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.
Ever since the humble beetroot juice turned out to be an indispensable dietary supplement for the elite Olympic medalists and accordingly attained the special status of superfood, the benefits of taking beet root juice became more conspicuous to the general public than before. Nowadays beauticians recommend to take a glass of beetroot juice daily in the morning for the glowing skin, dietitians consider this juice as an excellent liver detox, fitness trainers suggest it for endurance, cardiologists & pulmonologists prescribe plain beetroot juice for building robust heart & lungs, all owing to its magic ingredient called nitrate.
Women of all virtues are regarded as goddesses in our society even today, it is a common sight in some families here that 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 goddess Lakshmi who brings in prosperity. Even our prime minister, a devotee of goddess Durga, inducted a righteous woman into his cabinet of ministers as the national defence minister. Ironically we could find several references in our ancient literature which stress the need for the respect of women in unequivocal terms. Thiruvalluvar, an enlightened sage lived in 300 BC, wrote about the eternity of values to be followed by kings, men & women in all walks of life in Tamil (the oldest language in the world) and compiled Thirukkural, the greatest Tamil literary masterpiece known till today. Interestingly he did not miss to highlight the women power in his classic text 2000 years ago as below:
Cottonseed milk is the traditional vegan milk used by the people in the villages near Madurai, my home town, for making nutritious desserts. 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 cottonseed milk dessert in almost every household in those villages. Normally they used to grind 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. Besides it is useful to everyone during summer to keep the body cool.
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.
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 medhu vadai of crispy golden skin. Nevertheless medhu vadai is a commonly prepared evening snack in our family particularly during monsoon.
Chinna vengaya (shallots) 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 contains calcium & other minerals required to increase bone density.
Vazhaipoo Vadai or banana flower patties are delectable patties with crispy skin and soft flesh. Banana flowers can be included into our diet in the forms of patties (vadai), stir-fry (poriyal), coconut curry (kootu), lentil crumble (paruppu usili), soup & salad. Banana flower patties are gluten-free snacks prepared using banana flowers & yellow peas.
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.
Generally vegetable biryani served in restaurants are greasy, overly spiced, and made of semi-cooked rice tossed with few vegetables. Hence I prefer to make simple flavorful delicious vegetable biryani at home, and I like to add textured soya for making protein-rich delicious biryani. Soy biryani is a wholesome meal and is usually served with refreshing raita.
Since drumstick leaves (moringa leaves) contain all the nutrients required for active mind & body, drumstick leaves idli or murungai keerai idli is a nutritious breakfast ideally served to energetic children, dynamic professionals and busy women to meet their dietary requirement. These keerai idli are also good for weight-watchers as they are so filling that we could very well reduce the intake of idli to a great extent than the plain idli. Besides it is as easy as making an ordinary idli, we can simply add a handful of fresh drumstick leaves into idli batter, pour into idli moulds and then steam them for few minutes.