By Naini Setalvad
India is host to many exotic species of edible plants and fruits. Naini Setalvad teaches you how to recognize them, and include them in your platter
We in India have a huge repertoire of vegetables. An Indian household can cook two varieties daily, and yet not repeat any for at least a fortnight. I used to boast that there was not a vegetable I had not tried. But that was before I stumbled upon gunda, a bright green thimble-shaped vegetable normally used as pickle. In a few Gujarati homes, it is also cooked as a vegetable. It was a treat to try it, and now I use it quite regularly. In the same way there exist innumerable regional specialities that other parts of the country may be clueless about. These include the chayote, khorisa, banana blossom and the gongura. Here is what you should know about each of them.
Gunda is known as the Indian glue berry, and is primarily used as a pickle in Gujarati households. It is available from March to August. It is also known as lasoda, lasura and bhokar. Gunda requires deep and sandy soil. Immature berries are used to make vegetable dishes, and as pickles after removing the stone and sticky white pulp. The sticky pulp is used to make glue. The ripe fruit is full of vitamins and helps digestion. The bark and roots are used to cure cough and cold. Unripe gunda can be stored in a plastic bag and kept in the refrigerator, where it will remain unspoiled for a month.
Chayote or chow-chow as it is also called, is a light green, pear-shaped fruit with a single, large pit and edible flesh and skin. The flesh is mild in flavour. It is cultivated in a warm climate. Although technically a fruit, it is often used as a vegetable. It is very popular in the South Indian cuisine of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. It can be eaten raw as well as cooked, without peeling. In its raw form it is often added to salads, and salsas. It can also be marinated lightly with citrus juice and salt for creating a simple snack. The root and leaves are also edible. The root can be used as a substitute for potato and leaves are cooked like mustard greens or collard greens. They have high water and fibre content, and are low in natural sugars, making them low in calories compared to other fruit. When buying chayote the skin should not be loose or excessively wrinkled. Sliced or cut chayotes should be stored in the fridge. It is like a summer squash.
This is an ethnic ingredient used in Assamese cuisine and gives the cuisine a distinct flavour. Khorisa is the popular name for grated bamboo shoot in fermented, raw or pickled form. It is a widely enjoyed food ingredient among the natives of this North-Eastern state. It is pungent smelling, has a tangy flavour, and gives a unique taste to your dals, vegetables and curries. It is very effective against diabetes.
It is the large, dark purple flower of the banana plant which we often see hanging from a banana tree. It is also called vazhaipoo. Banana blossom is an excellent source of fiber. It also treats excessive bleeding during menstruation. Banana flowers also possess anti-oxidative properties. This vegetable is very popular in South Indian and Bengali cuisine. The flower is starchy and bitter, and is normally eaten as a complement to a dish. To prepare, remove outer leaves until the inner portion is revealed. Remove the hard stamen from each flower. Wear gloves before cutting as they can stain your hand. The florets can be eaten raw or cooked either fried or boiled. Eat flowers which look fresh and bright.
This is a leafy vegetable that grows in Southern India. The pickled version is most popular. It is normally found in two varieties, green and red. The gongura, otherwise known as sorrel leaves, is called the mother of Andhra food. The pickle is made with the leaves and spices ground together. Gongura has powerful anti-oxidants, is a rich source of potassium, iron, calcium. It also has powerful laxative properties, provides adequate dietary fibre treats and prevents hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
1/2 cup chopped onion
6 cloves garlic
20 gm peanuts
3 red chillies dry
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 cups gongura leaves
Salt as per taste
Few curry leaves
Wash gongura leaves and keep it aside. Take a pan, add oil, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, red chilli, dry peanuts, mix well. Add crushed garlic, onion, turmeric, curry leaves, green chili, salt. Sauté for 5-7 minutes, before adding gongura leaves. Mix well. Let it simmer for a few minutes and put off flame.
Khorisa with mushrooms
200 gms button mushroom (white),
cut in small cubes.
100 gm grated khorisa
2 tsp oil
2 medium-sized tomatoes
2 green chillies
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt as required
Heat oil, add mustard seeds. When they sputter, add the tomatoes. Add salt, haldi, green chillies.
Mix the khorisa in some water and set aside. When the tomatoes become pulpy add hot water.
As the gravy thickens a bit, add the mushrooms. Let it cook, let all the water (that comes out of
mushrooms) dry. Add the grated khorisa to the preparation. Simmer for a while and put off flame.
Banana stir fry
3 cups banana florets cleaned and chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 medium onions
1/4 cup grated coconut
Salt as required
2 tsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp split urad dal
3 red chillis, few curry leaves
1/4 tsp asfoetida powder
Clean and chop banana florets and keep it in diluted buttermilk, to prevent discoloration . Rinse and clean the buttermilk. Add one cup of water, salt, turmeric, and pressure cook for three whistles till soft. Heat oil in a pan, add rai, urad dal, red chili, hing, curry leaves. Sauté till the urad dal turns golden brown. Add finely chopped onions and sauté till onions turn transparent. Now squeeze out the water from the banana flower, and add it to the above. Mix well and sauté for three to four minutes. Add salt if required. Add grated coconut, mix well and switch off the flame.
Gunda in besan
500 gms gunda
100 gms besan atta
100 gms coriander powder
100 gms peanuts coarsely grounded
1/2 tsp haldi powder
2 tbs red chilli powder
3 tbs jaggery
Pinch of hing
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsp oil and salt to taste
• Take water in a vessel add salt and boil the whole gunda.
• Remove water and keep it aside.
• Mix besan atta, coriander powder, peanut powder, haldi, red chilli powder, jaggery, salt and 1 tsp oil.
• Remove the seeds from the boiled gunda and fill the mixture in the hollow
• Take oil in a pan, add a pinch of asafetida and add gunda.
• Stir for a minute and add buttermilk.
• Now sprinkle the mixture. Mix well and allow it to cook for another 5 minutes and serve hot.
2 medium chayote
1/3 cup grated coconut
1/8 tsp mustard seeds.
1 tsp urad dal
1 dried red chilli
1/8 tsp haldi
1/8 tsp asafetida powder
Few curry leaves
Peel the squash. Cut in the centre and remove the seed. Chop in cubes. Boil it in enough salted water to cover it, or steam. It takes about five minutes. Drain and set aside. Heat a pan, add mustard seeds, add urad dal, hing, red chili (full). When urad dal starts browning, add the coconut. Stir it for a few seconds. Add the chayote (chow chow) along with haldi and curry leaves. Gently mix. Taste and season with salt if required.
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