A few days ago, I was at a supermarket in Matunga, where I saw a tin of ‘Moringa powder’ on the shelves. It said this was a ‘nourishing and detoxifying nutrient-rich superfood’. The irony of it? About a hundred metres from that shop was the vegetable market, where fresh moringa or drumstick leaves are sold in bundles, along with an envious assortment of greens like dill leaves, fenugreek leaves, and all manner of spinach leaves. And here were the moringa leaves, dried and powdered to be used as what, a topping on a pizza, or cereal, or to be consumed mixed in water? What a shame, I thought.
From my childhood I have been accustomed to a wide diversity of greens in my diet. Though we are meat eaters, vegetarian food played a major role in our lives, as my mother, who hails from Palakkad in Kerala, is a strict vegetarian. We celebrated the greens with gusto. We sauteed the wide variety of leaves with mustard seeds and urad dal, incorporated the greens in a lentil based curry called erisseri, often made adai, a kind of dosa made with a blend of a variety of dals, horsegram, and the greens. You get the drift…the greens were everywhere. There was a special place in my mom’s heart for the drumstick or moringa leaves, as it’s considered especially beneficial for health.
But these greens were not glamorous. For instance, one would not make the moringa leaf dal or adai for guests. Guests would be served spicy sambhar, or a palate tingling fish curry, or a biriyani. My mom would unleash the entire sadya feast even, but the greens didn’t play much of a role on special occasions.
Over the years I lost touch with these leaves. I learnt to make paalak paneer, paalak erisseri. But I completely lost touch with many varieties of spinach and the moringa leaves. Most markets in Colaba and Lower Parel stocked the whole drumstick, but not the leaves.
When ‘Moringa’ was getting touted about a year ago as the ultimate superfood, I was intrigued. I didn’t immediately recognise the moringa as the ‘muringa’ of my childhood. When I recognised it for it was, I was instantly flooded with a longing. I headed to the Matunga market and brought home bundles of it.
I made it in all forms – in adai, in dal, and as a bhaaji with potatoes. My son I discovered, loved the adais, when it was served to him hot, straight from the griddle, with dollops of homemade ghee! I am not an advocate of using excessive amounts of ghee, but I do believe that ghee must be part of one’s diet, especially a child’s.
Thus, did moringa and other greens make a comeback into my life. It was not just the return of these greens, but of some of the traditional recipes, which would otherwise have got lost in the mists of time. If I can spend time making intricate lasagna and spaghetti, and bake pineapple upside-down cakes, I can surely spend time making foods which are traditional and good for my family’s health, can’t I? At least once or twice a week? Now, a lasagna may triumph over a moringa dish in taste any day, but I think we owe it to our roots to establish some of the tastes that we grew up with, on the palates of our children. It is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, every day, we would be negating and ultimately forgetting, all that we grew up with.
I know that I have already let go of many traditions which were followed by my mother. Such can be the casualties of modern, urban living. I have made peace with it, as frankly, not all old rituals are necessary or desirable. But given the amount of junk and fast foods available today, it is nice to hark back to the past, and try and bridge the gap between eating only for pleasure, and eating for both health and pleasure. What do you think?
(I take about 3-4 medium potatoes for about 3 cups of moringa leaves, but this ratio can be altered as per one’s taste.)
Ingredients: Moringa leaves, potatoes, mustard seeds, jeera, whole red chilli, curry leaves, urad dal (gota), chana dal, green chillies, garlic, turmeric powder, salt, oil.
Method: Separate the leaves only, leaving the stalk. Wash the leaves well and drain in a colander. Boil potatoes (2-3 whistles), and cube. Don’t overcook the potatoes.
In about a tablespoon of oil, sputter 1 tsp mustard seeds and jeera. Add 1 whole red chilli cut into two, a few curry leaves, 2 tsp urad dal (gota), and 2 tsp chana dal, and fry till golden.
Then add chopped green chillies and chopped garlic.
Fry for a minute, then add the boiled and cubed potatoes. Add turmeric powder and salt. Toss it a bit and then add the moringa leaves. No need to cut it, just add the leaves as is. Fry it till the leaves shrivel. (Don’t over fry it as then the nutrition will be lost).
Have this with plain rice or rotis, and piping hot dal. Nutrition in every bite!