medhu vadai or ulundha vadai is a gluten-free savoury doughnut prepared using black lentils (urad dal). Any feast or festival in South India is incomplete without serving soft vadai with crispy golden skin. Nevertheless medhu vadai is a commonly prepared evening snack in our family particularly during monsoon.
Shallot chutney also known as chinna vengayam chutney is a traditional chutney mainly prepared for young girls & pregnant women in our family. Shallots contain flavonoids that have powerful antioxidant properties, and they are also useful for improving emotional health & heart health. Other ingredients in this chutney are curry leaves & black grams. Curry leaves are rich sources of iron & folic acid and hence good for pregnant women. Black gram lentils contain calcium & other minerals required to increase the bone density, and hence useful for old women.
Vazhaipoo vadai or banana flower patties are gluten-free snacks prepared with banana flowers & yellow peas. These are delectable flavorsome patties with crispy skin and soft flesh. We can include banana flowers into our diet in the form of patties (vadai), stir-fry (poriyal), coconut curry (kootu), lentil crumble (paruppu usili), soup, or salad.
Millet noodles is a delicious gluten-free meal that can be prepared in a jiffy using instant ragi noodles. Finger millets (ragi) can be included into the children, women and also old people’s diet as they are rich in calcium and iron. Iron is fully absorbed by our body only in the presence of Vitamin C. So it is a good practice to add the ingredients rich in Vitamin C like tomatoes, bell peppers (kudamilagai), lemon juice, etc. into a recipe using ragi millets. Here I have used tomatoes & bell peppers into my ragi idiyappam, and we can also add a squeeze of lemon juice before serving.
Ulundhu kali is a soft silky ebony sweetmeat specially prepared for girls & women as it helps to strengthen the uterus & hip bones. It is a traditional south Indian delicacy mainly served to young girls (during their cycles particularly in their first cycle) and also to pregnant women.